By Jack Deegan
In 2014, after the trailer for the first “Guardians of the Galaxy” movie was released, it was predicted to be Marvel Studios’ first flop. Nobody understood why they were making a movie about a bunch of D-List heroes that included a talking tree and raccoon. That movie went on to blow audiences away and establish that group of unknown Marvel characters as household names. Nearly a decade later, after an even more successful sequel and a Disney+ holiday special, the Guardians of the Galaxy returned on May 5 to face the music and end their trilogy.
After an attack that leaves the Guardians in critical condition, they must race against time and face their traumatic histories to stop Rocket Raccoon’s (Bradley Cooper) creator, the High Evolutionary (Chukwudi Iwuji).
I adore the “Guardians of the Galaxy” movies so much. The first one was a huge surprise hit that I immediately connected with and its sequel improved on everything to become one of my favorite films ever. Despite these characters appearing in crossover films like “Avengers: Infinity War” and “Avengers: Endgame,” it’s been six years since their last feature film. My excitement had been growing so much to where this was my most anticipated movie of the year. I didn’t know if this movie could live up to my expectations, but thankfully it somehow managed to exceed them in every way and deliver a perfect goodbye.
Superhero movies have a tendency to introduce world-ending stakes that can get tiring after a while. In “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3,” the stakes are a lot smaller, but maybe the most personal in the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe. The emotional stakes in Rocket’s relationship with the High Evolutionary and the Guardians’ attachment to each other makes the plot feel incredibly important.
The film wastes no time jumping right into the story and action, which I appreciated. For someone who knows maybe a bit too much about the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), there’s a lot of payoff to enjoy. Every character has something to do and a character arc that wraps up in the most perfect way. If you haven’t seen the previous movie, I don’t think you’ll be able to fully understand what’s happening, but that’s expected in a movie wrapping up a trilogy.
There isn’t anyone making movies today who can walk the line between humor and heartbreak like director James Gunn. The heavy emotional beats land and aren’t overshadowed by jokes. The characters get time to breathe in the story and deal with what’s happening all while delivering the classic Guardians’ humor. The film still works as a comedy with some very funny jokes, but tonally it’s a lot darker than what the MCU is used to. Dealing with issues like animal cruelty and a theme of self discovery, there’s a huge focus on these characters to give them a proper sendoff.
Bradley Cooper’s portrayal of Rocket has always been the heart of the Guardians’ movies, but he takes center stage as the narrative dives into his traumatic past. We get to see his upbringing as the High Evolutionary tortured him into the raccoon we all know and love. It’s hard to watch at some points, with some very cruel operations being performed on baby Rocket, but it puts into perspective everything he’s had to go through. His backstory with old friends is incredibly emotional to watch and even had me tearing up at several points throughout the film. Cooper deserves much more recognition for his performance in these movies, but here, he’s at his best. Never in my life did I think I would be crying over a raccoon, but he brings so much depth to the character with some of the best voice acting I’ve ever heard.
Chukwudi Iwuji gives a scene-stealing performance as the High Evolutionary — a man trying to be a god who is obsessed with creating the perfect species. He’s easily one of the best Marvel villains ever and a lot of that comes from Iwuji’s performance. He’s cold and calculating with a simmering rage and jealousy that comes boiling out when it needs to — a truly vile character that you will hate after seeing his relationship with Rocket.
The rest of the team is all great as always, but they take it up a notch for this final installment. The team is seasoned at this point and we get to see them operating as a family. Leading man Chris Pratt brings an emotional performance out of Star-Lord that I’ve never seen from him before, which added a lot to the movie. Pom Klementieff and Karen Gillan have a lot more to do in this movie as Mantis and Nebula, which was nice to see. MCU newcomer Will Poulter joins the fray as Adam Warlock, one of the most important characters in Marvel Comics, and does not disappoint. Even with only about 10 minutes of screen time, he leaves a lasting impression as a character I’d love to see more of.
From a technical perspective, the movie is flawless. It’s a top contender for the best looking movie in the entire MCU. The cinematography is stunning, with vibrant colors that pop on screen. It’s without a doubt the best directed movie in the MCU. Gunn has some very dynamic shots in the movie and is always doing something interesting with the camera. For a movie with so many locations and characters that rely on CGI, you can’t even tell. Everything looks so realistic and textured, which helps to immerse you in the experience. Composer John Murphy is brought in to score this movie and he does a great job. If I had any complaint at all about this movie, it’s that we didn’t get enough of his music.
What helped to make the Guardians’ movies popular is their killer “Awesome Mix” soundtrack. The 70s and 80s music is always written into the script to have some thematic significance with what’s going on in the scene. Once again another, great soundtrack has been put together with some exceptional needle drops. The addition of some 90s and early 2000s music, thanks to Star Lord’s new Zune MP3 player, adds a lot of variety and may even top the previous two for me. No movie should be allowed to use the Beastie Boys’ “No Sleep Till Brooklyn” after this.
Superhero action is hard to pull off in unique ways nowadays, but Gunn directs action scenes that stand out amongst the genre. He manages to pull out some very creative action scenes that, at one point, genuinely had my jaw drop. There’s several impressive action set pieces scattered throughout, but one in particular that may just be the crowning achievement of MCU action: a gorgeous one take fight scene that combines camerawork with innovative offense to make a scene that’s worth the price of admission alone.
As someone with a lot of emotional investment in these characters, I don’t think there could have been a better way for the trilogy to end. Each and every character gets a perfect sendoff and completes their arc. You can tell just how much love and care was put into every frame of the film. I was dreading the end of the movie because I was enjoying it so much that I didn’t want it to be over.
“Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3” brings a close to the Guardians’ story in the MCU in the most satisfying way and solidifies the series as one of the greatest trilogies of all time. Not only delivering a beautiful story, but some of the most creative action in recent years, too. Gunn manages to perfectly balance humor and heartbreak in an unforgettably emotional finale for Marvel’s misfits.