Written by Victor DeBonis
“Guardians of the Galaxy: Volume 3” Thoughts: “Guardians of the Galaxy” is probably my favorite franchise within the MCU. It’s a series of stories centering around outcasts trying to find some form of peace for themselves via connecting in their own “family” of sorts and thwarting evil across the planets. This motive and this group is entertaining, heroic, and, in many aspects, relatable to those who are lost and seeking comfort or connections with others despite trying to keep themselves from others at a distance.
I remember seeing the first film for the first time and not knowing how much I would honestly get into it. I didn’t mind the idea of this film coming into fruition, based on reading the premise. However, at the time, the Guardians weren’t a household comic-book name in the same vein as Wonder Woman, Spider Man, Green Lantern, and so on. This film could’ve easily tanked, but, as most of you are aware, it did exactly the opposite and (I would argue) brought even more attention to the MCU and encouraged others to recognize the bold and impressive presence of it.
On a personal level, two moments in the first film shooed away any doubts that I might have had about the movie being great. There were many impressive moments to be sure. One was watching young Peter Quill say goodbye to his mother in her dying moments before he ran off. I’m immensely blessed to come from an inspiring, superb mother of my own, and, as I’ve pointed out in the past, any good story focusing on a solid connection between a mother and her child is always going to thoroughly win my heart. The second moment was watching Rocket pick a fight with a person because he felt mocked for how different he was, and he voiced his wounded feelings of being viewed as strange and isolated.
It was from this moment on that I saw these films beyond being average superhero films. These movies were and are about outsiders trying to follow purpose and do good in the aftermath of their arduous pasts amongst a family of oddballs who may bicker and banter but ultimately love one another. Their wounds from their present and past times are part of what guide them to venture through the galaxy and do good in a broken universe.
It took me some time, but I went from admiring “Volume 2” to loving it through its ability to allow more sincere conversations between characters and glimpses into the heart of their connection with each other along with some amazing looking worlds. The previous two movies honestly are a few of the first titles that come to mind when I think of what great blockbusters are. For these reasons (and more that I’ll get into in a minute), I love these movies to a high degree, and I may even check out the comics when I get to them at some point.
At the end of this trilogy’s road, “Volume 3” is finally here, and, while this is a movie that I definitely recommend and ends the trilogy rather well, I feel that I may need to revisit this film and ponder about it some more to see how much my feelings grow for this film after viewing it.
This is a movie that I can definitely see being controversial for those who go see it. Some may love it, and some may have less warm feelings. I certainly understand those who feel either way. The same heart, amusement, and fun action is here to be sure, but there are creative choices that some may either welcome or take issue with.
It should be noted that this film is rather ominous and legitimately disturbing in places. Most of the heaviness comes from the flashbacks regarding Rocket Raccoon. There is a subplot following flashbacks of Rocket’s past, and there is unsettling imagery blended with moments of joy amidst this menacing place. As soon as the initial moments of Rocket’s backstory began, I legitimately quavered in my seat and felt an uneasy sensation caused by the heightening volume of the unnerving music and the close-up of Rocket’s face. Before Gunn worked for Marvel, he dabbled in horror with films, such as “Slither” and his horror roots certainly show in this film via moments, such as this. Rocket’s backstory communicates a friendship born from a disturbing place dominated by a dreadful villain named the High Evolutionary as played by Chukwudi Iwuji.
Moments of joy in this shadowed and unpleasant place shine amidst the connections between Rocket and those surrounding him, and, even though the audience is aware of the inevitable dread to come, the backstory of Rocket works greatly at depicting the pain and shocking trauma from which this character started out and what probably led to him maintaining distance from even those whom he cares about.
