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Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 is a bittersweet goodbye
★★★★★ | Band on the fun
After six long years, the Guardians of the Galaxy return for one last curtain call. With a mammoth runtime of two and a half hours and the nervous gaze of an audience finally showing signs of Marvel-fatigue on them, director James Gunn has his work cut out for him.
Luckily, the man who took a handful of D-rate comic book characters and made them beloved icons of the MCU shows no signs of stumbling. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 is a perfect conclusion to the story, a heartbreaking goodbye, and a satisfying farewell that still put a smile on my face as I left the theatre.
In the aftermath of The Infinity Wars, the Guardians have settled into an uneasy life on Knowhere. Quill wastes his days away pining after his lost love, Gamora, who died at the hands of Thanos. While Gamora’s past self returned to life through time travel shenanigans, it is not the person Quill remembers - nor does she want to be.
Meanwhile, the other Guardians are equally lost in this new world. Not least Nebula, who questions her part in the big picture, and fights a lingering sense that something could once been possible between her and Quill.
Their routine is broken by a sneak attack by Adam Warlock, who seeks to kidnap Rocket and return him to the lunatic that made him: The High Evolutionary. A twisted villain in the galaxy's far reaches, who believes himself a new creator fit to control what life in the universe looks like.
As the Guardians set off to stop him and save their friend, everyone soon begins to realize this will be their last journey together - no matter what happens.
The following two-plus hours are exactly what you’d expect from a Guardians film. Quips fly fast, emotions run high, and the needle drops (this time from the 90s) are a cavalcade of bangers. It’s very much like the previous two films in every way, which is either positive or negative depending on how you liked them. Although, if you didn’t, why even bother with the third one?
But Gunn has also matured and gotten better as a director. His innate sense of allowing melodrama to play out in full is unmatched in the MCU. Guardians is as much a comedy as it is an action film, but it never laughs at itself. It’s not glib. Which means these characters matter, and their trials are immensely emotional this time around.
In fact, I’d argue that Guardians Vol. 3 might be the first Marvel film that I couldn’t recommend outright to the youngest members of the family. It deals with intensely heavy themes of abuse, personal identity, and loss, but also features multiple scenes that will have the Does the Dog Die website twitching.
It’s not a grimdark film, and Gunn doesn’t forget who the series is for in the end, but it’s also fair to point out that I was a mess of ugly crying at least three times during it.
By now, after a decade on the road, these characters are so well-defined that even a small gesture on an animated raccoon tells a whole story. And it’s not always a happy one. Even the newcomers, like Cosmo, a telepathic Soviet space dog, tug at the heartstrings.
But this is Rocket’s story, and it’s clear that Gunn has always had a special place in his heart for the foulmouthed, ultra-violent critter. By the end, it felt like everything had come full circle, which in turn makes the two previous films even better in retrospect.
Despite the length, Guardians Vol. 3 is also a little overstuffed. There are a lot of big ideas and set pieces that are wild when you see them, but not quite as coherent when you think about them afterward. I wish the third act got a bit more time to breathe under the impressive action, but this problem with Marvel-pacing doesn’t seem to be going away.
And yet, if this is the end, I couldn’t wish for a better one. It’s everything I want from a Marvel film, but it’s also a reminder that very few of them have the heart and vision of Gunn’s trilogy. It sets itself apart from the rest, even the really good ones. This is the work of someone who really cares about the heart and the spectacle, and that combination is increasingly rare in blockbusters today.
It’s sad to see the Guardians go, but I’m thankful we got to have this ride. It was more than worth it.
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