Movie Review: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3

Writer/director James Gunn trades frivolity for depression in a misguided, troubling chapter.


If for nothing else, “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3” is to be commended for not taking an easy path.

While most films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe are of relatively high quality, the franchise’s linear sequels can tend to play it safe; recent entries such as “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” and “Thor: Love and Thunder” have been little more than remixes of their predecessors.

The latest adventure of the Guardians is not that. It is not safe, timid or slight.

Rather, it is deeply disturbing — a dark and visceral confrontation with trauma, genocide and true hatred.

I’m going to take the rare step of including my notes from the screening. They’re brief. The only thing I thought to write was a running tally of atrocity.

“Death, torture, genocide, alcoholism, grief. Brutal, gleeful revenge killing. Child slavery.”

This is supposed to be the fun corner of the MCU, right?

I don’t mean to imply that a franchise cannot evolve; parallel series (such as the Spider-Man films) have found surprising depths of emotion and heft even as they’ve dabbled in fan service. But the darkness of this particular entry does not feel earned.

The Guardians are trying to settle into an existence as mercenary do-gooders on their floating home, Knowhere, but it’s not going well; Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) has slipped into a drunken haze as he continues to mourn the loss of Gamora (Zoe Saldana), killed awhile back by her father Thanos (still present, sans memory, due to some time-hopping nonsense). Rocket (Bradley Cooper) seems to be struggling with past traumas. Drax (Dave Bautista) and Mantis (Pom Klementieff) are still bickering. Even side characters have issues. (Except for Cosmo. Cosmo is a good dog.)

Amid that introductory malaise, a star-soaring baddie named Adam Warlock (Will Poulter) shows up, seeking revenge for one of the Guardians’ past blunders. He brutally assaults the gang before escaping; Rocket is left near death.

The gang sets off on an increasingly desperate and decreasingly fun quest to find the particular gadgets that could save their diminutive companion’s life. Meanwhile, the comatose Rocket flashes back to his upbringing: He’s a test subject, a common raccoon mutated as part of a genetic experiment by the Mengele-esque villain The High Evolutionary (Chukwudi Iwuji). We watch, in excruciating, heart-wrenching detail, as Rocket and several other adorable animals are tortured and slaughtered.

Sound like a good time?

Writer/director James Gunn fundamentally misunderstood the boundaries of this cinematic reality. For us to accept the action and mayhem, we need to remain at a distance from reality; it’s one thing to temporarily snap half of existence into dust, it’s another to make us really and truly feel suffering, loss and unshakable grief.

Many elements of this chapter do work, including its generally excellent cast and high-quality effects and design. Without its devotion to such troubling material, it would be a worthy addition to the series; with what I can only call a manipulative amount of such depravity, however, it’s best avoided.

Perhaps Gunn, now in charge of the film imprint from rival DC, will eventually find a way to bring comic-book cinema to the realm of existential, Cronenbergian horror. I’d be eager to see it work. In the case of the Guardians, it decidedly does not.

My Rating: 4/10

“Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3” is now playing in theaters.

Categories: Sean Collier’s Popcorn for Dinner