Guardians of the Galaxy: Volume 3 Review

The journey for James Gunn and the Guardians of the Galaxy has certainly been an interesting one. The Guardians have gone from obscure Marvel heroes to arguably the most beloved group in the MCU. The ramifications of Marvel Studio’s decision to fire Gunn back in 2018 are still being felt with him now being hired by DC to reboot their cinematic universe. Now, with the third and final volume in their story, both Gunn and the Guardians end their MCU stint together on an emotional high.

The backstory of Rocket Raccoon (voiced by Bradley Cooper) has always been kept a mystery even though it’s a key reason for him being so chaotic, cold, and broken at times. With Volume 3, fans finally get a deep dive into the tragedy that made Rocket who he is as well as the monster who broke him. As the Guardians try to save Rocket after he’s severely injured in battle, the team suddenly finds themselves locked in conflict with the High Evolutionary (Chukwudi Iwuji) – the mad scientist who tortured and experimented on Rocket. As Gunn has shown in his previous Guardians films, he doesn’t shy away from tough moments with the characters or the genuine horror of their stories. That’s especially the case with Volume 3 as Rocket’s backstory will leave viewers gripped and heartbroken from start to finish.

That first scene of seeing a young Rocket’s fearful eyes as the High Evolutionary picks him out instantly immerses you into Rocket’s perspective and the film keeps you there through every flashback. Obviously just seeing a young Rocket instantly melts your heart because he’s just plain adorable but watching him interact with his fellow experiments makes him even more loveable. Even though they’re all trapped in a horrid situation, they share a genuine innocence that tightens their bond and instills some real hope. Their vision of a brighter and freer future for themselves deeply warms your heart and the entire sequence of Rocket giving himself his name is one of the best scenes in any Guardians movie.

However, the sweetness of Rocket finding companionship in a cruel place is balanced by the horror of the High Evolutionary. Given how easily likeable Rocket’s friends are, you can’t but equally feel some sadness for them in seeing how the High Evolutionary’s experiments have truly picked them apart. The body horror visuals that Gunn provides in Volume 3 absolutely leave their mark and act as a swift reminder of the High Evolutionary’s cruelty. There’s this unsettling nature to the High Evolutionary’s obsession with perfection and there are some jaw-dropping moments that see his desires go too far. It’s disturbing to see how High Evolutionary will coldly toss away anything that holds no value to him, and his uncaring mentality makes him one of the most vile villains in the MCU. Seriously, he does some incredibly messed up things and it makes you more invested in seeing the Guardians and Rocket take him down.

For the most part, Iwuji’s performance is great but can drift into generic and uninteresting territory. When the film keeps its depiction of the High Evolutionary complex and unexpected, he can be one of the most compelling aspects of the film. There’s a great flashback that sees Rocket discover a missing piece to a formula that causes the High Evolutionary to both obsess over and loathe Rocket. It’s an incredibly well-executed turn in the High Evolutionary’s arc that starts to show the monster within him starting to come out. Even the way he’s characterized by other characters gives him this daunting presence within the galaxy and establishes him as a fearsome foe.

Unfortunately, in the later parts of the film, the character’s intense yelling and personality go a little too over the top and you start to feel like you’re getting flashbacks of Kang in Quantumania. It just feels like the character loses all his complexity and simply becomes a power-hungry villain you know is just going to bite the dust by the time credits roll. Yet, Iwuji is still able to deliver a captivating performance that ranks highly among the MCU’s most villainous characters and the High Evolutionary plays a good role in making the tragedy of Rocket’s story cut so deep.

Volume 3 continues the trend of Guardians films exploring different sides and meanings of family through Rocket’s story and it’s absolutely beautiful. There are some crushing moments that come from Rocket revisiting some of the worst moments of his life that instantly break your heart and leave you either on the verge of tears or full-blown sobbing in your seat. The scars left by the High Evolutionary hurt Rocket more than ever, yet Volume 3 manages to deliver an uplifting and genuinely meaningful end for Rocket’s arc. The moments of redemption that Rocket has in the film’s finale are incredibly powerful and the way he’s truly at peace by the end elicits all the warm vibes that fans could hope for. Rocket’s story in Volume 3 is one of the best storylines of the MCU and is what fans would want to see in a high stake, highly emotional finale for the Guardians.

