Trilogies are often messy affairs. Aside from notable exceptions like Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King and Return of the Jedi, most third installments in planned trilogies end up not being quite as good as the first two entries.
So when James Gunn set out to make a third Guardians of the Galaxy film, knowing that it would not only end this series, but also his involvement with Marvel (since he’s head honcho over at DC now), there was certainly a lot riding on this one. And much to Gunn’s credit, he kind of succeeded, but not in the way you would expect…
One Last Ride
Right from the opening flashback showing us how a baby raccoon enduring gruesome scientific experiments, it’s quite clear that this movie is going to be Rocket’s story and arc. Picking up following the events of Endgame, Thor Love and Thunder, as well as the Holiday Special, we find the Guardians trying to stake out a life for themselves with a community they’ve helped build on Knowhere.
However, the past catches up to them, when Adam Warlock (whom we saw being created in the post credits scene of Vol. 2) tracks down the Guardians and attacks them on Knowhere. While they manage to fend him off, his attack leaves Rocket gravely injured. But because he was biologically and technologically altered, his friends can’t administer life-saving treatment without entering a passcode into him.
Granted it’s a macguffin, but it leads the Guardians on a mission through space to track down how and where Rocket was “created” to find the programming to find the passcode that will allow them to save his life. All the while, we’re treated to a B plot consisting of Rocket’s own flashbacks. And if you think Peter Quill or Wanda Maximoff had tragic backstories, you’ve frankly seen nothing yet.
Once again, James Gunn delivers a movie that’s absolutely hilarious at times, and heartbreaking at others, all while more focused on character than on grand scale or plot. One of the criticisms of Vol. 2 was that it felt more like a side quest and didn’t really advance the MCU along. And to be fair, the same could be said about this entry.
But here the lower stakes work. The Guardians aren’t trying to save the universe or anything like that, they’re just trying to save their friend whom they all love. We’ve known these characters for nearly a decade, so seeing them go through all this feels even more poignant. And of course we get fun callbacks, as well as a few familiar faces of actors who worked with Gunn in The Suicide Squad and Peacemaker.
Loving Things As They Are
Our villain this time is a mad scientist known simply as the High Evolutionary (portrayed by Chukwudi Iwuji). We learn that he was behind a myriad of experiments on animals as part of his desperate mission to create the perfect lifeform. To say that this character is obsessed with eugenics would be an understatement.
On the surface, he seems like your typical Dr. Frankenstein-esque mad scientist who wants to play God. But he’s a great villain because of what he represents. At one point Rocket describes his creator as someone who “didn’t want to make things perfect, he just hated things the way they are.”
The more you think about it, the more that strikes deep into the heart of what Guardians of the Galaxy has been since the first movie. The first film saw a group of misfits finding a family with each other. A family that eventually expanded to include their former enemy, Nebula.
She has her own mini arc in this film where she’s rightfully called out for only seeing the flaws in others. It’s a much more minor issue than it is with the High Evolutionary, but from both of them the movie drives home the importance of loving things (and people) as they are.
The Future of Marvel
It’s no secret that the MCU has been struggling to find it’s direction in the last 4 years since Endgame. One major criticism is that there hasn’t really been a clear direction of where everything is going. And again, the same could be said for Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, but here that lack of direction feels more at home and intentional.
These movies were never big event ones, and always existed sort of on their own, out in deep space. James Gunn set out to just tell this isolated story about these characters we all love and conclude not only their story (for now), but his ultimate involvement with Marvel altogether.
Sure, there’s nothing stopping Kevin Feige from ordering more Guardians movies and bringing all the characters back, but to my knowledge their contracts don’t go past this third one, and because this series has been so tied to James Gunn, it’s doubtful most of them would return without him. We already saw how these characters are portrayed with a different director like in Thor: Love and Thunder and the results weren’t great.
Does this mean, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 will be the last truly great MCU movie, at least for a while? Maybe, maybe not. But if Marvel is going to be strong going forward, they’re going to have to stop trying to shoehorn multiverse plots that barely connect, and remember that James Gunn always put character first and it showed.
Overall, this third installment proves to be the exception to the trilogy rule. It elicits great laughs, great tears, but most importantly great characters and a poignant, emotional story!
What did you think of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3? Was it a satisfying ending to the trilogy? Let us know in the comments!
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