Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 ★★★★★

Balance is the first word that comes to mind. A franchise that manages to feel like an underdog despite being part of the ongoing dominance of a cinematic universe. James Gunn has a managed a singular trilogy from boilerplate material despite a major detour in the form of two of the biggest blockbusters of all-time. Just on a scene-by-scene basis, Gunn alternates from heartbreak to humor and back again without breaking credulity. Even in story structure, Gunn tells in flashback the origin story of his favorite misfit, Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper), while the Guardians strive to save him in present-day.

The golden-hued Adam Warlock (Will Poulter) abruptly attacks the Guardians' headquarters on Knowhere, mortally injuring Rocket. They discover a kill-switch located on his body leading to his creator, the High Evolutionary (Chukwudi Iwuji). Peter (Chris Pratt) is still reeling from the death of Gamora (Zoe Saldana), who still exists as alter that never experienced the first two films. She plays a role, though she's no longer the love interest per se. To my delight, she has her own arc unique from the Guardians themselves, observing their close-knit dynamic with a refreshing skepticism.

Their adventures take them through a gastrointestinal-like worlds and an alternative Earth, light adventure fare made foreboding by their mission and the depraved circumstances of Rocket's creation. That's where the balance becomes so key, the comedy and brightness of the present is a welcome respite from just how dark his origin gets. The Guardians have always been a family but here they're much more of an ensemble than ever before. Star-Lord is so humbled by Gamora's death that it just makes sense, yet every member of the team gets a satisfying, if occasionally brief, character arc. That's always been the strength of the Marvel formula, underdog characters you can't help but root for. Easily forgotten because it's become as routine for the heroes as it is for we, the audience. 'Volume 3' is never above it all, Gunn obviously cares too much to let that happen.

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