Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 is the continuing story of space’s most eclectic superhero team. Having established a base on Knowhere, the Guardians struggle to deal with their leader’s depression. Peter Quill aka Star-Lord (Chris Pratt) continues to reel after the painful loss of Gamora (Zoe Saldaña) given the events of Avengers: Infinity War. Compounding this is that a different, previous version of Thanos’ daughter is right before eyes—just not the one Peter knows, causing conflict between them. When a strange, powerful being known as Adam Warlock (Will Poulter) attempts to kidnap Rocket (Bradley Cooper) it leaves the Guardians’ technology expert mortally wounded. As the Guardians learn that Rocket plays a key role in a crazed bio-engineer’s scheme, they band together to save their friend.
What works in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 is the action and humor. At this point, writer/director James Gunn (Guardians the Galaxy Vol. 1 & 2) knows exactly how to craft a spectacle. In this third entry, Gunn goes grand. Audiences can expect thrilling space battles, playful physics, exotic locales, and loads of creative impromptu weaponry. Additionally, Gunn understands that these sequences are at their best when the Guardians work together as the makeshift family they’ve become. Complimenting the visual splendor is the comedy. Pratt continues to generate laughs as the man-child with an affinity for nostalgia, often exasperated by his peers. The moments where he or others receive respite to express off-color observations are among the film’s funniest.
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Individuals expecting the same level of charm and whimsy in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 compared to its predecessors may be disappointed. Gloom is in bloom as the Guardians spend most of the runtime engaging in malicious internal squabbling. In tandem, they find themselves combating the cruelest antagonist in the MCU yet: the High Evolutionary (Chukwudi Iwuji). Iwuji’s performance is phenomenal but suited for a different cinematic universe. This villain is pure evil and will likely scare younger viewers as he engages in activities like torturing animals on a whim. Furthermore, Vol. 3 is vapidly gross running rampant with disturbing imagery (unless people equate mutilation with entertainment). In Gunn’s pursuit to make a serious movie about personal growth in the shadow of regret and trauma he cast aside the playful swashbuckling tone laden in the previous Guardians movies. Fun is in scarce supply here.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 is clearly the movie James Gunn intended to make. His signature stylings feature prominent in nearly every frame. When these efforts focus on set-pieces and choreography, the results are spellbinding. Conversely, when their goal is shock, people may feel their stomachs turn. This is likely to have a divisive effect on patrons, especially long-term MCU fans expecting an adventure comedy for all ages. Gunn still puts heart into the Guardians, but he may have forgotten the joy.
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Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 is now playing in theaters.