Love him or hate him (one of them has to do with the exclusion of Henry Cavill as Superman as part of his new DCU slate), it’s hard to deny James Gunn’s passion for comic books and superhero movies after finally got to witness the long-awaited ‘Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3’. It’s sad to see him go because this is his final Marvel movie before moving on to lead the DCU as both co-chairman and CEO of DC Studios alongside Peter Safran. He is also responsible for writing and even directing the upcoming ‘Superman: Legacy’ due July 11, 2025, at the time of writing. Whether he’s the right man for the job remains to be seen anyway but for now, let’s dive into ‘Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3’.
Gunn, who also took the sole screenwriting credit just like in the 2017 sequel and last year’s Disney+ holiday special, begins with the Guardians of the Galaxy team currently at their HQ in Knowhere. Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) is a wreck, looking all drunken and disheveled because he still can’t get over Gamora’s (Zoe Saldana) death after the tragic events of ‘Avengers: Infinity War.’ For a quick recap, the last time we saw Gamora ended up lying down at the bottom of the cliff after Thanos (Josh Brolin) sacrificed her to obtain the Soul Stone.
Then, a sudden attack arrives out of nowhere: a golden-hued man called Adam Warlock (Will Poulter) flies across the sky, and he’s seemingly unstoppable, badly injuring Rocket (Bradley Cooper) in the process. As the team attempts to resuscitate him, the movie leads us to Rocket’s extended backstory occasionally. These moments showcased Gunn’s ability to make a genuinely poignant story between the creator (Chukwudi Iwuji’s High Evolutionary) and his modified creation of a living creature, the raccoon, during his younger days.
His backstory isn’t all doom and gloom as Gunn balances the grim drama with a wonderful theme of friendship, adding other talking animals voiced by Linda Cardellini, Asim Chaudhry, and Mikaela Hoover. It’s amazing how Gunn can turn these talking animals into someone we care about.
A superhero movie, of course, wouldn’t be complete without a villain. And here, we have Chukwudi Iwuji, the theater-trained Nigerian-British actor playing the High Evolutionary.
A mad scientist whose goal is perfecting imperfection as he sees fit. He sure knows how to pull off a raving maniac type of role, and I can’t help but be reminded of Gary Oldman-style of acting seen in ‘The Professional’ and ‘The Fifth Element.’ Gunn has certainly brought out the best in Chukwudi Iwuji, and the introduction of High Evolutionary is among the best Marvel antagonists ever seen in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
The rest of the movie follows Peter and his team (Karen Gillan’s Nebula, Dave Bautista’s Drax, Pom Klementieff’s Mantis, Vin Diesel’s all-grown-up Groot, and Zoe Saldana’s Gamora from the alternate timeline) on an intergalactic mission. One of them revolved around an elaborate caper that takes place in the fleshy-covered Orgoscope. It looks as if Gunn is channeling David Cronenberg’s body-horror vibe in its surreal landscape, except it was executed in an irreverent mix of B-movie weirdness and broad comedy.
Rocket’s backstory may have been the heart and soul of the movie. But Gunn offers something more, including the aforementioned caper moment. There’s a playful banter between Bautista’s Drax and Klementieff’s Mantis as they share terrific on-screen chemistry, constantly bickering and dissing at each other.
This wouldn’t be their first time since they previously appeared as protagonists in last year’s 42-minute ‘The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special’ on Disney+. Gunn even goes as far as establishing Drax as more than just a tough but deadpan character who takes things literally. Chris Pratt has been the main focus in the first two movies as Peter Quill a.k.a. Star-Lord, remains one of the franchise’s MVPs with his signature wit and charm.
Karen Gillan and Zoe Saldana have their own respective moments as they reprise their roles as Nebula and Gamora. Vin Diesel’s monosyllabic ‘I am Groot’ turn is now leveled up as a no-nonsense protector and a fighter, offering him the chance to fully optimize his power of dendrokinesis (the ability to manipulate wood) and impressive skill in using guns.
‘Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3’ finally addresses the return of Ayesha (Elizabeth Debicki) and her creation of Adam Warlock, played by Will Poulter in his MCU debut. Their characters were previously teased during the post-credits stinger in ‘Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2’ six years ago. I assumed they would be the next big things crucial to the franchise and the future MCU phase(s). Unfortunately, Gunn doesn’t really know what to do with them. It’s like these characters are included in this third movie just for the sake of fan service.
The third movie may clock at 2 ½ hours, making it the longest ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ movie ever made in the James Gunn-directed trilogy. Such a length may succumb to an overstuffed mess, and while I admit many scenes are happening at once, Gunn maintains an overall confident pace throughout the movie. He combines emotion, humor, and visceral thrills in a single package.
The latter is especially true as Gunn shows no mercy in executing the action sequences. They are surprisingly violent in some scenes, and frankly, we need that in a superhero movie because not everything has to be toned down. Gunn also gives us one of the coolest action set pieces of the year – a breathtaking battle scene in the spaceship corridor seamlessly put together in a long take.