“Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3” Leaves Our Heroes and the MCU in a Better Place

1 May

Spider-Man: Far from Home wasn’t just the last film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s so-called “Phase Three,” it was the last MCU film that could reasonably be considered great.

Alright, fine. Could be considered very good.

Since then, the MCU’s big-screen output has been fair, at best, but mostly underwhelming, with Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings and Black Panther: Wakanda Forever among the highlights and Eternals among the lowlights of Phase Four. Things have been better on the small screen, but no other series has been as good as WandaVision and The Falcon and the Winter Soldier were.

After the not-very-good Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, not to mention a less than inspiring The Marvels teaser trailer, it’s been more than fair to say that Marvel’s best days are behind us. MCU movies just aren’t as exciting as they used to be.

So, what a relief it is to report that Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 stops the downward slide. While not a top-tier movie like, say, Captain America: Winter Soldier or Civil War, not to mention the original Black Panther, the conclusion of this offbeat trilogy is generally one of the better post-Endgame releases and an emotionally satisfying film for longtime fans.

In Guardians 3, Peter Quill, a.k.a. Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), is still reeling from the loss of his love, Gamora (Zoe Saldana), who was thrown off a cliff by Thanos (her own father!) in Avengers: Infinity War. Of course, Gamora “came back” in Endgame, but it was Gamora from earlier in the timeline, before she’d met Star-Lord and the rest of the Guardians. 

Since the events of those films, Quill, Gamora, Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista), Mantis (Pom Klementieff), Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper), Groot (Vin Diesel), and the others have settled into life on the floating celestial head known as Knowhere. The film nicely catches us up on this band of misfits in a sequence set to Radiohead’s “Creep.” (And by the way, this movie’s soundtrack may be the best of the trilogy.) 

But it isn’t long before the relative calm is upended by Adam Warlock (Will Poulter, Midsommar) and some unfinished business from Rocket’s turbulent past. Quill must rally his team and embark on a dangerous mission to save Rocket’s life — a mission that could, quite possibly, lead to the end of the Guardians as we know them.

Part Rocket origin story, and part wacky space adventure, Guardians 3 is the first time in a while that an MCU film hasn’t felt like a cog in a larger corporate machine. It tells a largely self-contained story with no crossovers — Thor, you’ll recall, got off the Guardians’ ship in Love and Thunder — and it really does feel like the end of something, especially since multiple cast members have already announced they’re walking away from their roles after this film.

More importantly, on-again, off-againon-again writer/director James Gunn, who has headed up all three of the Guardians films, is walking away from the MCU entirely and over to DC Studios, where he’ll be writing and directing a Superman reboot and overseeing the entire studio’s output

Guardians 3, then, is Gunn’s official Marvel swan song, and he’s going out on his own well-deserved terms. Thankfully, he doesn’t go the easy way out and burn everything down for the sake of ending things. Instead, he’s created a film where the stakes feel real and meaningful. He allows the attachment we’ve developed for these characters to play out in rewarding ways. And he gives each of his actors the chance to shine (special shout-out to Bautista, whose acting skills have improved significantly since the first Guardians film nine years ago). When all is said and done, we can feel good about where this talented filmmaker has left things.

Not that we should feel great. With a two-and-a-half-hour running time, Guardians 3 could have used a 30-minute trim — that would have cut out some of the multiple endings and some of the less than savory elements of Rocket’s story. I also could have used less of the film’s Big Bad, the High Evolutionary (Chukwudi Iwuji), and more of Adam Warlock.

Nevertheless, when Gunn brings the film in for a landing, in a sequence set to Florence and the Machine’s “Dog Days Are Over,” it just feels right. Guardians 3 is definitely the product of one man’s vision, successfully realized across three films. After years of unsatisfying MCU bloat, it’s nice to see a release that’s as entertaining, fun, and rewarding as this one is.

So, bravo, James, and thank you for righting the ship. Let’s hope future Marvel releases are able to sustain the good vibes you’re leaving us with.

I’m giving Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 a solid B.

What say you? Leave a comment here.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: