Tuesday, May 9, 2023

Movie Review: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3

It's a rarity when the third part of a trilogy achieves the same level of greatness as the first and/or second, but James Gunn's Guardians of the Galaxy finale does just that, in some ways eclipsing aspects of his first two "volumes."  

For this third chapter, we catch up with our beloved gang of intergalactic misfits on their recently adopted homeworld of Knowhere (a makeshift space-city cobbled together inside the disembodied head of a god).  "Starlord" Peter Quill is still mourning the Endgame loss of Gamora, or at least the Gamora he knows and loves, as a past incarnation now exists in present day but of course remembers nothing of their relationship (The film has a lot of fun with this thread).  Suddenly Knowhere is attacked (out of....nowhere) by Adam Warlock, a genetic creation of the Sovereign (the prissy, easily offended golden folk from Guardians 2), who wreaks havoc on the city and nearly kills Rocket.  The Guardians are unable to use their "medpacks" to try and save his life, as they learn his heart contains a built-in killswitch activated by any attempt to heal it.  The team's primary mission is now to infiltrate the company that created Rocket and learn the override code so they can save him.
I won't reveal much more than that, except to say that along the way we learn, at long last, Rocket's backstory - why he is such a brilliant but conflicted creature, why his persona is steeped in self-loathing cloaked within a scornful sense of humor, and above all why he resists becoming close to anyone.  His is one of the great emotionally affecting arcs in any Marvel film, given weight and social relevance, and this backstory solidifies Rocket as my favorite Guardians character.  If you aren't deeply choked up at numerous points throughout this movie, you might be dead inside.

James Gunn and his collaborators as usual populate the movie with memorable, inventive visuals and characters such as Orgocorp's headquarters, comprised of living tissue that looks like a kind of giant brain floating in space, policed by guards dressed in puffy membranous suits resembling insect larvae.  There's also the film's main villain the High Evolutionary, an unfathomably intelligent mad scientist obsessed with creating a genetically modified utopia out of animals with human intelligence.  As a character he reminded me a bit of both Thanos and Ego, possessing the singleminded, consequences-be-damned idealism of the former and the megalomaniacal drive of the latter.  

The main plot is refreshingly small-scope as Marvel films go; no "We're the only thing standing in the way of universal Armageddon," no revenge theme, just a rather quaint mission for our heroes to save the life of their comrade, executed in such a way that we learn more about these wonderful, weird characters and their strengths and weaknesses.  Guardians 3 also offers plenty of Gunn's out-there sense of humor but doesn't beat us over the head with it; on the contrary, some of the film's heaviest moments are given a ton of room to breathe without letting the audience off the hook.

At a time when the MCU is seemingly running out of both ideas and gas (Spider-Man: No Way Home had been the lone franchise standout post-Endgame), Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 finally feels like an A-tier entry, more or less equaling the superb second film and for my money improving on the first.  It will be sad to see James Gunn exit the Marvel universe, as his unique trilogy that made us all fall in love with this group of oddballs has been one of the MCU's most valuable offerings.  But on the bright side, maybe he'll finally give us the kind of Superman movie we've been hoping for these last four decades.

I give GOTG3 ***1/2 out of ****.

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