Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 ★★★½

A few months back my expectation for Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 was rather moderate. My appreciation for Vol. 2 had been on a steady decline since its release six years ago. As preparation for Vol. 3 I rewatched both Guardians movies and to my great surprise I really loved Vol. 2, maybe even more than the first one. Naturally, my anticipation for the final chapter skyrocketed.

And Vol. 3 is a worthy conclusion for these characters. James Gunn managed to give them a sincere, heartfelt farewell. Where the recent Ant-Man had the bitter smack of being a redundant afterthought for its hero, Vol. 3 tells a story that matters, actually. What the previous films alluded to and the trailers teased, we finally get to see - Rocket's origin. It's the heart of Vol. 3 and its strongest part. Gunn isn't afraid to go to some dark places. I'm not gonna spoil anything, but the prison camp in War for the Planet of the Apes is a fitting comparison in regard to tone and intensity.

As expected the film also deals with the Star-Lord/Gamora relationship. It's not as front and center as I thought it would be, but it I like how it's resolved. Whereas Gamora's relationship with her sister feels a bit neglected. Also, can somebody please explain to me why Nebula is SHOUTING all the time? That got annoying fast.

Mantis and Drax are handled well too, the former getting more to do and the latter isn't as big of a jerk as he was in Vol. 2, which I appreciated. As for the antagonists, the High Evolutionary is one of the best MCU villains, perhaps the cruelest so far. A sadistic mad scientist, brought to life by Chukwudi Iwuji's slightly unhinged performance. And then there's Will Poulter as Adam Warlock. He's neither good guy nor villain, more like an adversarial antihero. Think John Cena in F9, only that Warlock's presence lacks real purpose. Typically I'm less bothered than most by Marvel's habit of shoehorning in characters for future use who don't add much to the main story (Black Widow, Spider-Man, Ironheart). This time it did bother me, because despite its 2½ hour runtime, the film has too many characters. Although an even longer runtime wouldn't have solved my biggest issue with Vol. 3. The next paragraph is kind of spoilery, so proceed with caution.

As I mentioned at the beginning, Rocket is very much the center of the story. Young Rocket, that is. Adult Rocket is "out of comission" for most of the film, which is a profoundly misguided choice, to put it politely. The greatest strength of the Guardians is their team dynamic. Rocket is an essential part of that dynamic. Early on Warlock - sent on a mission by the Sovereign empress Ayesha (Elizabeth Debicki) to retrieve Rocket for the High Evolutionary, who sees him as his property - shoots Rocket and the others scramble to save their friend's life. At first I didn't think much of it. I was expecting the situation to get remedied rather quickly with Rocket back in action leading the charge to take down his creator, the High Evolutionary. But nooo, somehow Gunn thought it would be a great idea to completely sideline his best character in the present-day thread of the story. The longer the film went on, the more I got pissed off. When Rocket finally comes back toward the end, it's too little too late. His relationships with his teammates remain unresolved mostly. I simply don't understand Gunn's reasoning here. Just let Warlock (or rather Ayesha) chase Rocket and swap the kill switch for a tracking device. Then at the end of act two the near-fatal shooting happens, early in act three the other Guardians manage to save him and the hunt for the big bad is on. There you have it. Wasn't that hard to figure out, now, was it? The story is basically the same, the stakes remain, but we'd still have grown-up Rocket interacting with his friends, which is what I was looking forward to the most.

That's the sole reason why I can't rate Vol. 3 higher, despite it being a vastly superior film than Quantumania. It's a good trilogy capper, I just wish I could've enjoyed it more.

PS: It's rather obvious that the first draft of the script was written five years ago, because Vol. 3 feels decidedly different than all other post-Endgame MCU entries.

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