Writer-director James Gunn stays true to himself while delivering a quirky, action-packed, and shockingly emotional sign-off
Radiohead’s “Creep” is used as a not-so-subtle anthem during the opening scenes of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, the last entry in James Gunn’s trilogy about the most endearing weirdos in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Exploring the beauty of chosen families and the importance of compassion and kindness, it is everything a Guardians film should be: a witty, goofy celebration of weirdness and imperfection with excellent action sequences, impossible heists, unconventional romances, slow-motion walks, a killer soundtrack and a fascinating diversity of creatures and characters. Gunn leaves Marvel – potentially for good? – with a bang, delivering one of the best MCU films since Avengers: Endgame.
Following the events of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, the story follows Peter “Star-Lord” Quill (Chris Pratt), Drax (Dave Bautista), Nebula (Karen Gillan), Groot (Vin Diesel) and Mantis (Pom Klementieff) on a mission to save Rocket (Bradley Cooper) after he gets seriously injured during a brutal attack on their home, Knowhere. Their paths will cross with a God-complex villain known as the High Evolutionary (Chukwudi Iwuji), who has the “altruistic objective” of building a “utopian society” inhabited by the perfect race. They will also have to deal with the inexperienced but powerful abilities of Adam Warlock (Will Poulter), a cosmic being who wants to protect his people, the Sovereign, and of course with the alternate dimension Gamora (Zoe Saldana), who has found a new family of mercenaries following the events of Endgame.
The heart-breaking origins of Rocket take central stage this time. Gunn does not hold back in telling the disturbing past of the character, echoing the horrors of real-life animal cruelty and condemning sadistic experimentation in the name of progress. While the snarky racoon is the heart of a story, every main character still gets their moment. Whether it is Mantis’ super powered tenderness, Nebula’s vulnerability behind all that rage, or Drax’s longing for fatherhood, each of the ensemble has a chance to shine.
Recent entries like Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania have felt like a means to an end, with the special effects growing more and more disappointing. But Guardians Vol. 3 raises the standard once again for the MCU. And, thank God, brings back some much-needed colour, light and campiness to the action, honouring Gunn’s past with Troma Entertainment, seemingly at times aiming for a Barbarella-esque Star Wars spoof. The filmmaker sure knows how to leave his mark and find the perfect balance between kooky and sentimental.
However, much like its central characters, the film is not totally perfect: the villain feels one-dimensional, clichéd, and disappointing, and there could have been more substance to the introduction of Adam Warlock, a hugely important character with an enormous legacy in the Marvel comics. Poulter sells the character, but it would have been great to see him as more than mere comic relief.
For the most part, though, this heart-warming goodbye to the Guardians of the Galaxy feels right. Free from the usual overstuffing presence of MCU references, the film stands on its own as a self-contained tale that succeeds in bringing the characters’ journey to a satisfying end. The future of these superheroes may be uncertain, but its present is brighter than ever.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 is released in UK cinemas on 5 May.Where to watch