Before Mantis came along, Rocket was probably my favorite member of this crew. I’m a huge animal lover. Much of this comes from my love for dogs and my family previously raising one, and, admittedly, I will always be a sucker for stories centering around an animal seeking love and engaging on a great journey. Rocket always fit the bill. Voiced with great humor and sincerity by Bradley Cooper, he walked and blasted his way through the galaxy as a partly comedic, partly tragic figure who cared about others but always kept them at a distance in certain respects. Chris Pratt’s Quill is similar to this in some regards, but he has gradually opened up more as the trilogy has advanced. Rocket still had some trouble with this, and part of the reason that this third installment works as well as it does comes from the direction and ominous tone regarding the story of his past.
I’ve met people similar to Rocket and, in a few ways, felt similar to him. It’d be a stretch to say that I endured anything along the horrific heights of what this poor creature experienced. I have, however, experienced horrible places and mistreatment and great hurt at the hands of others on my own.
Trauma is an unpredictable, hideous, cunning event. Connecting with good people and exploring a better purpose elsewhere certainly helps, but, from my experience and what others have shared, it happens and ultimately happens and stays. Rocket may be one of the greatest, harshest representations of this reality. He has found a family and people who he belongs with amongst the Guardians, but none of it erases the horror and abuse from which he escaped. This place was where he found love for the first time in more meanings than one, but it occurred within an otherwise horrifying environment run by a heartless monster who hated imperfection and weirdness to its core. Refusing to accept what is different often leads to nastiness, and the impact of the Evolutionary’s horrid treatment presents itself in younger Rocket’s uncertain voice and uncomfortable glances towards the floor.
Speaking in a younger voice for adolescent Rocket as well, Cooper expresses a woundedness mixed with a slight yet still present hopefulness for this creature before he headed further into the incredibly lost soul that he now is. The eyes of the younger version of this creature glimpse with a wonder and hope for a better future ahead, and it’s hard not to feel strings tugging at my heart from this. Always-talented Linda Cardellini expresses a sincere gentleness as an otter named Lylla and is Rocket’s first introduction to love in the form of comfort and friendship. Her generosity and optimism provides a deep beacon of light in the Evolutionary’s environment. The presence of creatures, such as her, are reminiscent of those whose kindness and love guides us through the traumatic periods of our lives. They may come in the form of friends or family who look after us and give us comfort or support when we are tearful or wounded. Cardellini breathes a child-like joy as well as a hopefulness and happiness from being amidst loved ones that, in turn, provides brief light to Rocket’s otherwise horrific experiences as well as hers, and it makes me hate Iwuji’s character even more for what he does, later on.
I should take a moment and also mention that this film contains scenes of animal abuse and animal testing. These scenes involving animal abuse and testing are disturbing and intense, and other animal lovers should proceed with caution. Being the aforementioned animal lover that I am, I was infuriated and legitimately shocked witnessing some of the acts in this movie, and, by the end of the film, I was eager to see what would occur to the High Evolutionary. I don’t know if I would call him my favorite MCU villain, since Thanos still holds the title with his subtle craving for power and his genuine belief in what he sees as his ability to create a better world, but the Evolutionary might be the new villain that I loathe the most.
Iwuji unnervingly shrieks and seethes at any who he considers to be inferior to him, and the camera provides close-ups to reveal the menacing way in which he scowls upon his prey. His unsettling feelings of accomplishment from witnessing others wither and suffer under his deeds don’t show an ounce of soul or heart, and much of what he does centers around horrific mistreatment of animals, and, by the end, I was hopeful to see whatever fitting consequences might occur to this monster. I will say that I found it somewhat odd that we never truly see this character’s motivation to why he hates others being imperfect. It is a compelling motive, and it enhances the theme of this film (and the trilogy) of the importance of accepting those who are different or unique and the danger of those who harm others for being different, but the Evolutionary could’ve been an even more interesting villain if more light was shed on why he does what he does.
There is some genuinely unsettling imagery in this film that, for the first time in a long while, made me surprised that this film was only rated PG-13. This is a rare example of a current film that earns its rating instead of feeling more aimed at PG audiences, and I highly respect that.
