Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3

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Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 wraps up the grungey offshoot of the Marvel Cinematic Universe with grace and style, as well as big bangs and some good jokes. There’s a touch of cinematic pathos in there too, as if GOTG3 is also to some extent saying goodbye to the big superhero movie as a cultural meme. The MCU, after all, is running out of puff.

It’s the film that nearly didn’t get made in its current form. Writer/director James Gunn, very much the presiding mind in all the GOTG movies, got fired early on in the production process – some old Tweets came back to bite him – but ended up being rehired, possibly as a result of a vocal social media campaign, plus the support of many of the cast. Possibly, also, because he’d just started work on The Suicide Squad, a movie belonging to the DC Extended Universe franchise. Is it a coincidence that he was re-offered the gig on this movie on his first day of shooting on The Suicide Squad? You be the judge.

Things now running a couple of years behind, what with the firing and rehiring, Covid and everything, there is some external justification for Bradley Cooper’s character, Rocket (who is not a raccoon), not featuring very much in Vol. 3 – by this point Cooper was waist-deep in preparation for his role as Leonard Bernstein in Maestro.

In a useful bit of plotting that turns the quippy Rocket into little more than a Maguffin, the not-a-raccoon a is mortally wounded in the film’s big opening fight sequence, when the Guardians are attacked at GOTG HQ by Will Poulter’s slightly cack-handed supervillain Adam Warlock.

And that’s the rest of the movie, the gang – Star-Lord/Peter Quill, Nebula, Gamora, Drax, Mantis and Groot – heading off on a transgalactic quest to find the necessary techy medicine that will heal Rocket, with villains to the left and right as they go.

Filling the Rocket-shaped gap is an origin story for him, which reveals that the young animal started life as a lab animal being experimented on by an evil genius modestly named The High Evolutionary.

Hang on a second, says anyone with any sort of memory, isn’t Gamora dead? Yes and no is the answer. This Gamora is some metaversal version, one who doesn’t remember that she and Quill had become lovers somewhere along the way, which allows Gunn to milk the situation for some comic pathos, and, if he wants to (no spoilers) take a second swipe at the Gamora/Quill romance storyline.

Adam Warlock and his mother Ayesha
Adam Warlock and mother Ayesha wonder what they’re doing here

The good things in the GOTG films remain the good things. Chris Pratt (Quill), Zoe Saldana (Gamora), Dave Bautista (Drax), Pom Klementieff (Mantis), Karen Gillan (Nebula) and Vin Diesel/Austin Freeman (Groot – Diesel does the voice, Freeman does the physical presence) – work well together in what is a very democratically written ensemble piece celebrating diversity, the power of the ad-hoc family and the effectiveness of communal action.

The special effects are plentiful and awesome but they are not the point of the movie. It’s situations and how people react to them that drive the drama, not big bangs and whooshing spaceships.

And, coming right this time in the way it didn’t quite in Vol. 2, the freeform nature of Gunn’s movies again allows for expansiveness. Characters get room to breathe, the story doesn’t feel overly hemmed in by the Marvel format, imagination is given its head. Occasionally things get a bit chaotic, but it’s a productive chaos not a case of things falling apart.

Chukwudi Iwuji finds enough of a corner of the megalomaniac supervillain to make The High Evolutionary distinctive. Will Poulter does his best to look like he’s doing more than just warming up for some future Marvel outing, and Elizabeth Debicki, playing the would-be supervillain’s mother, is again largely a spare part in a big movie (see Tenet).

A word about the music choices. Gunn was born in 1966 and he likes his rock – Alice Cooper, Radiohead, Heart, Rainbow and Bruce Springsteen all feature. For fans of the Beastie Boys, there’s a great fight sequence towards the end set to No Sleep Till Brooklyn.

And as a farewell, GOTG3 goes out on a massive final set piece which involves saving a huge number of migrants, James Gunn essentially nailing his politics to the mast and waving a finger at a certain demographic. Series finished, mission accomplished.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

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© Steve Morrissey 2024

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