Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 ★★★

Setting aside the fact that he’s ultimately been hamstrung by decisions that were made for these characters outside of his own creative control, Gunn still bites off a bit more than he can chew here. You’ve got an intriguing Noah’s Ark of ideas floating upon the sudden flood tide of Rocket’s backstory, but it opens up the film to a rather muddled two-by-two procession, an odd mix of the unique and the too-unique with the rote mechanisms of the MCU machine. Gunn is an odd one since he’s found himself the victim of ideological moralism on both the left and the right in the past, which almost cost him this very job, yet he still can’t stop himself from giving in to similarly trite compassion pleas, no matter how genuine they may be. The whole “we’re all a bunch of weirdos who have to come together in our weirdness!” schtick already felt a bit old with the rat-infested climax of The Suicide Squad, it feels old now with this film’s “sometimes you just have to have a dance party to cure your trauma!” routine, and it’ll continue to feel old when Gunn is allowed to root around the bottom of DC’s character bin next, I’m sure. Never once does it feel outright cynical, though, and that’s why I continue to cut Gunn slack — that, and his taste in music. (John Murphy goes as hard here as the Awesome Mix does, by the way.) This all brushes against a more introspective film, buried beneath the usual schmaltz. The High Evolutionary, who should’ve been Marvel’s new Thanos instead of Kang, is a curious emblem of the underbelly of progress, a synthesis of the cold, pragmatic tutelage of nature’s transformations and humanity’s insistence in harnessing the utility of development to lash out at being itself. It’s the elemental trap of killing God by becoming god, questioning a divine creator’s flood with a razing of one’s own creation, all in the name of utopian betterment. I’m fascinated by this subtext for obvious reasons, along with how unpleasant the film is willing to get to drive home the point. This is the deepest you’ll ever see Marvel allow a director to delve into the boundaries of the dark, which is a shame since it ultimately (1) collides against that director’s own proclivities and (2) ends up compacted within the exasperating frame of the recent Disney-Marvel mess. Still, as clunky and contradictory as it can be, I commend the strangely sadistic humanity on display. At least it’s not Love and Thunder or Quantumania.

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