Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 (2023) Review

All good things must come to an end as James Gunn not only bids farewell to the Guardians of the Galaxy franchise but also marked his final Marvel movie since making his MCU debut in 2014. That year, of course, gave us the unlikeliest ragtag gang of misfits including Peter Quill a.k.a. Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista), Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper) and Groot (Vin Diesel). Back then, who could have thought an obscure Marvel property ended up becoming one of the most lucrative movie franchises in the Marvel Cinematic Universe?

And two movies later (the second one was released in 2017) and last year’s Disney+ TV special The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special, Gunn’s third and last Guardians of the Galaxy movie before he shifted his focus on spearheading the new era of DCU, beginning with the currently-in-pre-production Superman: Legacy, sees the writer-director packing everything here in a massive 150-minute length. It was the longest Guardians of the Galaxy movie ever made and I was initially worried about its potentially bloated length. But Gunn does a great job keeping the pace brisk, all brimming with enough heart, humour and action and not to forget, both emotional and dramatic urgency — something that he previously tried and fairly succeed to a certain extent in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.

Set after the post-Avengers: Endgame era, the Guardians of the Galaxy team is now stationed at their HQ in Knowhere. Peter is still reeling from the loss of Gamora after Thanos (Josh Brolin) shoved her down the cliff in exchange for the soul stone in Avengers: Infinity War. Gamora may have returned from an alternate timeline but it wasn’t the same person he used to love in the past while she has no clue whatsoever about their relationship.

Sean Gunn voiced the young Rocket Raccoon in "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3" (2023)

The team is eventually forced back into action when a sudden threat in the form of the golden-skinned Adam Warlock (Will Poulter) zooms into Knowhere and attacks everyone with his cosmic superpowers. Rocket is badly injured during the battle and the team tries to revive him but to no avail. Apparently, their only chance to save his life is to retrieve a MacGuffin, which leads them to another intergalactic adventure. Gamora joins forces and from there, they soon find themselves battling against the sinister High Evolutionary (Chukwudi Iwuji), a man with a God-like ability, whose goal is to “perfect” the existing living creatures. We also learn that High Evolutionary has something to do with Rocket Raccoon, which finally gives us the latter’s crucial backstory.

Here, we see Gunn delves deeper into Rocket’s past from the younger days when he was just an ordinary little racoon trapped in the cage. He even does the impossible by making us root for his character, despite being a CG-talking animal. And that is not all, as his past also establishes a wonderful friendship with his fellow caged talking-animal friends (voiced by Linda Cardellini, Asim Chaudhry and Mikaela Hoover). His whole backstory is easily the franchise’s most moving moment that hits the emotional core since Michael Rooker’s Yondu’s sacrificial death in the otherwise mixed result of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. This goes to show that Gunn has the versatility to make an affecting drama beyond his usual comfort-zone of irreverent comedy.

While Bradley Cooper and Sean Gunn, where the latter voiced the younger Rocket may have been the MVP in this third outing, Gunn doesn’t neglect the rest of his characters. Well, for most of them anyway. Chris Pratt’s signature goofball charm that we come to love about Peter Quill in the first place remains intact up to a point. This shouldn’t come as a surprise after all. Besides, ever since his character was first introduced in 2014, he has gone through a series of ups and downs (among them dealing with Gamora’s death) and it’s natural that he’s no longer the exact same old Quill as before. He may have cracked jokes every now and then. But it also allows Pratt to evolve and showcase some of the dramatic chops in his character as we see him attempting to do whatever it takes to save his best friend, Rocket.

Adam Poulter made his MCU debut as Adam Warlock in "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3" (2023)

Reprising their respective roles as Drax and Mantis, Bautista and Pom Klementieff continue to bring undeniable on-screen chemistry after appearing as unlikely protagonists in the Disney+ TV special. Their love-hate and bickering brother-and-sister-like relationship resulted in some of the movie’s funnier bits. Zoe Saldana and Karen Gillan deliver equally solid support as Gamora and Nebula while Sean Gunn, who also played Kraglin, excels in his hilariously deadpan performance (the “bad dog” part revolving around him and Maria Bakalova’s Cosmo the Spacedog immediately comes to mind). Then, there’s Vin Diesel’s Groot and his same but tonally different “I am Groot” delivery can be seen in some of the movie’s cool action-heavy moments.

Of all the franchise newcomers, Chukwudi Iwuji steals the show each time he’s on the screen, whose deliriously mad-scientist role as High Evolutionary is one of the best MCU antagonists in recent years. Too bad Gunn chose to downplay Elizabeth Debicki’s Ayesha and Will Poulter’s first MCU role as Adam Warlock, both of which were previously hinted at during the post-credits scene in the second movie as if they were up for something epic.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 is also an absolute technical marvel that seamlessly blends CGI with amazing practical and makeup effects, proving the reportedly US$250 million is well-spent. Gunn doesn’t hold back when comes to the action sequences. They are palpable and even to the point of getting all visceral and mean-spirited as they need to be. The stakes are higher too and finally, Gunn throws in a stunning one-take battle scene inside a spaceship corridor, complete with the spot-on Beastie Boys’ “No Sleep Till Brooklyn” playing in the background.

Likewise, don’t forget to stick around for extra scenes after the end credits start rolling (there are two in total). It’s sad to see James Gunn has moved on to a different phase and whatever happened to the next Guardians of the Galaxy movie, well, we can only wait and see. Till then, go watch it when it’s out in cinemas this week. It was one of the best Marvel movies I’ve ever seen.