Review by Sean Boelman
(L-R): Chris Pratt as Peter Quill/Star-Lord, Dave Bautista as Drax, Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper), Zoe Saldana as Gamora, Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel), Karen Gillan as Nebula, and Pom Klementieff as Mantis in Marvel Studios' Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3. Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios. © 2023 MARVEL.
Guardians of the Galaxy was a surprise hit, taking a relatively unknown Marvel property and turning it into one of the MCU’s most beloved. Now, nearly a decade later, we are going on our third outing with the unusual family unit. With visual and tonal shades of movies like The Fifth Element, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 is visually and thematically rich, but doesn’t quite leave the impact that fans are expecting or hoping for.
Teased as the final mission of the eponymous superhero team, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 follows the group as they set out on a quest to save one of their own. It’s surprising that — even though this is the finale of the trilogy — Gunn and co. decided to keep it rather intimate rather than having them battle a threat that holds the fate of the galaxy in its hands.
Ultimately, the biggest issue with the film is that it struggles to find an effective tonal balance. Whereas the first movie — and to a lesser extent, the second — effortlessly mixed humor and heart, this finale of the trilogy attempts to take a darker tone to mixed results. Although many of the moments involving Rocket’s backstory are resonant, cutting them as flashbacks into an otherwise goofy adventure diminishes some of their impact.
The real shining star of this film is Rocket Raccoon, which should come as no surprise considering that he is the focal point of the movie from a narrative and emotional standpoint. Cooper’s voice acting performance is genuinely brilliant here, bringing a level of emotion to the character that one wouldn’t expect considering how he was mostly known for wise-cracking in the other two entries.
As for the rest of the returners, Chris Pratt and Zoe Saldana really struggle here — their line delivery feeling surprisingly unnatural, Dave Bautista and Pom Klementieff are great, and Karen Gillan is doing her usual schtick. Will Poulter is added to the cast as Adam Warlock, and while he’s awesome in the role, the character feels somewhat wasted. And Chukwudi Iwuji is disproportionately great for how unevenly his role is written as the antagonist.
From a visual sense, this is likely the best Marvel has been in recent memory. The visual effects are polished and feel genuinely immersive rather than fake as many recent MCU outings have. There is also one sequence in the second act that has some of the most inventive and fun costuming and production design you will find in any film this year.
And of course, the soundtrack has always been a big part of the Guardians of the Galaxy movies, and this one mostly delivers. This entry returns to some of the more populist roots of the first “Awesome Mix,” but one would be lying if they said it didn’t set the tone for a fun adventure. Sure, the needle drops are on-the-nose and a bit sentimental, but what else do you expect at this point?
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 is a fun time, and while there are some moments that are absolutely brilliant, it doesn’t cohere as well as one would hope. It’s still good, but it never manages to capture the lightning in a bottle that was the first film.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 hits theaters on May 5.