Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 draws out its fanfare with little payoff for audiences.
Before delving into Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, context is needed as the film wasn’t likely to be released, held in production purgatory with director James Gunn fired following the emergence of old tweets.
Gunn, who directed the previous two in the Guardians of the Galaxy series, was eventually told that his concluding trilogy film wouldn’t happen with The Walt Disney Company pulling the plug on the project in 2018. However, when the Guardians cast, most notably Dave Bautista, stepped in, putting their position in the films on the line, the House of Mouse reconsidered reversing their decision a year later.
The director has since moved over to Marvel‘s competitor, DC Comics, becoming its joint CEO, with audiences’ attention shifting to how Gunn will develop his directorial voice following his attempt with The Suicide Squad (2021).
Though, with Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 3, as soon as the Marvel comic ident floods the screen with its branded red and Wakandan purple, it becomes apparent that the iconic montage is different. Where it should instead celebrate Marvel’s characters and IP, it here only shows the ‘bunch of a-holes’ audiences have spent time with over the last decade.
A technique used in two other instances – Stan Lee in Captain Marvel and Chadwick Boseman for Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, both in memorial of their contributions. By riffing off this established montage reserved only for those who have passed, it is as if Gunn is warning us of what will come. This is most certainly someone’s goodbye.
Yet, unlike the previous Guardians of the Galaxy films where Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) leads the narrative, Rocket (Bradley Cooper) is where we linger, understanding and contextualising his origins as a scientific experiment to the High Evolutionary (Chukwudi Iwuji), who seeks better existence with forced evolution with David Cronenberg inspired cybernetic animals.
Mere minutes into the film, the answer of who the film would claim as the victim becomes apparent as Adam Warlock, delightfully played by Will Poulter, gravely injures the furry kleptomaniac whilst a grieving Peter Quill drowns his sorrows over the loss of Gamora (Zoe Saldana).
Overwhelmed by the guilt of the harm caused to Rocket, the team attempts to heal him, learning that his heart has been tampered with. Thus, a MacGuffin code, only acquired from the High Evolutionary, is needed to save him.
Narratively, the story offers little to maintain its endurance, flippantly jumping between candy-flossed set pieces of the present day with mechanical body horror of Rocket’s flashbacks.
James Gunn knows this to be his last outing, throwing every reference, character, and thread established over the past ten years as a way to distract rather than entertain. Except audiences expect something to happen. So what could be moments of interest instead become a hypothetical suspenseful threat for future scenes, something we become ridiculed for thinking, evidenced by a pointless subplot about Kraglin (Sean Gunn) refusing to praise Cosmo the Dog (Maria Bakalova).
Yet, even the main storyline for Quill, Groot (Vin Diesel), Nebula (Karen Gillan), Drax (Bautista), Mantis (Pom Klementieff), and an alternate timelined Gamora is limited. Begrudgingly expected to keep up and understand that Gamora is back, Nebula has an Inspector Gadget-inspired arm, and Groot is a beefcake despite being decapitated in the first act.
Oddly, the soundtrack is also out of place for a Guardians of the Galaxy film. Within its franchise, the heroic team listen to an eclectic taste of 80s music that diegetically sits alongside their action sequences, including Electric Light Orchestra’s Mr Blue Sky, as used in the opening of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017). The music serves narratively as a continuous way for Peter Quill to stay connected with his late mother.
Why it is then the film plays out nearly the entire length of Florence and the Machine’s Dog Days Are Over, a song released five years before the initial Guardians of the Galaxy film. It may be Gunn commenting that this dogged film is the last.
Unfortunately for audiences expecting death or an emotionally satisfying closure to the tenure, neither comes true in both instances. To cinematically intrigue audiences with a consequential film, for no characters to change or develop beyond acknowledging once more their family bond as if a stipulation of Vin Diesel’s contract becomes insulting to draw out its concluding trilogy part for two and a half hours.
Its saving grace is Will Poulter.
He is a genuinely sensational performer regardless of where he features in any production, and here is no different. Delivering earnest lines of ridicule, Poulter shines in every scene, literally, in fact, painted a shimmering gold, even when lines are disappointingly written as if initially for Bautista’s Drax but repurposed for this likeminded cybernetic cosmic entity.
In a time of superhero fatigue and questions arising over the future and direction of Marvel’s Phase Five, especially following its performer of Kang the Conquerer, Jonathan Majors, being arrested and facing a court hearing for the day of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 release in the UK, many will be looking to how Marvel proceeds.
With so much still in the air for the studio, when they showed consistency and foreplanning at their peak, it is frustrating that the opening montage of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 ignored its foreshadowing iconography. Instead, the film edges us continuously with three possible routes of death that, if fully realised, would have had audiences in tears and disbelief like Avengers: Infinity War (2019).
Instead, it relies on excessive swearing, including the first f-bomb, mediocre fight scenes, and friends of James Gunn cameoing, like Nathan Fillion and Sylvester Stallone all done to distract you from its insubstantial ending.
Moreover, it is so flimsily put together that its post-post credits footage is a still image of the team before fading to a member of the Guardians eating cereal.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 is in cinemas from 5 May 2023.
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