It seems like Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 was made to be the final installment of this cosmic-superhero trilogy — even if Marvel Studios doesn’t want to wrap up this section of the Marvel Cinematic Universe just yet.
Several of the key players have already moved the hell on. Dave Bautista announced months ago that he was done playing chiseled dumbass Drax the Destroyer. Zoe Saldana recently admitted that her days as green warrior Gamora are over. And, of course, there’s writer-director James Gunn. After churning out an R-rated reboot of The Suicide Squad and the gleefully vulgar HBO Max spin-off show Peacemaker (made during the time he was briefly canceled for old, off-color tweets and dismissed by Disney), he’s now co-chairman/co-CEO of DC Films, where he’s been planning to reboot the DC Extended Universe — and piss off fans who are still loyal to the Snyderverse.
If this is the last hurrah, the series is going out in typical fashion, with this mostly uncouth crew being annoying and dysfunctional as hell — until it’s time to kick ass in the most rocking way possible.
They spring into action to save dying friend Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper, sounding as always like an even more irritated George Constanza), after some shiny, unkillable being (a buff but goofy Will Poulter) plows through their headquarters and leaves Rocket clinging to life. This being was dispatched by the High Evolutionary (Chukwudi Iwuji), a power-mad geneticist and the main Big Bad of this installment. He wants to wipe out Rocket, one of the Evolutionary’s former guinea pigs who became smarter than intended.
This Guardians volume once again shows off Gunn’s knack for creating kitschy, smart-ass chaos (something Taika Waititi shamelessly lifted for the inferior Thor sequels he directed). Our heroes continue to be bickering, badass bottom dwellers you’d love to have on your side — just as long as they don’t stick around much. Star-Lord (Chris Pratt) is still a Zune-listening dunce, carrying a torch for the Gamora he once knew. (Since that Gamora died in Avengers: Infinity War, we’re stuck with an alternate post-Snap Gamora, who’s a cynical pirate rolling with Sylvester Stallone’s space ravagers.) Gamora’s sis Nebula (Karen Gillan) is even more surly now that she’s the most competent Guardian of the pack, mostly chewing out Drax and the mind-altering Mantis (Pom Klementieff) for their screwball antics. And somehow, they can all understand Groot (Vin Diesel) now. So, consider this the second summer blockbuster sequel coming out this month starring Diesel and an unlikely “family” fighting baddies.
Your endurance may get tested whenever the Guardians are on screen together. All through their journey, they bicker, yap and make the usual amount of dunderheaded decisions. (I’m shocked no one says they’re gonna turn this spaceship around unless they keep quiet.) For more soothing moments, there are flashback sequences where a comatose Rocket remembers all the good times he had with other caged, talking creatures who were mutated by the Evolutionary, who’s basically a screeching sadist who wants to create a perfect civilization. (I gotta say, I’m not digging this new direction the MCU is taking of giving us unsympathetic villains of color who are just fucking insane.) The Guardians even visit his first draft, Counter-Earth, which is just like our messed-up Earth — but the people are half-animal.
As with most MCU productions, you gotta take the good with the bad. The Guardians films have always been relentlessly riotous trips to Cosmic Crazy Town, managing to mix juvenile frat humor with ultra-CGIed action sequences and moments of surprisingly sincere emotion. (This volume also exhibits a theme of respecting/protecting all creatures great and small.)
Just like with the last one, Gunn doesn’t scale back the verbal/visual mayhem. He goes a bit overboard in every department: comedy, action, pathos. Even the needle drops are in overwhelming abundance this time around. (The “Awesome Mix” soundtrack for this one will definitely sound like another Now That’s What I Call Music comp.) At least there’s an awe-inspiring, allegedly one-take shot of the Guardians obliterating goons to the sounds of Beastie Boys’ “No Sleep Till Brooklyn” — which, along with The Super Mario Bros. Movie, makes this the second Chris Pratt movie this year to feature this song. (I wouldn’t be surprised if this is Gunn’s homage to the one-take beatdown from Oldboy.)
And for a superhero series that’s always given off a grungy, grimy vibe, I was pleased that I could fully see a lot of it. Gunn and cinematographer Henry Braham made sure several sequences looked shiny and colorful on-screen, like the trip the gang takes to the Evolutionary’s headquarters, a station resembling intestines that looks like Gunn’s tribute to David Cronenberg.
As noisy and flawed as it is, the third Guardians is an acceptable, consistently whacked-out swan song. Sure, the post-credits sequence indicates that we’ll definitely see a Guardian in another MCU installment sometime down the line. But even in this era of unstoppable IP, at least this Guardians timeline knows when it’s time to pack up and leave not so quietly.
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