Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 3 (2023) Movie Review: In the art of film-making, there are many accolades that masters of the craft fail to win. One of the most elusive is the rare badge of honor that comes with the third installment of a trilogy being able to live up to the first two. Francis Ford Coppola, Steven Spielberg, and George Lucas have all been there. Another is one that arguably hasn’t yet been bestowed on anyone thus far, the merit of putting something meaningful together in a post-Thanos Marvel Cinematic Universe.
With James Gunn taking up the mantles of the new co-chair and co-CEO of DC Studios, it’s fair to assume that a new Guardians of the Galaxy movie carrying the baggage of two cinematic albatrosses around its neck might be a hiding to nothing. Astonishingly, it’s actually brilliant.
Marvel Studios has been battling with a problem for the majority of its most recent outputs. With over ten years of storytelling leading to the point where half of the world disappears, how on Earth do you tell a compelling story that feels anywhere near as important once that has ended?
The way that they’ve chosen to approach that question so far is simply by making everything bigger. It doesn’t matter who the hero is or where their expertise lies, the experience that they all share now is that they’ve had to save the world in one way or another. It’s exhausting. In fact, it’s no wonder that “comic book fatigue” is a phrase that’s becoming quite common among anyone who’d usually be filled with excitement at the thought of a new superhero movie.
If it’s exhausting for us, then imagine how exhausting it must be for anyone who’s supposed to live in the MCU. Society would collapse under the weight of apocalyptic melancholy, no one with a minimum wage job would bother to turn up for work in a world that’s about to end with such regularity. If the COVID pandemic taught us anything aside from that they should be paid more, it’s that the world we’ve built for ourselves doesn’t function very well without them.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 3 approaches that problem from the opposite perspective. For the most part, it isn’t a film driven by the fate of the universe but rather by the fate of a friend.
An early introduction to Adam Warlock (Will Poulter) results in an altercation on Knowhere when he attempts to kidnap Rocket. In a fight scene that involves Star-Lord, Nebula, Mantis, Groot, and of course, Drax, Rocket sustains an injury that requires urgent attention. Although the immediate threat of Warlock is chased away fairly quickly, the Guardians are left with a dying friend and no knowledge of how to treat him. To save his life, they’re in a race against the clock where they must learn about his past, something that he’s deliberately never shared with them.
It’s as much of an origin story as it is a trilogy closer, and it suits both purposes perfectly well. In crafting a villain for the film, we meet the man behind Rocket in a series of flashbacks. High Evolutionary, played by Chukwundi Iwuji, is a godlike figure driven by the idea of a perfect world. His vision of creating that is by essentially hacking the genetics of animals in a series of experiments that he hopes will lead to the creation of the ultimate being. Rocket himself is an early version of one of these experiments.
He isn’t the only one, either. He’s brutally chucked into a cage with others that High Evolutionary has experimented on; a rabbit, a walrus, and an otter with disturbingly crafted mechanical additions to their bodies. It’s reminiscent of the scene in Toy Story where Woody is dumped among Sid’s mad creations. We quickly learn that he’s surrounded by friends, despite their intimidating appearances. It immediately places Rocket among a group not dissimilar from the Guardians – a few misfits who’ve got each other’s backs – and establishes High Evolutionary as the monster.
There are plenty of more mature themes and elements. The evil in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 is driven by eugenics, while the good is shown in biblical references, which might be accused of being a bit on the nose. The most interesting aspect, though, is that because this is a film about a group of friends doing their best to save one of their own by learning more about him, it carries a magnitude of life lessons with it that are rarely seen outside of Pixar. Although Rocket’s past is too difficult for him to talk about, his friends being able to embrace it is what leads to him finding the strength to turn his personal pain into a positive for others. Rocket is elevated to the status of superhero in his own right because of what he’s been through, not despite it.
Guardians of the Galaxy 3 is a wonderful farewell to the MCU for James Gunn. It celebrates what has come before, and it leaves a legacy behind with plenty to build on. In an environment where so many blockbusters rely on doing the same as they’ve always done before, it dares to do something slightly different in delivering raw emotions instead of incomprehensible stakes. The result is as refreshing as it is heartbreaking.
Whatever the cinematic equivalent is, James Gunn has achieved two new highly sought-after scout’s badges with Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 – one for making a trilogy without a stinker and another for making a later-stage MCU film that’s very good in its own right. We can only hope that his new venture in DC Studios might earn him a third for making a decent Superman movie without having met the prerequisite condition of being named Richard Donner