As far as the rest of the cast goes, the other performers are charming and entertaining as ever. Dave Bautista is hilariously child-like and unaware when he utters something that is ridiculous and insists on doing something more in his own interest. Despite his foolish and childish moments, however, he still expresses the meaningfulness of his connection to the group of Guardians in short yet effective ways while also providing blunt deliveries that result in some of the film’s funniest moments. Chris Pratt is once again charismatic and humorous as the “Star Lord,” but, in this film, he also demonstrates a believable leadership towards his group. True, he still occasionally stumbles, but he also delivers orders with clear firmness and direction and is quicker at following through with quick decisions than in previous films.
Zoe Saldana once again works well as an alternate version of Gamora. She fights with fury in combat and provides solid humor with her seriousness presenting itself against such an absurd group and weirder circumstances. With that being said, one of the shortcomings of this movie traces from this version of Gamora and Star Lord trying to act as though strong feelings between them don’t exist but do. They perform that very tired cliche of a couple fighting over and over before they express the stronger feelings that are (somehow) there, and the movie feels stale and abruptly halts for a second when this happens.
Next to Rocket, Mantis is probably my other favorite character from this film and the trilogy, in general. Her emphasis on trying to promote love, joy, and hope amongst her group of friends is often heartwarming. Writer-director James Gunn has had his share of unfortunate (and unfair) events in recent years, and, similar to the otter, I wonder if there are people from his real life with similar attitudes to Mantis’ who provided generosity and encouragement in the midst of hard situations. Pom Klementieff works wonders as Mantis, providing an often soft-spoken yet emotionally charged voice to a character who, much like the rest of the crew, has experienced her own share of tragedy and hardship but, in her case, battles cynicism and anger amidst her family by demonstrating kindness and a genuine longing to learn more about what she either doesn’t understand or finds that others don’t. Some of the most heartwarming moments from this movie come from her presence and her unflinching determination to let her heart shine when others dismiss it.
The action is rather fun and has some fun with slow-motion shots and creative moves in fights that take place. Some great camerawork occurs from the camera circling around to watch opponents deliver punches at the center of the fighting area or creating close-ups to witness people either getting thrown around or hit hard upon close contact. One long-take action sequence occurs in the film to the beat of a rather awesome rap-rock tune, and I was grinning like a kid in a candy store throughout its entire run. Plus, the soundtrack, while not used as often as expected, still works well and provides the right song to set up the mood or energy for a moment.
When it comes to exploring other worlds, the movie is somewhat ho-hum in this regard. Part of the charm from the previous films came from the vibrant, colorful worlds explored in the cosmic universe. The colors absolutely popped on many of these planets and helped illustrate a world that felt immense and amazing to venture through. In “Volume 3” the environments aren’t as colorful, and there’s a much harder emphasis on either bright, white light or dimly lit backgrounds. On the one hand, as I said earlier, this is a darker film than the preceding installments in the trilogy, and it may tonally make more sense to provide environments that don’t possess the same exact vibrant detail as before. Yet, on the other hand, the lack of visually interesting worlds to go to on the final chapter in this trilogy and with this crew did feel apparent.
I also would be lying if I said that I didn’t miss more moments in which characters just took time to express their desires and concerns as they did in earlier installments. Gunn’s humor remains solid as ever, yet some jokes go on for longer than needed, and the timing for such moments sometimes feels random, as though they couldn’t decide a time when to stop the added lines to a comedic moment. So much time is spent with some of these moments that I do wonder how some moments could’ve been devoted to another emotional moment or time in which the crew was connecting on its last voyage together.
With all of this being said, the heart and emotion is definitely present in this film, and there are specific moments highlighting the connections between these characters and how far they’ve come. I legitimately found myself tearing up on two specific occasions in this film that I won’t ruin, and, given how long it’s been since I teared up watching a recent blockbuster, it’s a bigger testament to how much I enjoyed this experience from this movie and how much these characters mean to me. What happens to several characters feels fitting, and I was satisfied with seeing what takes place.
