Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 ★★

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

The Guardians of the Galaxy series goes out with a bang and also a whimper. On the one hand, Rocket's story is quite affecting, although that'd be hard to mess up just because of most Western viewers' innate desire to protect animals. The animation is top notch, lending to images that are by turns moving and grotesque; I still don't know how I feel about Gunn putting such a morbid and twisted spin on the dognapper trope in a movie that, regardless of his intentions, was going to be marketed to families with small children. Speaking of children, I did not care for the stale saving-the-kids subplot at the end of the movie, which was too visually similar to scenes from Thor: Love and Thunder and Blade Runner 2049 and also felt to me like Gunn overcompensating to prove what a good boy he's willing to be after being uncanceled.

I think the biggest foible of this movie is its greater dependence on the broader MCU project in contrast to the previous entries, which could be viewed in isolation, the second being an auteur vision emanating for better or worse the ick of James Gunn's life as suggested by his online persona. In the middle of a movie I'd wager most Guardians fans barely remember, the Russo Brothers unfortunately terminated the Gamora–Star Lord romantic tension that had been building up, and the way Gunn chooses to resuscitate this broken relationship is to spiritually cuck the dashing space rogue Quill and have him learn some trite MGTOW lesson about just enjoying swimming in the sea and ignoring the fish. Every scene he and Gamora share is cringe, and Gunn annoyingly plays with the audience's emotions by threatening to kill the former main character off (not out of place in a cinematic open season on well-established white male leads) before pulling a "Psych!" with the most baffling Michelangelo allusion there will ever be in a movie (comparing Will Poulter's character, who could readily be removed from the story, to God).

The soundtrack is also a major step down from the first two awesome mixes thanks, I think, to developments in the Christmas Special on Disney Plus. The Guardians now carry around a Walkman loaded with singles from the 90s and even the 2000s, which dilutes the emotional impact of the needle drops, as each of the songs in the preceding films functioned as a tether for Quill to his homeworld and a reminder of his mother, and he'd clearly committed a lot of them to memory. The songs chosen for Vol. 3's soundtrack are also comparatively uninspired and overly literal; take a dejected Rocket wandering around the Guardians' base, the camera following at his lowly level, as the acoustic version of Radiohead's "Creep" plays throughout the camp, or the dance party at the end set to "Dog Days Are Over". Great idea capping off a series known for its strong retro pop rock curation with a song I remember playing on the radio just 10 years ago. That didn't take me out of the movie at all.

I have complained a lot thus far, but I once again appreciated the wacky design of the worlds and characters, especially the goo moon? and the various monstrosities engineered by the villain. The movie does feel a bit heavier on CGI than the first two, blunting some of the comical ultraviolence toward the end, but the action is fun for the most part. Some of the Drax and Mantis banter was also funny.

I don't know if I'll tune back into this franchise when "Star Lord returns" (if the MCU is even still around in 4-5 years), but this trilogy could have ended in worse manners given the poor hand Infinity War dealt Gunn, and I don't regret seeing his baby through to its conclusion.

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