Friday, April 28, 2023

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3

The unlikeliest hit of any Marvel Studios movie was 2014's Guardians of the Galaxy. After a so-so sequel, and appearances in Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame, the gang reunites one last time for Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3. Jumping between stories involving a nightmarish version of Halfworld and exploration of Rocket's (Bradley Cooper) past, the return of the most unlikable version of Gamora (Zoe Saldana) we've seen on film, the bug-eyed machinations of the High Evolutionary (Chukwudi Iwuji), and the (completely unnecessary) addition of Adam Warlock (Will Poulter), Guardians 3 is a mess. Don't get me wrong, at times it's an entertaining mess, but it's a mess nonetheless.

The third film for the team pulls on many loose threads, most notably the themes of family and the exploration of Rocket's past. Darker than either of the first two films, the moments of hilarity or goofiness don't always mesh with the more serious storyline.

Of course that doesn't stop James Gunn from inserting as many musical moments and wacky loser squabbling or bonding moments as he can comfortably fit in 150 minutes. There are plenty of times that these still work, but more of these fall flat with each installment in the series, especially this time around for a story centered around saving the life of one its core characters (albeit in an overly-convoluted manner).

There are plenty of fan moments that hit for me including a larger role for Cosmo (Maria Bakalova), Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) continuing to grow up and becoming closer to the comic version of the character with each film, and the theme of family that so permeates the film you'd half-expect it to be adopted into the Fast & Furious franchise. And, as a longtime fan of Rocket Raccoon, it is a joy to see him get so much screentime (even if most of it is in flashbacks). Also, despite not offering a reason for them to put them on, it is fun to see the group decked out in the comic costumes for the latter half of the film.

There are also aspects that simply don't work. While I understand the arc Gunn was going for, before this film I would have laughed had someone suggested Marvel could make me hate Zoe Saldana but Marvel not only accepted that challenge but found a way to achieve it in the film's first two-thirds going a bit overboard in her selfishness and disinterest in the Guardians. Also, I'm not a fan of the redesign of Groot (Vin Diesel) introduced in the Christmas special and reused here which is for me the least interesting version of the character and the most that looks like an obvious CGI rendering rather than a character. It's also perplexing in a movie where his best friend's life is on the line, Groot's role seems smaller than in previous films. The CGI department does a much better job with Rocket and the other odd creatures it introduces, as nightmarish as some of them are, even in the script goes overboard in the end with the variety of creations.

Where the film really flounders, however, is in its choice of villain. While you may be able to make a good movie with the High Evolutionary, this ain't it. Rocket's segments, shown in flashbacks, are by far the best part of this version, but Iwuji's manic energy just doesn't work for the character. Even had the choice been for more cerebral, and less mad, scientist, I still don't think that would have presented a compelling villain for the team. Also, where's Quill's Star-Lord mask? In a movie that goes overboard in ships, weapons, crazy creatures, and gadgets, it's disappearance is quite notable (especially as a late plot point hinges on its absence).

There's also the bizarre addition of Adam Warlock who apparently is only included her because someone reminded Gunn he teased him as part of the series (twice). His addition, inexplicably after Thanos is dead, can be seen as another nod to longtime fans but it doesn't do much for the story especially as this version of the character is nothing more than another powerful moron (which, I'm sorry, the franchise has more than enough of). You can get away with it for Drax (Dave Bautista) and even Mantis (Pom Klementieff), adding to the questionable intelligence of Quill, who is with dumb or genius as the script calls for, but the addition of dumb Warlock drops the IQ of the film below the Mendoza line.

I'm glad I saw Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 as fans can squeeze enough fun out of the overlong adventure while it provides us concluding stories for some characters and possible new beginnings for others. That said, it's not a film I can recommend for the casual fan. While the Rocket storyline is at the outset built on character, it eventually devolves into CGI madness and Guardian bickering, which can be fun but eventually gets a bit old especially when the villain can't hold up their end of the story. On the plus side, for an unlikely franchise that's seen decreasing returns with each entry at least it ends with some fun still to be had.

Watch the trailer
  • Title: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3
  • IMDb: link

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