When it was first announced that the C-List Marvel team known as the Guardians of the Galaxy would be getting their own movie, I was a bit skeptical, not to mention puzzled. While it was true that Marvel Studios had managed to turn lesser-known characters like Iron Man into silver screen hits in the past, this was a team that was not even that familiar to a lot of diehard comic fans.
Surely the odd choice to invest time and effort into bringing these obscure characters to the big screen would be the still-fledgling studio’s first real misstep in their still-blooming cinematic universe.
Well here we are, nine years later in a future where names like “Star-Lord” and “Groot” are household names, saying goodbye to the original lineup of space misfits in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, a beautiful, dark and heartfelt sendoff that, like a good Zune playlist, hits all of the right notes.
One of the things that made the original 2014 film so successful was its blend of space opera drama and director/writer James Gunn’s tone-perfect sense of humor, a combination that is still very much in play in Vol. 3, if skewed a bit more to the latter this time around.
While there are still funny bits, the story is one of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s darkest yet, thanks in no small part to the long-awaited exploration of the backstory of Bradley Cooper’s Rocket, the snarky raccoon with a taste for firearms. This backstory is brutal and sometimes hard to watch, and I’d be lying if I said it didn’t draw a tear or two from me, which it was clearly designed to do.
Gunn and crew let these moments take their full emotional toll, which is especially nice given the wider MCU’s annoying tendency to lessen dramatic moments by capping them off with out-of-place jokes.
Another thing the Guardians films always get right are the pure spectacle—gorgeous CGI, well-choreographed fight scenes, and giant set pieces, all of which are present and accounted for in Vol. 3.
At two-and-a-half hours it can all be a bit exhausting at times, especially past the two-hour mark, but it never really felt excessive, nor did it overstay its welcome.
Because when it comes down to it, Guardians of the Galaxy has really been about the characters, and they are characters that are a whole lot of fun to spend time with thanks to fantastic performances across the board, from returning veterans who at this point wear their characters like a second skin (I have to laud the spectacular voice acting of the aforementioned Bradley Cooper in particular) to team newcomers to Chukwudi Iwuji’s brilliant turn as the High Evolutionary, one of the most irredeemably evil villains in the entire MCU franchise (which, I may remind you, has had literal Nazis in it as well as a giant purple man who successfully killed half of the universe).
I really can’t imagine a better sendoff for these loveable idiots.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 is now available in theaters.