Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 (2023)

Premise: Still reeling from the loss of Gamora, Peter Quill rallies his team to defend the universe and one of their own – a mission that could mean the end of the Guardians if not successful.
Director: James Gunn
Writer: James Gunn
Cast: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Karen Gillan, Pom Klementieff, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Sean Gunn, Chukwudi Iwuji, Will Poulter, Maria Bakalova
With Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, James Gunn sends off the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s most heartfelt group with an emotional finish that lays it all out on the table. Following an attack by Adam Warlock (Will Poulter) on Knowhere, the Guardians’ post-Endgame HQ, the group must dig into Rocket’s (Bradley Cooper) past to find a way to save him from his injuries. Making matters more complex is the High Evolutionary (Chukwudi Iwuji), a man obsessed with creating a perfect utopia through grotesque genetic manipulation, who has his eyes set on reclaiming Rocket for his own nefarious purposes.

The most surprising aspect to Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 is that it’s a true ensemble piece. While the first two installments revolved around Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), the legendary Star Lord takes something of a backseat in this concluding chapter. Instead, it’s Rocket who is the focus as we are finally given heartbreaking insight into his backstory and how it molded him into the hardened person we’ve known through the franchise. However, since Rocket is incapacitated early in the film, the majority of his role in the film is through flashbacks. This allows Gunn to dive deep into the emotion of Rocket’s journey and give the audience the full scope of his backstory.
The rest of the group operates as a true ensemble as they work together to save their friend. Naturally, this journey takes them to several corners of the galaxy. As is the case with the Guardians films, James Gunn infuses each new location with a healthy dose of peculiarity that lends itself to some great comedic bits. In one early sequence, the Guardians infiltrate a biological celestial facility and run into the structures’ security force. The dialogue here is sharp and witty while still managing to be tense as the Guardians risk potential danger. Of course, this is a tried and true narrative tactic that’s been proven multiple times in the franchise, but here it just proves Gunn’s confidence in his storytelling and his knowledge of what works in the material.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 is at times a difficult watch. Rocket’s backstory is the focal point of the entire film and James Gunn does not shy away from the brutality of the High Evolutionary’s view of animals. Add to that the fact that Gunn really swings for the fences when it comes to the emotional distraught he wants to give the audience with Rocket’s backstory, the film may prove to be too much for some audiences. However, the trade off is a truly remarkable story that simultaneously gives depth to the character of Rocket as well as further contextualizes the Guardians’ bond with each other and the inherent goodness of the group itself.
The film also boasts a lovely admiration for science fiction, of course. The space suits the Guardians wear in one sequence are intentionally similar to the space suits in Kubrick’s iconic 2001: A Space Odyssey. In a more abstract sense, one leg of their journey finds the Guardians on a planet that was designed to look similar to Earth. The surreality of Peter seeing a place so close to his home planet but with nonhumans occupying it brings to mind the likes of Planet of the Apes and Rod Serling’s seminal work, The Twilight Zone.
For all its narrative strengths, certain aspects of the film admittedly could have benefited from more screen time and more conclusive character arcs. For instance, Adam Warlock’s arc feels a bit undercooked given the scale with which he’s introduced in the film’s opening. Likewise, there’s something slightly missing in the way the film handles Gamora (Zoe Saldaña) and Peter’s relationship (or lack thereof, given the circumstances). It is given the attention it deserves and Saldaña and Pratt give great performances, but the film ultimately leaves a little bit still to be desired in the resolution of their storyline.
As a villain, we learn a lot about the High Evolutionary through Rocket’s flashbacks, but the full potential of his madness doesn’t really come to light until Star Lord and the Guardians go up against him. The design of the character is unsettling as the skin of his face appears grafted onto his skull in a subtle display of body horror that’s a reflection of his own cruelty and madness toward living beings. Throughout the film, the High Evolutionary proves to be a formidable and horrific opponent for the Guardians.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 is not only a near perfect culmination to the MCU’s most heartfelt group of characters. It’s also the best Marvel movie since 2019’s Endgame (with Spider-Man: No Way Home being a very close second). The heart and emotion on display in this film will stick with audiences for a while and will likely leave many weeping in the theater.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 opens in theaters on May 5th, 2023

About the Writer: Matt Hurt is the creator of He also created, hosts, and produces The Obsessive ViewerAnthology, and Tower Junkies podcasts. He is a member of the Indiana Film Journalists Association and lives in Indianapolis with his cat Pizza Roll. 

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