Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 review: Heartwarming and mean-spirited moments clash in this final mixtape

Chris Pratt as Peter Quill/Star-Lord in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3.
Chris Pratt as Peter Quill/Star-Lord in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3. Pic credit: Marvel Studios

The final swan song for this franchise is an unapologetic James Gunn movie. For Gunn fans, this is worthy of celebrating. As for everyone else, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 could conjure a mixture of emotions.

There are beautiful and emotional moments in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3. However, simultaneously, brutal and mean-spirited decisions offset these sentimental achievements.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 is the culmination of James Gunn’s career as a Marvel director. The filmmaker, who began as a shock jock troma director and horror writer for films like Tromeo and Juliet, Slither, and Dawn of the Dead (2004), found a softer side when boarding the Marvel property back in 2013. Gunn’s misfit/outcast personality and humor lent well to the galactic team of outsiders.

With Gunn’s departure to run DC Studios, this third entry serves as bittersweet goodbye for James Gunn at Marvel.

The combo of Gunn leaving for DC and this being the Guardians of the Galaxy’s final installment sees a director who has nothing to lose– and it shows within the creative choices of the last film.

In today’s landscape, a spoiler could mean something different person-to-person. While this review will not reveal essential plot details or story reveals, it’s worth noting that vague impressions might feel spoilerish for some readers. So, please proceed to read with caution.

The tragic tale of Rocket Raccoon

The third film sees the Guardians facing off against a dark figure from Rocket Raccoon’s past. When the film begins, we are in Knowhere, where the team has found a home at the world’s edge.

It’s implied that Peter Quill/Star-Lord drinks himself to sleep consistently due to losing Gamora (Zoe Saldana). And the rest of the team, Drax (Dave Bautista), Rocket (Bradley Cooper), Groot (Vin Diesel), Nebula (Karen Gillan), and Mantis (Pom Klementieff), are simply trying to make the best of what they have.

To make matters more complicated for Peter Quill, Gamora’s variant is alive and well in his dimension. And she is meaner and more impulsive, and she has no memories of loving Quill.

Bradley Cooper as Rocket Raccoon.
Bradley Cooper as Rocket Raccoon. Pic credit: Marvel Studios

The film then kicks into gear once Adam Warlock (Will Poulter) smashes into Knowhere, and Warlock seeks to capture Rocket. We soon discover that Warlock works for a ruthless tyrant who calls himself The High Evolutionary (Chukwudi Iwuji), a vicious man who believes himself to be a God.

Gunn’s screenplay then takes the viewer down a tragic string of flashbacks involving Rocket Raccoon, as the inhumane creation of Rocket unfolds. The High Evolutionary is Rocket’s creator, and he wants him back. Thus, leading to a “face-off” between our heroes and Rocket’s torturous creator.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 is at its strongest when it centers around the backstory of Rocket Raccoon. He is the heart and soul of this movie, and it’s clear Gunn has a deep affection for the tragedy of this unlikely hero. Tears will be shed at various moments, so be prepared.

Rocket’s subplot dives into troubling subjects such as animal torture, testing, and murder. And at times, it breaches the territory of body horror, similar to a David Cronenberg film. In these moments, Gunn does not shy away from the brutality of it all. And there will be discussions about whether some of these horrific elements were taken too far.

The emotional weight of this movie is comparable to John Wick, where when the puppy is hurt, we want John to make everyone suffer. We, as the viewer, are begging for The High Evolutionary to face endless misery, as does Star-Lord. This might also make The High Evolutionary one of Marvel’s best and most hated villains to date.

Adding to the unsettling body horror elements, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 is saturated with disconcerting and mean-spirited story mechanics.

This does not reveal anything crucial, but just in case, light spoilers may follow. In one scenario, someone rescues an animal. When freed, the animal violently scratches an innocent person’s face. Creative decisions like this undermine the sentiment behind the moment and give the impression that Gunn has no one challenging his worst instincts.

Back in 1992, after the massive success of ’89 Batman, Tim Burton was given complete creative freedom to make Batman Returns. This freedom inspired a grotesque vision of Gotham, where Danny Devito’s Penguin bites the nose off random strangers, Michelle Pfeiffer, as Selina Kyle almost becomes eaten by alley cats, and Christopher Walken is murdered by being tased in the mouth.

The same is true of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3. This is the Gunniest of all the Guardians of the Galaxy movies; because of this, it will not be for everyone.

But here is where the mixtape gets even mixier. The final moments of Guardians of the Galaxy are exactly what fans would want. James Gunn’s screenplay is like a turbulent flight with an aggressive airline pilot. But somehow, he does stick the landing. Like Avengers: Endgame, it’s an emotional finish that honors the characters in their final team-up at Marvel.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 is a mean-spirited yet heartfelt finale

Guardians of the Galaxy 3 serves as a heartfelt conclusion for the galactic characters and a sincere love letter to Rocket Raccoon. The action is top-notch, and the characters are still infectious. And the laughs are significant when they land.

That said, the third outing has disturbing elements of body horror and other horrific features that might make it less appealing to some audiences. Maybe leave the kids at home until viewing the film.

This review is positive, but the recommendation has caution tape. The finale is undoubtedly heartwarming. However, the cruel nature of the writing might linger further in one’s mind.

For more reviews, be sure and read our coverage of Ben Affleck’s Air and Cocaine Bear.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 hits theaters everywhere on May 5.

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