(Image credit: marvel studios)
While Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 3 is the most “unruly and excessive” installment of the trilogy, it is also “moving”, writes Nicholas Barber.
Shortly after the release of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 in 2017, someone made a fuss about the tasteless jokes its writer-director, James Gunn, had made years earlier on Twitter. Gunn was later fired by Disney, the company behind Marvel Studios’ superhero movies, but because Guardians of the Galaxy cast and fans supported him, he was eventually rehired. We’ll probably never know how the negotiations went, but it seems likely that one of Gunn’s conditions for returning to work was that he be allowed to do absolutely anything and everything he wanted. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 3 is a movie with the colossal budget of a typical Marvel blockbuster, but the sensibilities of the low-budget cult horror-comedies Gunn made with Troma early in his career.
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The franchise has always been on the fringes of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, of course. Its heroes are a ragtag band of mercenaries consisting of Peter Quill, aka Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), a man obsessed with soft rock anthems; Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper), a tough-talking raccoon; Gamora (Zoe Saldaña), a grumpy, green-skinned assassin; Nebula (Karen Gillan), a grumpier cyborg; Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel), a walking tree; Drax (Dave Bautista), a hulking warrior who doesn’t understand irony; and Mantis (Pom Klementieff), a wide-eyed empath with antennae. They are an endearing and strange group, by everyone’s standards. But they’re the least weird thing about Guardians Vol 3.
It begins with the Guardians living in the hollowed-out skull of a gigantic god. Then they are attacked by a golden superman (Will Poulter) who is both a ruthless killer and a clumsy idiot. When Rocket is badly injured in the attack, they go looking for his medical records, and the film becomes a heist aboard a space station made of lumpy pink meat. (Security guard uniforms appear to be made of hot cakes.) But Rocket is also hunted by the madman High Evolutionary (Chukwudi Iwuji), an interstellar doctor Moreau whose animal-robot hybrids are disgustingly reminiscent of the creepy neighbor from Andy. toys in Toy Story. Young viewers might be bowled over by the dark and disturbing scenes in Guardians Vol 3, but you have to admire how extravagant it is. And you can see why Disney caved and brought Gunn back. No one else could or would make a film like this.
Still, maybe the studio should have held it back a bit. Guardians Vol 3 is two and a half hours long, and it’s so chaotic and convoluted it feels twice as long. Watching it is like flipping channels between an entire Star Trek TV series and an entire Star Wars TV series. There are always fun aliens to watch, but you can’t follow or care what happens.
Given the name of their team, it might have helped if the Guardians of the Galaxy had done a little more galaxy protection. There’s always a point in their movies where they pull themselves together and do something heroic, but they drift around the universe a lot and bicker in the meantime. There is rarely an urgency to their adventures. About half of Guardians Vol 2 consisted of a careful retelling of Star-Lord’s origins, and about half of Guardians Vol 3 is a succession of flashbacks explaining how Rocket grew from raccoon to weaponized tech wizard. These days, the team’s mission – to attempt to revive their furry friend – seems oddly insignificant for a space opera that spans so many light years. Gunn, for all his remarkable skill at juggling characters, is obviously not interested in tonal consistency or clear, compelling storytelling. He continues to insert sitcom banter into the raucous battles, even as it drains the tension. Computer-generated cartoonish visuals ensure that few sets resemble real locations. And while the potential death of a team member is treated as a tragedy, the extinction of all intelligent life on a planet is forgotten as soon as it occurs.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 3
Director: James Gunn
With: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldaña, Dave Bautista, Karen Gillan
Release date: May 5
The film’s saving grace is that just as Gunn was allowed to unleash his gonzo imagination, he was also allowed to pour out his emotions. Again, a touch of restraint might have worked to his advantage: most viewers could have understood his main theme even if he hadn’t put the word “friend” in every other line of dialogue. But in the final scenes, Gunn’s sincere love for his characters and their love for each other becomes infectious. The actors deserve a lot of the credit. They all sell relationships more convincingly here than in any of the previous Guardians installments. This one might be the most unruly and excessive of the trilogy, but it’s as touching as any film with so many slimy, tentacled monsters.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 3 is on general release starting May 5.
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