I also want to take a moment and voice what this trilogy, in general, means to me, personally. The last time that I saw Volume 2, I was seeing it with friends that, at that time, I regarded as another type of “family” to me, and they viewed the three of us as a family of sorts in return. “Volume 2” and “Into the Spider-Verse” were the big moviegoing experiences that we had together. Specific events occurred in the following (vastly harder) years that followed that result in the three of us not being in the same relationship as we once were before several years ago, but I would be lying if I said that I didn’t notice some happiness from the other “family” that once existed and that I was once a part of. The “Guardians of the Galaxy” franchise reminds me a bit of this “family” that once was present and also of a much different era, a time that was not perfect by any means but happier in, at least, a few specific ways.
More importantly, however, this franchise reminds me of the family that I have, right now, specifically, my mother, my Dad, my brother, my sister-in-law, and our beloved beagle, Bella, that is not physically around anymore but is still thriving in spirit. On occasion, I think of the evening that our dog passed away, and one of the tunes that instantly comes to mind is Tyler Bates’ wondrous “To The Stars” instrumental from the first “Guardians” movie. Listening to this peaceful tune reminds me of the idea regarding spirits thriving forever in the immense skies of this complex universe of ours. I like to think that Bella’s soul sprints forever next to such strong spirits the same way that the Guardians, as a found family, looks to the lively spirit and openness of their universe as a source of hope for them.
Furthermore, I think back to the numerous get-togethers of my direct family (Mom, Dad, and so on) and our vacations, times spent eating out, and other occasions as us experiencing great adventures of sorts and helping each other through strenuous times not unlike what the Guardians do for each other. When reflecting upon this film, I occasionally think of other people in my life whom I’ve met and who thrive so much from the connection with their family and put them above others and might find strong meaning or connections to these movies and these characters.
This franchise means much to me as an oddball and as someone who’s felt and been different from others for pretty much his whole life. Similar to much of Tim Burton’s work, the “Guardians” franchise is a strong ode to oddballs and outcasts and a celebration of what makes many unique from others. The Guardians see the universe as an opportunity to fulfill their purpose and seek joy and accomplishment following their past losses and their complicated feelings of being different from others, and, again, I sometimes see a bit of myself in this regard. I’ve made my fair share of mistakes, and I’ve taken my share of lumps, but I still continue on and do my best in what I know.
These stories from this series are known for their humor and turning several performers into stars and putting James Gunn on the map as one of the most compelling blockbuster filmmakers around, but, to me, they are also inspiring. Here are very broken souls who have undergone abuse, loss, and shame for past sins, and, through their pain and fear of losing those that they love again, they find their strength from their family and try to use what they know and are good at to help others and each other. It’s hard for me to fathom someone not being moved by this.
“Volume 3” is a film that I may need to reflect on more after having first viewed it. Not everything clicks together to absolute completeness in terms of parts of the narrative, and, while I am a big fan of Gunn and his work, I will admit that the humor in some parts of this work and others could be paced better. Yet, there’s never a doubt that he loves these characters, and this franchise’s heart beats just as strongly as it did the first time that the first film opened back in 2014 and blew everyone’s expectations far out of the water, including mine. I admire the deeply emotional moments. I appreciate the creative chances taken with this movie, including the darker tone.
And, with the help of some incredibly talented actors, James Gunn once more creates a funny, action-packed, emotionally moving narrative that understands what comes from a good blockbuster and delivers. Gunn knows how to make an action scene or world feel large through his methods in filming it. He knows how to set up and stage a comedic or dramatic scene and bring either laughs or heartfelt sincerity from it. And, he also knows what it takes to create something that remains in the hearts forever of superhero fans and fellow oddballs and outcasts, too.
Whatever Gunn has in store for his future now that his trilogy is done, I only wish the best for it because he truly deserves it.
To everyone else, give this film a shot, and see what a solid blockbuster can do.