film / tv / substack / social media / lists / web / celeb / pajiba love / misc / about / cbr
film / tv / substack / web / celeb

guardians-3.jpeg

'Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3' Is a Big, Sprawling, Entertaining Mess

By TK Burton | Film | May 6, 2023 |

By TK Burton | Film | May 6, 2023 |


guardians-3.jpeg

It’s difficult to pin down exactly where we last left the intergalactic team of misfits known as the Guardians of the Galaxy — reeling from the discovery that Gamora still lives (albeit a different version)? The group that was dealing with their (albeit brief) adventures with Thor shown at the beginning of Thor: Love & Thunder? After the Kevin Bacon-related hijinks at the end of … you know what? Let’s forget that one. In fact, let’s forget their short, pointless role in Love & Thunder, while we’re at it. Narratively speaking, picking up the pieces in the aftermath of Avengers: Endgame probably makes the most sense.

In Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, we find our titular heroes settling into their role as (slightly) reputable interstellar heroes, having taken up residence in the giant skull-world known as Knowhere. It’s here that we find them living, but still battling their inner demons, the most prominent being Peter Quill/Star-Lord (Chris Pratt) dealing with losing/finding/losing Gamora (Zoe Saldana) and Rocket still grappling with nightmarish memories of his origins. It’s also there that they are attacked by the mysterious godlike man-child Adam Warlock (Will Poulter), sent by his mother Ayesha (Elizabeth Debicki) and the seemingly omnipotent High Evolutionary (Chukwudi Iwuji) to capture Rocket, who we come to learn is both his greatest success as well as his greatest failure. Rocket is saved, but severely injured, and thus Quill must take his team including Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel), Nebula (Karen Gillan), Drax (Dave Bautista), and Mantis (Pom Klementieff) on a galaxy-spanning quest to find both a cure for Rocket as well as clues into his history and eventually, a confrontation with the High Evolutionary. Along the way, they awkwardly reunite with Gamora, and Peter must grapple with the knowledge that this iteration of Gamora does not share the love that the previous one did.

As you can probably guess, there’s a lot happening here, and in typical MCU fashion, the film often feels overstuffed with half-finished ideas. Guardians of the Galaxy is a big, sprawling, often very entertaining mess of a film, leaping from fetch quest to fetch quest at full throttle throughout its sometimes exhausting 150-minute runtime. It feels almost pointless to highlight the bloat that’s so prevalent in this current phase of MCU films — it’s almost as if we should either skip them or accept that it’s a needless consequence and live with it. However, unlike some of the recent less-satisfying entries (looking at you, Eternals, Dr. Strange and the Multiverse of Madness and Love & Thunder), there’s a pretty solid, funny, heartfelt entry here amidst the cacophony of space battles and monsters and general James Gunn weirdness.

There has always been a surprisingly wholesome thread of heart and family within the Guardians films, thanks to Gunn’s writing and direction and a collection of warmly entertaining performances by its leads. That feeling dissipated during the Infinity Saga as the group lost focus when they were taken out of Gunn’s hands - Quill became a bloviating douchebag, Rocket was reduced to little more than a series of wisecracks and nasty insults, and other than the sisterly conflict between Gamora and Nebula, the rest faded into the background. Back under Gunn’s guidance, the Guardians once again shine, and their chemistry is what keeps the film afloat. We sort of forgot this — it’s been six years since Vol. 2 after all - but the Guardians of the Galaxy are fun. They’re a sloppy, messy, dangerous family of misfits who’ve come to rely on and love each other. Vol. 3 is an oddly sweet return to that idea, completing several plot threads that started in Vol. 1 and continued in Vol. 2. It’s those moments of interpersonal intimacy - some quiet, some loud - that are the film’s greatest strengths and make it worth enduring the din that sometimes comes with it. It was nice to actually like Pratt again, as he took a step back from the weird, Thor-lite that he seemed to become in recent non-Guardians movies.

The story itself is an odd one — a large part of it is tied to Rocket’s origins, and if I’m being frank, there are some fairly unpleasant moments tied to that. Without spoiling too much, the High Evolutionary is seeking to create a better kind of people, and Rocket - and several others like him - are the side-effect-ridden detritus that fell by the wayside over the course of his gruesome research. There’s a fairly significant content warning that viewers should probably take note of — while the film isn’t as grotesque as some of the darker moments of Multiverse of Madness, there are a great many animals shown in distress and, yes, shown meeting some pretty tragic endings as well. My eleven-year-old saw it with me and overall, he loved it, but he was really unhappy with the animal treatment. Fortunately, there was enough deafening, eye-searing action to keep him from thinking about it too hard.

There is often simply too much in Vol. 3, making it feel like an overstuffed meal that loses its flavor due to too many ingredients. That’s not to say it’s bad — it’s often quite good, with some breathtaking sequences that are bolstered by Gunn’s knack for snappy dialogue and the cast’s consistently great performances. It’s just that one can’t escape the feeling that not all of it is necessary. It’s an overarching problem, and there’s a great deal of deadweight that could have been left by the wayside. Even the character of Adam Warlock — a significant power in the MCU — ultimately felt unnecessary, like a square character being hammered into a round plot hole. Yet at the same time, it’s a genuinely loving and mostly enjoyable endcap to Gunn’s trilogy and an ode to families born through both blood and circumstance. Even amidst all the chaos, it’s still easy to remember why we fell in love with these characters in the first place.