Running Time: 150 minutes Release Date: May 5th, 2023 Budget: $250 Million
It was 10 years ago this August I saw Guardians of the Galaxy in theaters with my father and we marveled at the mastery of this universe. Fast forward to now, and the Marvel universe’s cracks have turned into fissures. Recent pictures post-Endgame have been plagued by terrible f/x work, flat attempts at humour, and a general over-crowdedness that is a staple of any long-running comic series. This was meant to be the first movie after Avengers Endgame but problematic tweets and partisan politics delayed it. Is this final product now too little too late for the MCU or the perfect Swan song? The result is somewhere in between.
Chris Pratt is back as Peter Quill aka Star-Lord but after losing the love of his life Gamora has lost the laughs. It has been six years since the last film, although the Guardians have had limited screen time in The Avengers films, Thor Love and Thunder, and a holiday special. It hasn’t felt like we have spent any quality time with them since Vol. 2 until now. The original was a breakthrough role for Pratt, and he followed it up with the Jurassic World trilogy which mercifully wound down last year. He no longer is the laugh-a-minute young dumb roguish Han Solo type. He is an admitted depressed 45-year-old alcoholic. Although beyond the opening segment, this character beat hardly gets mentioned again. Due to the long gap between installments, he has been in depressed mode since 2018’s Infinity War. The laughs instead come through the deadpan bonehead Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista) and empathic Mantis (Pom Klementieff). It’s the most fruitful relationship in the film.
Drax and Mantis have a great onscreen relationship, with comedic emotion that helps balance the tone. Drax is still insensitive and impulsive and Mantis as an empath (introduced in the second film) is the opposite. The movie gets a lot of mileage out of their point of view but fails to elevate any other character to that level despite suggesting that perhaps Quill and reformed villain Nebula might be more right for each other than Quill and his former lover from a former universe Gamora. Confused yet? Guardians of the Galaxy 3 is pretty unwelcoming to newcomers despite some laughs and top-notch production value. As for longtime fans the film zags with a rush of last-minute character development in the last 10 minutes as Gunn rearranges a new status quo. It Is part of an ongoing trend for insecure movie studios who are nonetheless franchise hungry, seem to hand everything over creatively to the directors to close up shop when they should be extending their hours. l felt the same way for Star Wars Episode IX when after only four years it felt like we were saying goodbye to characters we’ve only just gotten to know who are casualties of brand fatigue. This is the first well-made Marvel TV or film since 2019’s Avengers Endgame; 9 films and 8 TV shows ago. So given the quality decline of f/x and writing with writers with less and less experience getting the job, I can understand why writer/ director James Gunn, now head of rival DC, felt the need to protect his work. The penalty is that he sells the audience short in the process.
The backbone of the story concerns Rocket, the talking raccoon’s origin story and past brought to life by the High Evolutionary in a great performance by Chukwudi Iwuji. Iwuji plays a god-like figure (‘There is no God, that’s why I stepped in!’) similar to Gorr the God Butcher in Thor: Love and Thunder who is way more interesting than the current Marvel Universe big bad Kang (Jonathan Majors) and could have held his own as a major villain. However, producer Kevin Feige had other plans and Iwuji manages to make a very cruel Saturday morning cartoon villain feel like a complete character. To the extent that everything on screen works it doesn’t matter so much upon viewing that there isn’t a single meaningful revelation about any character in the film, unlike previous entries. But it might irritate audiences afterward. The film is an elegant metaphor for how good the Marvel machine used to but can no longer be in a way that would make Drax the Destroyer proud.
Rating: B / 7.5/10, and 1/2 on the continuum scale.
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Marvel Studios Presents
A Kevin Feige Production
A James Gunn Film
‘Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3’
Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Karen Gillan, Pom Klementieff, featuring Vin Diesel as Groot, Bradley Cooper as Rocket, Sean Gunn, Chikwudi Iwuji, Will Poulter, Elizabeth Debicki, Maria Bakalova, and Sylvester Stallone
Written and Directed By James Gunn