The Guardians of the Galaxy franchise has always been an oddball in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Its ragtag band of heroes, led by the manchild Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), consists of a tough-talking raccoon named Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper), a grumpy green-skinned assassin named Gamora (Zoe Saldaña), a walking tree named Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel), a hulking warrior who doesn’t understand irony named Drax (Dave Bautista), and more.
In Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 3, writer-director James Gunn takes the franchise’s weirdness to a whole new level. The film begins with the Guardians living in the hollowed-out skull of a humongous god and quickly escalates to a heist caper set aboard a space station made out of pink, lumpy meat. Younger viewers might find the gloomy and disturbing scenes upsetting, but no one can deny the film’s wildly outlandish nature.
However, Gunn’s unrestrained approach also leads to a chaotic and convoluted film that feels twice as long as its actual two-and-a-half-hour runtime. It’s like flicking channels between a whole Star Trek TV series and a whole Star Wars TV series, with fun aliens to look at but a confusing and unengaging plot to follow.
The Guardians themselves, despite their team name, don’t do much guarding of the galaxy. There’s always a point in their films when they get their act together and do something heroic, but they spend most of their time drifting around the universe and bickering. Even their current mission in Vol 3 – trying to revive their injured furry friend – seems insignificant for a space opera that zips across so many light years.
However, the film’s saving grace is its emotional depth. Gunn’s love for his characters and their love for each other becomes infectious in the final scenes. The actors sell the relationships more convincingly than in either of the previous Guardian installments, and the film’s sincere focus on friendship and family is touching.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 3 is a film with the colossal budget of a typical Marvel blockbuster, but the sensibility of the low-budget cult horror comedies that Gunn made with Troma at the start of his career. It may be the most unruly and excessive of the trilogy, but it is also sweetly touching.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 3, directed by James Gunn and starring Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldaña, Dave Bautista, and Karen Gillan, is set to be released on May 5th, 2023.