Film Review: Emotionally Wrenching “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3” Is a Winner
Written by: Christopher Llewellyn Reed | May 4th, 2023
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 (James Gunn, 2023) 3½ out of 4 stars.
For behold, I bring you tidings of great joy! The third Guardians of the Galaxy film is a vast improvement over its predecessor, grounding the franchise’s proverbial (and welcome) silliness in an emotionally wrenching narrative. Though the second film in the series tried for the same, the overall takeaway was one of dramatic fatigue, even if the movie still entertained. Here, the script delivers (and then some), and we end on a satisfying note that promises (maybe) more interesting stories to follow. And it’s all courtesy of a talking raccoon.
That would be Rocket, as any Marvel fan would know. Voiced once more by Bradley Cooper, he is not only a clever machinist and tech genius, but in many ways the heart of the gang. And so when that blood-pumping organ of his is injured in an opening scene, leaving Rocket’s life hanging by a very thin thread, the entire identity of the titular Guardians is under threat. Yes, Star-Lord, aka Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) may be the nominal hero, but in this movie, all eyes are on Rocket.
Which proves a winning decision, for as he lies dying we are treated to an engaging backstory. It’s a moving set of flashbacks, taking us from baby Rocket to the adult raccoon we know and love. Along the way, we meet a new antagonist, known as “The High Evolutionary” (Chukwudi Iwuji, Shine Your Eyes), responsible not only for Rocket’s transition to higher intelligence (and bipedal posture) but so much more. He may have thematic similarities to Kurt Russell’s villain from Vol. 2, but the surrounding plot details prove more affecting.
The rest of the characters from the other films are all back and in fine form, too, including Drax (Dave Bautista), Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel), Mantis (Pom Klementieff), Nebula (Karen Gillan), and even Kraglin (director James Gunn’s brother, Sean). Not to be left out, Gamora (Zoe Saldaña) returns, as well, though she remains oblivious to the charms of her erstwhile lover, Quill, since this is the other Gamora who emerged at the end of Avengers: Endgame, and not the one from the previous two volumes of this particular series. Confused? Then you have some catching up to do!
There is also Adam Warlock (Will Poulter, The Score), as another new addition who moves the plot briskly forward as the instigator of that initial attack (he has his reasons). But really, the movie belongs to Rocket. Whether or not you ever thought you needed to know more about his origins, you would be hard-pressed not to shed a tear over what we learn here. The process of experimentation that led to his massive brainpower (and impressive fighting skills) is a cruel one, and other creatures who befriend him suffer in terrible ways. There is a poignant gravitas to these scenes that elevates all the rest. But don’t worry, there are still plenty of jokes, and lots of action.
By its end, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 has taken us on quite the adventurous joyride, complete with just as many tender moments as rousing set pieces. Even Quill and alt-universe Gamora have a few touching episodes. Heck, Nebula also manages to express something more than a snarl. Add all this to the usual quips, tricks, and bang-fizz-booms that we have come to expect, and it’s an almost entirely winning formula. There are a few loose threads left hanging, and not all in the best of ways, but overall these Guardians kick cathartic butt right, left, and every which way.