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  • Writer's pictureMatt Conway

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3: Review

After years of perilous adventures, the Guardians of the Galaxy embark on their most personal mission yet in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3.

The Marvel roster is brimming with majestic heroes and endearing personalities. While dedicated fans will surely debate their favorite Marvel figures, the Guardians of the Galaxy have consistently ranked as my favorite super-powered crusaders.

For those uninitiated to comic book lore, the Guardians of the Galaxy is a misfit team of intergalactic bandits. They encompass a personable roster of distinctive characters - including a sardonic talking animal (Rocket Racoon), a menacing yet admittedly empty-minded warrior (Drax the Destroyer), a tree-like humanoid with a big heart (Groot), the cunning talents of a no-nonsense mercenary (Gamora), and their fearless but admittedly fool-hearted leader from Earth (Star-Lord). Along the way, the guardians adopted several other quirky figures, like the kind-hearted empath Mantis and Gamora's hard-edged sister Nebula.

In the hands of writer/director James Gunn, the team transformed into a lovable makeshift family onscreen. The eccentric array of colorful personalities blended into a harmonious unit that dispenses clever one-liners and heartwarming sentiments in equal measure. Where 2014's Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 1 showcased a promising origin story, 2017's Vol. 2 excelled to even grander heights, meshing blockbuster thrills with thoughtful character development in ways that supplant most superhero endeavors.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 arrives as a potential final chapter for the franchise. Pulling off a great trilogy is a nearly impossible feat in Hollywood; just ask The Dark Knight Rises and Godfather 3. Fortunately, Vol. 3 soars to the meteoric heights of its beloved predecessors. The sequel maintains the brand's charming allures while upping the ante in surprisingly mature and emotionally resonant ways.

There is not enough praise to heap on James Gunn for his creative achievement here. Gunn, who started from humble roots as a low-budget filmmaker with Slither and Super, has seamlessly transferred his distinctive tonal-hybrid trademarks into the confines of the Marvel Cinematic Universe formula. He is one of the few Marvel filmmakers to shatter the studio's all-too-predictable mold, setting a shining example that several of his contemporaries have already half-heartedly tried to duplicate (looking at you, Thor: Ragnarok and Love and Thunder).

Visually, Vol. 3 boasts an uncanny stylistic electricity. Gunn imagines his vast celestial setting through his singular eye, intermixing a vibrant color scheme with an array of inventively designed creature creations. Even with the vast creativity on display, the film never loses itself in a trap of style over substance.

Gunn and Cinematographer Henry Braham capture each frame with a thoughtful eye, allowing each image to harbor substantial power in its grander emotional and thematic connotations. I would also be remissed in underplaying the impactful soundtrack Gunn has assembled here. Timely musical cues remain a fixture of the Guardians franchise, often accompanying moments of enthralling action and intimate heartache in ways that effectively elevate the material. Vol. 3 features a similarly inspired blend of tracks. Each carefully curated melody captures the spirit of a given scene without ever feeling like contrived inclusions.

The imaginative technical flourishes certainly pop on the screen, although Gunn's affecting and audacious storytelling remains the true standout. I do not want to get too in the weeds with details, as within seconds of the film, a seismic event that occurs alters the following 150-minute experience. What I will say is the film brilliantly furthers the foundation established in previous entries. Gunn's ability to personify his characters with textured dimensions is an impressive feat. Each member of the Guardians could come off as a one-note archetype in lesser hands, but the writing here always finds the humanity embedded within the characters' unique personalities.

Submerging his protagonists within personable emotions is one of Gunn's true calling cards as a blockbuster filmmaker. So many big-budget movies today forget that audiences need something meaningful to invest in. Sure, it can be exciting seeing superheroes save the world against a menacing threat. However, the Guardians' efforts in confronting their deeply-felt flaws and insecurities continue to be the main reason they are beloved figures. Vol. 3 features a plethora of inspired subplots, whether it's Rocket Racoon reckoning with trauma from his youth or Star-Lord trying to reignite his romantic bond with Gamora. Both arcs feature a level of emotional intelligence that is frankly rare for MCU features.

The Guardians franchise also benefits from a dynamic cast. Chris Pratt's goofball charisma as Star-Lord, Dave Bautista's sharp one-liners as Drax, Zoe Saldana's bitting grit in the role of Gamora, Pom Klementieff's sensitive spirit as Mantis and Vin Diesel's ability to so satisfyingly mutter "I am Groot," all command the screen throughout. Each actor feels tailor-made for their lively parts, embracing the dimensions of their characters with effective results. For someone like Pratt, who is often maligned for his routine movie star performances, the aching vulnerabilities of Star-Lord serve as a perfect canvas for the actor to showcase underutilized tools in his acting toolbox. The addition of a new fearsome villain, Chukwudi Iwuji as the callous High Evolutionary, also adds gravitas and palpable tension to the material.

Picking standout performances amidst a talented crowd is never easy. For me, it is Bradley Cooper and Karen Gillian who truly stole the show. In a voice-over performance, Cooper imbues remarkable vitality into Rocket Racoon. This movie allows the actor to peel back the layers of Rocket's rugged personality, with Cooper exploring the character's pain and hardship with raw power onscreen. Gillian is often overlooked for her work as Nebula - a character who typically clashes with the Guardians for her hardened personality. Here, Gillian relishes the opportunity to explore new layers of Nebula as she skillfully finds the beating heart buried within the character's robotic exterior.

Is Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 perfect? Not quite. A slew of new inclusions, like the famed comic book character Adam Warlock, end up getting lost across an admittedly busy screenplay. In addition, certain marquee moments in the third act indulge too much in standard-issue comic book devices that only exist to inject fake tension onscreen. Still, a few gaffs do not come close to tarnishing an immensely accomplished blockbuster ride.

You never know if this will be the Guardians of the Galaxy's last ride together onscreen. If it is, I could not think of a more fitting way for these characters to ride off in the sunset.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 is now playing in theaters.


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