Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3
GG3 is not near the bottom of the Marvel barrel, as some have attested. Neither is it a “great send-off,” as others have called it. It’s a generally funny, overlong, and overstuffed film, but is still successful at wrapping up a unique trilogy. Certainly the first film is the best, but GG3 is still enjoyable for those that connect with these characters (as I do).
All of the usual suspects hew close to their previously developed characters, with little actual growth. Pratt, unfortunately, is saddled with a seriousness that he pulls off, but doesn’t align best with his screen personality or Quill’s character. Pratt has a great comic presence in nearly everything he does, and while he can be a decent action/adventure hero outside of the Galaxy, he’s not the strongest serious action hero. Added to that is the screenwriter’s insistence that he occasionally remind the viewer of the ultimate reason for all the discussions, fights, schemes, and killings: to save their friend. It stops the film cold every time, and is possibly one of the weakest “let’s remember why we’re doing what we’re doing” series of lines in recent memory.
“Their friend” is Rocket, the (spoiler alert) raccoon voiced by Bradley Cooper. This is Rocket’s origin story, a strange choice for the culmination of a series, but which is explained, if rather clumsily, at the end of the film. Putting a great background character into a leading role (at least narratively) is risky (e.g., Ted Lasso’s second season, episode eight). But the film ultimately pulls it off by making the origin story a series of flashbacks that add a new energy each time the film cuts back to Rocket’s early years and experiences. It’s a rather thin throughline for a Marvel film, but we accept it because Rocket isn’t featured in every scene, and we get to enjoy our familiar favorites.
We get adequate visits with Mantis (Pom Klementieff), Drax (Dave Bautista), Nebula (Karen Gillan), and Groot (Vin Diesel), who continue being their unusual selves and who break little new ground in their interactions with others. We also get more than we want from Zoe Saldaña, who plays Gamora with more of an uncomfortable, harder edge than ever. Her final relationship with Quill is as ill-defined as Drax’s is with Mantis.
Sean Gunn’s Kraglin was once an integrated part of the Guardians, but seems to be a bit sidelined here, which cuts into a likeability factor that had been built up in the previous two films. As strangely used is Sylvester Stallone, who provides a casting jolt when first seen, but ultimately is a distraction. Chukwudi Iwuji is given star credit and an important role as The High Evolutionary, but the character doesn’t come off as the great bad guy he is supposed to be, making the villain someone who mysteriously tends to fade into the background.
And then there is Will Poulter. Is there going to be a new franchise built around his Adam Warlock character? That seems the only reason for introducing his character. His arc from evil killer to one of the guys is only one mystery with his character. The other is the presence of Elizabeth Debicki (The Crown‘s second Princess Diana) as Warlock’s mother, who is all of two years older than Poulter. They both have a strong screen presence, and Poulter’s general amiability wins out at the end. But such new and strong characters seem there for future franchise reasons than for logical new additions to the end of a trilogy, and they only add to the already excessive side storylines.
What is extraordinary about GG3 is what a technical triumph it is. The created creatures are as real as the humans and the natural landscapes, especially Rocket. Yes, there are stunning action sequences involving a great many effects. But the greatest effect here is of a believable world comprised of real and computer imagery. It’s up there with the Avatar films.
Perhaps the greatest weakness of the film is its attempts at importance and transcendence, with doesn’t really jive with the lighthearted insouciance of the best Guardian moments. The does thankfully break some too-serious moments with a strong and welcome tonal shift when things threaten to get too heavy. But those moments are unfortunately undercut by painful s-l-o-w-m-o-t-i-o-n scenes that turn small moments into attempted BIG MOMENTS FILLED WITH FEAR, DREAD, OR SIGNIFICANCE. I won’t spoil them except to say that one of the first of these is right at the beginning when a hand very slowly approaches the young Rocket character. If the film had simply allowed the hand to grab him quickly and steal him away, and the film had followed that rule throughout, it would have been blessedly shorter and more fun.
And why is a Marvel film taking a cue from the worst of the D&C movies, with dragged out fight after dragged out fight? The film is The Searchers combined with Saving Private Ryan in space to some degree, but the rescue gets lost in the set-up and execution of each new noisy, lengthy skirmish. And the violence and language! I was wondering if the increased crudeness and definitely stepped-up violence was an attempt to keep pace with the franchise’s original audience, moving from young impressionable kids to young adult territory. The one strong f-bomb, unfortunately handled by Quill, is approached a few times in a few sequences before we hear it loud and clear, which is the one-bomb-only rule that keeps things PG-13. But there is a good deal of crude language for those wondering if they should take the kids, and at what age the film would be appropriate. The language and violence are simply not appropriate for young children. The A Clockwork Orange-like scenes with Rocket and his eyes, too, will likely be uncomfortable for most viewers and might be traumatizing for little ones.
Being a space opera version of Saving Private Ryan and The Searchers et al., the film focuses on saving one person at the expense of many, many other lives, most of whom have nothing to do with the main rescue narrative. Apparently, Rocket’s life is presented as worth the violent deaths of dozens of side characters.
The songs of the first GG film, and most of the songs of the second, were delightful and at least to this writer, perfectly nostalgic. GG3 doesn’t have the same effect with its music until the end credits—again, at least to this guy. And finally, there is the Kevin Bacon thing, with is delightful.
GG3 is too long, too violent, too crude, and too full of plot and new characters. It’s also a technical marvel, and a visit with old friends that we are sorry to see go. I saw it twice.