Outside of Rocket’s story though, Volume 3 can struggle to make the other Guardians, ongoing storylines, and some of the new characters just as strong. Adam Warlock (Will Poulter) is a total joke in this film and it’s kind of frustrating. Given the power and potential the character has due to his history in the comics, Warlock could completely shift the power in the MCU.  But the way he gets used here feels like a grave missed opportunity. He’s basically just a bland comic relief character and it severely muddies up his potential to be a game-changer in the MCU. Frankly, he’s also just a walking-talking plot device and serves no purpose in the film aside from just moving things along. For how highly anticipated he’s been since Volume 2, Warlock’s introduction doesn’t live up to the hype.

Gamora (Zoe Saldana) also has such a limited role in this film and struggles to shine outside of a couple of moments. There are some great moments between her and Peter (Chris Pratt) that touch on the idea of their relationship coming to an end and Peter struggling with that reality. Their conversations add such great depth to their arc and create unique types of growth for them. Aside from that though, she’s just kind of forced into this plot and acts as another plot device for conflict. As for the rest of the Guardians, they simply don’t have enough going on story wise to make Volume 3 feel like a completely satisfying conclusion for everyone.

As a whole, the performances are generally as good as they usually are with Pratt’s emotion, Karen Gillian’s performance as Nebula elevating her fantastic arc in this franchise, and Cooper’s voice work as Rocket really standing out the most. Yet, the chemistry and humor just doesn’t feel as present here and it’s likely because of the vastly different tone this film has. Volume 3 is undoubtedly the most serious entry in the trilogy, rightfully so, but that does mean that we trade the delightful group comedy for more dramatic moments – which doesn’t always feel worth it.

The jokes here don’t always hit as well and most of the time the group is just frustratingly screaming at each other. The chemistry just doesn’t come through the same and even the action doesn’t make a big mark – outside of the awesome body horror of Nebula putting herself back together. Gunn’s vision also doesn’t feel as tight here as the fake out deaths are annoyingly frequent, the music is much more forced at times, and the story wrap-up feels a little lackluster and continues to create more confusion in the MCU.

Personally, it’s fine that this film acts as more of a conclusion to the Guardians’ story rather than an attempt to continue any of the ongoing storylines or create new ones. There’s frankly too much going on in the MCU as it is and Volume 3’s ending makes a bigger impact by just focusing on the Guardians. However, it just doesn’t feel as fulfilling as it could’ve been. There are some awesome moments, and the final song sequence is exactly how you’d like to see the Guardians and Gunn go out. Yet, the individual storylines for everyone going their separate ways just feel a little weak.

Maybe it’s simply because it’s truly the end of an era within the MCU and this ending doesn’t try to capture that impact in a big way. Or maybe it’s just that the direction of each character feels indecisive ultimately making it unfulfilling. Regardless, Volume 3 can leave fans with a mixed bag of emotions – which can taint the magnificently tender and touching finale that Gunn has crafted. Plus, with how it attempts to establish an uninteresting new Guardians team and ends Drax’s story on a confusing note with Bautista likely not returning to the role, there are some decisions that add to the MCU’s shaky steps post-Endgame.

Volume 3 sends the Guardians off in mostly grand fashion with a central story that’ll tug and tear at your heart at nearly every instance and tender moments that’ll easily please fans and leave them choked up in their feelings. It’s not without its faults, mainly unsatisfying story choices and struggling to maintain what makes the Guardians so beloved, but Volume 3 is the real deal and a very good final chapter for the MCU’s loveable galactic misfits.


Watch the Trailer Here:

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