James Gunn has done it again. His newest film, “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3” (2023), is a testament of how willing a director is to complete a film even when put in such awkward circumstances. When Gunn was fired by Marvel back in 2018 due to the resurfacing of old twitter posts posts he had made well over a decade ago that contained both rape and pedophilia jokes, it looked like Gunn was never going to complete his trilogy.
Directors such as Taika Waititi and the Russo brothers were considered to make the final “Guardians of the Galaxy” film. However, things changed when in 2019 Gunn was re-hired by Marvel after he made a public apology on social media.
Bringing back Gunn definitely was much-needed to not only bring life into the current Marvel Cinematic Universe but also for the Guardians we all know and love to have the proper conclusion they deserve.
“Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3” takes place after the events of “Avengers: Endgame” (2019) and “The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special” (2022) and follows the Guardians as they try to protect one of their own from being captured by the High Evolutionary (played by Chukwudi Iwuji).
Returning characters and actors/actresses from previous Guardians films are Peter Quill/Star-Lord (played by Chris Pratt), Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper), Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel), Gamora (played by Zoe Saldana), Nebula (played by Karen Gillan), Drax (played by Dave Bautista), Mantis (played by Pom Klementieff), Kraglin (played by Sean Gunn), Cosmo the Spacedog (voiced by Maria Bakalova), Ayesha the High Priestess (played by Elizabeth Debicki) and Stakar Ogord (played by Sylvester Stallone).
Newcomers include Adam (played by Will Poulter) and, as already stated before, Chukwudi Iwuji as the High Evolutionary.
Contrary to the first two “Guardians of the Galaxy” films, this film is more focused on Rocket and his backstory than being an ensemble piece. We see Rocket’s past memories of when he was owned by the High Evolutionary.
He recounts the times he was abused and tested on by scientists and the times he spent with his three other animal friends: Lylla (voiced by Linda Cardellini); an otter with robotic arms, Teefs (voiced by Asim Chaudhry); a walrus who is confined to what looks like a wheelchair and Floor (voiced by Mikaela Hoover); a rabbit whose body resembles that spider made out of robotic pieces.
Gunn goes back to his Troma Entertainment days during the scenes when Rocket was a kit. There are a lot of scenes where Gunn shows the audience just how brutal the experimentation was on Rocket and his friends. In fact, a lot of material that is in the film can easily make it a soft-core rated R film. At certain moments, I was thinking why would Kevin Feige allow this to be in a blockbuster superhero movie made for a demographic that is mostly children. Nevertheless, this does not lessen the quality of the film in any way, shape or form. It actually strengthens it.
In past years, Marvel has gradually fallen away from making films that have dramatic element(s) in them. Gunn making the decision to show just how awful animal experimentation is and the trauma Rocket went through are what makes viewers care for him more than they already did. No wonder this film was called ‘an animal rights masterpiece’ by PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals).
Chukwudi Iwuji’s performance as the High Evolutionary makes him easily one of Marvel’s most loathsome villains. Throughout the entire movie you just want him to die a miserable death. He has zero redeeming traits about him. The fact that the High Evolutionary is responsible for the creation of the Sovereign and many other civilizations is what makes him compelling.
He isn’t an antagonist that’s looking to take over the galaxy in response to blood thirsty vengeance. Instead, the High Evolutionary has a god complex. His whole goal is to make the perfect society, and Rocket’s brain is the final key to making his dream come true.
One returning cast member that was definitely intriguing to say the least was the return of Gamora who is now the captain of the Ravagers. For those reading who don’t know, the Gamora in this film is an alternate version of Gamora who was introduced in “Avengers: Endgame” as she came from a past timeline where she hadn’t fallen in love with Star-Lord yet. This only makes the interactions between her and Star-Lord even better.
There’s a funny scene on an elevator once the Guardians are finally on Orgocorp where Star-Lord, Nebula, and Gamora take a woman hostage and Star-Lord spills out his grudges against the new Gamora. It’s one of Chris Pratt’s most humorous bits.
The relationship between Star-Lord and Gamora is both well written and mature. Any other filmmaker would somehow make the two reunite with each other and fall in love again but that’s not what Gunn does. Gunn writes and directs all of the conversations between Star-Lord and Gamora in a way that comes off as refreshing. Star-Lord constantly tries to reconnect with Gamora but knows deep down that she’ll never have that romantic spark with him again. Is it sad? Yes. But it’s also real and human which makes it powerful to watch. Bravo, Gunn.
The bond that Drax (played by Dave Bautista) and Mantis (played by Pom Klementieff) had developed in “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” to the holiday special to this film is also handled very well. You can tell that these are some of Gunn’s favorite scenes to film. The chemistry that Bautista and Klementieff have with each other is outstanding.
They sound exactly like the goofy friends you’d had when you’re a little kid. What Gunn does with Drax in this film is heartwarming. After losing his wife and daughter to *Ronan the Accuser, Drax turned into a raging bull hungry for violence and bringing down evil-doers. If Drax hadn’t encountered the Guardians, he would be a psychopath who probably would end up getting himself killed due to his own stupidity.
Luckily, Drax was able to understand that getting revenge is not the best solution and only leads to more death and destruction. Drax was never meant to be a destroyer; he was meant to be a role model and father figure for a younger generation of people. That is simply a beautiful message delivered excellently by Bautista’s performance.
Two characters that didn’t have a lot of room for exploration in previous Guardians movies are Mantis and Nebula. In “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3,” actresses Pom Klementieff and Karen Gillan both deliver wonderful portrayals of their characters respectively. The one that stands out the most is by far Gillan.
Gillan went from playing a Nebula that was more one-dimensional and generic to a Nebula that has developed a way more interesting character arc. Klementieff plays a Mantis that is in dire need of going down her own path and discovering the best version of herself. She is lovely in all of her scenes interacting with the other Guardians.
Then there is Rocket. Fans of the character have always been craving for Gunn to explore more of Rocket than what they were given in past works. Rocket’s growth from the first movie to this movie is the definition of phenomenal writing. Bradley Cooper delivers one of his career best in this film. All of his scenes hold a heavy emotional weight in which the audience can’t look away.
In the final moments of the film, the Guardians all go their separate ways and bid each other farewell. Star-Lord departs for Earth to reunite with his grandfather, Gamora reunites with the Ravagers and Mantis decides to travel the galaxy with three Abilisks. Nebula, Drax, Groot and Rocket are the only remaining Guardians to stay on the Knowhere. James Gunn couldn’t have done a better ending for these characters and especially for Rocket.
We see Rocket at this point finally happy dancing with the people who he loves and who love him. This batch of characters have had a long journey that has now finally reached its end. The dog days are truly over for the current Guardians as we know them and for James Gunn himself. It was one heck of a ride.
“Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3” is still playing in theaters. Please go give it a watch.