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Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 (2023) Review

Updated: Apr 29, 2023

Writer-director James Gunn has been praised for the originality he brought to the Marvel Cinematic Universe while popularizing a once-lesser-known team, the Guardians of the Galaxy. Gunn's first outing into the more cosmic side of Marvel's never-ending universe remains to be a memorable installation into a cinematic saga that may be wearing itself a bit too thin. Guardians of the Galaxy, followed by Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, allowed Gunn to inject a sense of personality into what felt to be a gamble for Marvel Studios. Guardians of the Galaxy bested doubts over its success, and in turn, elevated Gunn's status in the world of filmmaking. His third and final piece in the Guardians of the Galaxy trilogy tests the merit of his growing legacy.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 has long prided itself on being the swan song of the titular team, and the writer-director behind them as he departs from Marvel Studios altogether. With this, there are high expectations for Gunn's last romp set into place. The overlong run time of two hours and 30 minutes also sounds promising when considering the infinite possibilities of story arcs that may be explored, when that heft chunk of screen time is divided by quality and quantity, it's clear that a good hour (and most the second act) could have been shaven off. The film itself is rather strange and digs deep into the cosmic weirdness that once made the series so interesting. No bars are held when it comes to how truly bizarre Guardians wants to get, but the daringness to be different may be a bit offputting to the casual moviegoer. The greatest strife there is not the intergalactic oddities by themselves, but how out of place they felt. There is room for both unconventional ideas and aesthetics, but they should be purposeful. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 moves too quickly for its own good while trying to navigate a distracted, and almost misguided, plot. Intense violence and graphic action cannot be a crutch used to push the story forward.

In the past, Gunn has proven that the Guardians are at their best in tightly-packaged scenes rather than in grand scopes. This is primarily an ode to Rocket Raccoon, and sentimental moments touched with some clever dialogue struggle to break above the surface of an overcomplicated screenplay. Over-explanation, in this case, does not work in the Guardians' favor. The long-winded nature of the threequel is exhausting, and overwritten scenes directly wear away at the impact of the film as a whole. The allocation of priorities when choosing how much time is spent on certain arcs is greatly mismanaged. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 meets its highs when there's time spent with Rocket, reflecting on his truly disturbing past with bouts of body horror that call back to Gunn's Troma Entertainment days. The third entry into the Guardians franchise takes risks when diving into more dark, disturbing territory - it's a shame that Gunn chooses to contrast these moments with outdated, Marvel-standard humor that has become more polarizing while aging poorly over time.

The losses suffered by Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 can be likened to the pitfall of Thor: Love and Thunder, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, and Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania. The long wait for Will Poulter's Adam Warlock to finally step into the spotlight feels like a misuse of the character, where he is simply present to be present. When it comes to others, Gunn struggles to let go. The sentimentality is touching, but the Guardians' finale has fallen victim to extreme mismarketing. It's okay for a franchise to let go of its characters, and creative choices regarding character fates may have been too cowardly for their own good. Perhaps there was Disney oversight that prevented countering ideas from making the final cut, but Gunn's closing chapter feels far too safe to be satisfying. Some cast feels disengaged from Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, and Chris Pratt's once-signature energy that made Peter "Star-Lord" Quill such a standout seems to be void from him altogether. Though he's taken the backseat in this chapter, to an extent, there's still a want for him to put some effort into his performance - or for the costume department to at least remember to put Quill's universal translator implant on Pratt's neck.

Guardians of the Galaxy soundtracks have been a running highlight of the series - why break that trend with an underwhelming playlist? Gunn's typically careful choice of what songs make the cut, and when they're timed, has come across as inexcusably thrown together. Music choice has been viewed as an important element in past Guardians chapters, so what changed here? That's not to say that the overall measure of quality or success of execution should be hinged on what musical components go where, but previous Guardians films have emphasized how crucial selected tracks are.

Considering the amount of time that was given to Gunn to perfect the Guardians' final bow, it's incredibly disappointing that the last entry into the Guardians trilogy is its weakest link. 4/10.

*There are two post-credit scenes in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3.

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