Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 3 has been a long time coming for various reasons, and now it feels like it’s arriving at a pivotal time for Marvel Studios.
It’s too dramatic to say Marvel is in crisis, but with the underperformance of Ant-Man and The Wasp: Quantumania, the allegations against Jonathan Majors and the exit of long-time producer Victoria Alonso, the studio is in need of a win to kickstart Phase 5 after Quantumania did anything but.
Luckily, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 3 could do just that. The previous two movies were critical hits and box-office successes, even if the billion-dollar mark eluded both of them, and while the build-up has been relatively muted for Vol 3, expect that to change in the coming weeks.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 3 proves to be a brilliant end to a brilliant trilogy, which now can be considered as the MCU’s strongest. James Gunn might be switching his attention to DC, but his parting gift to Marvel is to remind us how good it can be.
Since their last solo adventure, the Guardians of the Galaxy have teamed up with the Avengers to battle Thanos and then taken a little detour with Thor, although if you haven’t seen Thor: Love and Thunder, that bit doesn’t actually matter.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 3 doesn’t continue the plot thread dangling from the fourth Thor movie, which saw them go off to help other planets who had lost their gods. Instead, Vol 3 picks up after the events of the Holiday Special, where Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) is still pining over the loss of Gamora (Zoe Saldaña).
He knows now that Mantis (Pom Klementieff) is his half-sister, and he has a very good dog, Cosmo (voiced by Maria Bakalova), but nothing can bring Peter out of his funk. Well, that is until Rocket’s (voiced by Bradley Cooper) past comes back to haunt him and his life is left hanging in the balance.
In order to save Rocket, Peter must snap out of it and lead the team on a dangerous mission that could well spell the end of the Guardians as we know them.
Even before James Gunn’s DC move, it was clear that Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 3 would mark the final adventure for this team. Unlike Quantumania, which sidelined its main characters in their trilogy closer for the Kang of it all, Gunn has kept the focus on the Guardians to make it a more satisfying closer.
There are characters introduced that could play a part in the MCU’s future and we might even see some Guardians again, but it feels like a definitive ending for this iteration of the team. If you think we’re spoiling something or alluding to deaths, we’re not; Gunn finds unexpected – but no less fitting – ways to bring their various journeys to a close.
It’s an affecting final journey and, crucially, Gunn doesn’t undercut the emotion with a gag as so many MCU movies do. Gunn cares about these characters and knows you do too, so there are no glib asides at an otherwise powerful moment. There might be a lot of weirdness going on elsewhere, but Vol 3 is more mature than most MCU output.
If there’s a flaw, it’s that there are one too many fake-out near-death moments for various characters. They are the only times where the movie feels manipulative when it has no real need to, other than just to cheaply toy with fans’ expectations. It doesn’t lessen the impact of the movie’s emotional beats, though, when they do come.
While there are darker elements than we’ve seen in other Guardians movies, especially in Rocket’s backstory, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 3 still delivers the deadpan and quirky humour we’re used to. As before, the gag rate is hit and miss, but the movie hits a lot more and is often very funny.
A lot of the humour stems from the chemistry between the cast and the relationships established over time. Gunn freshens up the dynamics with the alternate Gamora, Zoe Saldaña excelling with an angrier, more anarchic take, but they’re still the same bunch of a-holes that we know and love.
If this is the last time we see them in the MCU, then we’re going to miss this team. Gunn ensures they all get their moment to shine, both as a team – such as during an incredible one-take action scene that gives the Guardians their Avengers moment – and stand-out solo moments such as a sequence with Drax that will melt your heart.
It’s a tough ask for any newcomer to make an impression in an established cast, but Will Poulter and Chukwudi Iwuji both impress. Iwuji’s High Evolutionary is an unpredictable villain, while Poulter gets to showcase his dry comedic talents with the child-like Adam Warlock, who gets one of the MCU’s best introduction scenes.
As much as the movie tells a satisfying end to the Guardians trilogy, you are left wishing that they all spent more time together. For various reasons, they’re split into smaller factions on the mission, which also affects the pacing at times as there’s so much packed into the near-150-minute runtime.
It’s a relatively minor issue, though, when Gunn wraps up everything so brilliantly, all backed to another superb soundtrack, as we’ve come to expect. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 3 should give the boost that Marvel needed, as well as giving fans exactly what they want.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 3 is out now in UK cinemas.
Movies Editor, Digital Spy Ian has more than 10 years of movies journalism experience as a writer and editor.
Starting out as an intern at trade bible Screen International, he was promoted to report and analyse UK box-office results, as well as carving his own niche with horror movies, attending genre festivals around the world.
After moving to Digital Spy, initially as a TV writer, he was nominated for New Digital Talent of the Year at the PPA Digital Awards.
He became Movies Editor in 2019, in which role he has interviewed 100s of stars, including Chris Hemsworth, Florence Pugh, Keanu Reeves, Idris Elba and Olivia Colman, become a human encyclopedia for Marvel and appeared as an expert guest on BBC News and on-stage at MCM Comic-Con. Where he can, he continues to push his horror agenda – whether his editor likes it or not.