Let’s talk about Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 3.
James Gunn has had an absolutely bizarre career. His break into film making was with Troma Entertainment, a production studio which specialises dirt cheap exploitation movies. They are horrible, gory movies which feel like they were designed to be watched on VHS by drunk and high university students at 2am. He would progress into be a scriptwriter for hire, penning the Dawn of the Dead remake (an understandable progression) and the two live action Scooby Doo movies (An utterly inexplicable progression which led to films which still get remembered today). But after all this, he became a director, continued to have a proper nasty streak in his movies, and became THE superhero guy because despite everything in his movies, there is an odd sentimentality. He will become the man running the DC Universe but before he makes an actual Superman film, here is his last hurrah with Marvel.
When you get to the final film in the trilogy, you do have to do something different. We’ve seen the first film and the second one tends to refine and advance the themes of the original. So the third one has to try something different, it’s why so many superhero films would falter at the end of their trilogy. And this film definitely takes some big risks, especially around Rocket Raccoon. The idea to go into his backstory is not the revolutionary thing, that’s pretty typical to explore one of the ensemble’s backgrounds. But having him pretty much comatose throughout 90% of the runtime, meaning one of the most popular characters does not get to have his usual brilliant interactions with the rest of the ensemble for the bulk of the movie. However, what it offers instead is brilliant. Rocket’s backstory is absolutely heart rendering and even though it leans into Gunn’s exploitative roots with the animal cruelty, it also ends up having some of the movie’s biggest emotional moments. It was a huge risk for Gunn, but it really works.
To begin with, the film definitely has a darker edge to it. As well as showing not all is well in the mind of Rocket, Peter Quill remains in mourning over the death of his Gamora back in Infinity War. He seems to have taken a nosedive since Thor: Love and Thunder and the Holiday special, which is a bit odd. The film does struggle for a bit because of the darker tone. It struggles to find its rhythm for at least the first twenty minutes. I think it’s because we don’t come for Guardians of the Galaxy for the darkness and if it spent too long in this hole, people would come out disappointed. And with some Marvel films recently disappointing due to poor creative choices, I did worry that maybe this film would end up too brooding and moody, forgetting what made it so popular in the first place. Thankfully, the film gets onto rhythm after the film is set up, and then it really starts to hit its stride.
And the standard Guardians of the Galaxy stuff is still fun. While it is a slightly different line-up, Nebula is now a full-time member which seems to have happened following End Game, you still get the hilarious banter, aided by a fantastic script. Every character is on form and while they all have their emotional moments, it’s nice to see Drax reverse out of being Flanderized, it’s the jokes between the group which really make the film. This series has always emphasised that they are a makeshift family of sorts, especially as all seem to have had something go horrifically wrong with their blood family, and this film shows that more than ever. Not just because of the funny bickering, but because they always end up backing each other up no matter what. So even though there’s a nasty edge to this movie at times, it’s actually quite sweet really.
That’s why Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 will reassure Marvel fans that this is a Universe that’s not about to collapse. It does have some nasty moments, you’ll have seen in the news about the animal cruelty seens and how Gunn is happy to delve back into his old exploitative roots. But the movie has a heart of gold and this is the Marvel movie which will make you cry the most since Infinity War. It has everything you enjoyed about the previous two but with this dark edge that really does make it stand out from the rest of the series. It’s brilliant and might be the best film in the trilogy.