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MOVIES: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 - Review

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It’s taken Marvel 32 films, but they’ve finally made a great one. Sure; there have been good Marvel movies. Captain America: The First Avenger, Guardians of the Galaxy 1, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 etc, but Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, a movie that so nearly didn’t happen in its current form, is the first great Marvel movie – existing outside of the confines of the comic book world that so much of its cinematic universe spends its time in. Don’t expect the first act to be spent as an epilogue for an unrelated Marvel film; and the third to be a set-up for what comes next. This is a movie – a real; actual movie – standalone, self-enclosed, and a perfect farewell for some of the best characters in the franchise’s journey.

James Gunn, now making projects for DC Comics, takes the reigns for a colourful storyline that makes the most of eye-popping visuals as the Guardians band together for one last adventure to save one of their own: Rocket Raccoon is wanted by the High Evolutionary, who has created entire worlds and species through malicious experiments. Rocket is part of a failed batch – determined to right some wrongs. All these characters then – are outcasts from society for one reason or another, banded together to form a group of oddball bunch looking for their new home. No Marvel movie quite makes you care about the characters the same way Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 does.

It benefits from some clever voice acting from Bradley Cooper – ridiculously underrated as a performing artist in these films – to bring some real depth to the character and make it clear to the audience that Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 was really Rocket’s storyline all along. He’s the heart and soul of the piece, Chris Pratt’s Star-Lord taking a relative backseat – it’s Rocket, not Quill, that this movie opens with, and it’s Rocket who is the main character here. The film gives Quill plenty of material to work with though; he’s dealing with the “loss” of a Gamora who remembers who he was, and the new Gamora is more violent; a Ravager hanging with Sly Stallone’s crew. She’s mellowed since Endgame but is still a ruthless force to be reckoned with – and the exchanges between her, Nebula and Gamora remain the heart of the film. Drax and Mantis round up the core cast of Guardians, with some excellent dynamic between the two. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 wastes no time in getting you up to speed – you’re expected to be familiar with the Holiday Special, but beyond that, Gunn catches you up with events elsewhere quickly.

The film introduces; or rather, expands on two newish characters. Will Poulter’s Adam Warlock was teased at the end of Vol. 2 and becomes a major player in this game, a dumb himbo aspiring Superman-type character; hellbent on saving his people. His journey is fascinating and Poulter really makes the character his own in an excellent performance, one of the better ones in a franchise like this, forced to recognise with his creation and the fact that he, like the Guardians, is something of an outcast. And that’s what all of these characters are. The theme of found family is big and key here to making Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 work – and it has depth in abundance to really make its message felt. Outside of Poulter; I love the work that Gunn has done with crafting a villain here: he resists the temptation that many creators fall prey to in trying to top something like Ego, a planet-sized villain, and goes smaller – for a personal storyline but with no less stakes. In fact, the stakes are just as important, for entirely different reasons. Chukwudi Iwuji’s The High Evolutionary is intimidating enough to scare younger children and the film delights in pushing the PG-13 rating to its absolute limit; testing boundaries of what’s acceptable on screen for this film. The Marvel franchise gets its first f-bomb, and never has it been more clear: this is what a movie with honest-to-god personality looks like. It doesn’t feel like it’s straight off a production line. It lives, it breathes, it feels alive.

The soundtrack, as always, is excellent and a carefully curated work of art. Gunn expands into the 2010s with music from Florence and the Machine and The Mowglii’s, but there’s still time for Bruce Springsteen to play over the end credits and Earth, Wind and Fire to join Rainbow. Few films earn a Radiohead needle drop but Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 has the audacity to open with a sing-along to Creep and it fits the character perfectly – there’s no showrunner more confident with command of the music montages than Gunn, and he nails everything across the board: the music is part of who these characters are. I’m so happy that he recognises the anthem of these characters is Come and Get Your Love, and it gives all of them something to bond over. I’ve checked out of Marvel movies before the first post credits scene for most of Phase 4; their films haven’t had enough juice to keep me there – but this is the first film in a while that I stayed for both and both do an excellent job at adding depth to the movie; not setting up sequels, not being teasers. If you’ve been dipping like I have, you’ll want to make these worth your while.

The darker, deeper themes in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 highlight its message. I doubt any creator would be able to recognise something in Rocket Raccoon in quite the same way that James Gunn has, and use his character as a journey of self-acceptance to go with it. He has a backstory so meaningful and so heart-breaking it puts the rest of the characters to shame. I’d even go so far as to say after these three movies, Rocket is the franchise’s most well-developed character across the entire board, and that includes the heavy hitters like Steve Rogers, Tony Stark and Peter Parker. It’s a movie about a Raccoon searching for a new family, a new purpose – and the sheer boldness of this approach shows what happen when you sit back and let a director just do their thing. The Last Jedi, Alien: Covenant and The Matrix Resurrections have been perfect examples of this in recent years; directors playing with the weight of expectations of what their franchise should be. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 is another one of those movies; and all the better for it.

You’d be absolutely mad not to want James Gunn doing Superman: Legacy after this.

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