4 out of 5 - NON-SPOILER REVIEW
Like a lot of people, up until about nine years ago, I'd never heard of the Guardians of the Galaxy. Yes I followed comic books but even though I was more of a DC fan, I knew the major players in Marvel. 2014 changed all that and director James Gunn introduced us to the band of misfits who have had their own adventures as well as being woven into the tapestry of the overall Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). We've come to know them - a bit.
We pick things up with the unlikely band of heroes after the events of the Guardians of the Galaxy Christmas Special (it will add to your understanding if you have seen this, but not essential) Ayesha, High Evolutionary and their golden harbinger of doom creation Adam warlock are on the warpath and Starlord, Drax, "alt-timeline-Gamora" (no one ever really dies in these films), Rocket, Mantis, Cosmo, Kraglin and Groot have got to get over their respective woes in time to save the day.
Apart from the epic special effects and technicolor set pieces, the best thing about Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 3 is it’s focus on the characters and their story. Who they are, where they’ve come from and what they’ve lost along the way takes centre stage and it makes for a far better film than the likes of Ant-Man and the Wasp Quantumania as a result.
There are still plenty of gags and silly antics, but that never takes anything away from the heart of the film, which is ultimately about the trials and tribulations of life. It’s a sci-fi exposition of family life through a found-family setup and there’s more than enough to take from this to make the third film the best to-date.
It gives everything layers and stakes, and when you combine that with a set of characters that have become much-loved over the years, you have a model that Marvel really needs to tap into a bit more going forward. There has to be more to things than just fighting the bad guys and setting up a few jokes.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 3 is the longest film in the series at 2 hours and 30 minutes, so pacing was always going to be a challenge. It doesn’t get this entirely right and one could easily shave off a little here and there to tighten things up, but overall it comes together well to close out James Gunn’s tenure with the series.
It’s a good sign for his new job heading up DC Studios and we’re now looking forward to the prospect of Superman Legacy, which will be his first DC Universe film. It probably won’t be as pithy as GotG has been in parts, but hopefully it has a similar focus on the characters, emotions and relationships that we’ve seen in the latest movie in the series.
The cast continue to embody their roles to perfection and they have strong chemistry on the big screen with a stand-out performance from Bradley Cooper as Rocket. Bringing genuine humanity to an anthropomorphic racoon can’t be easy, but in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 3 he’s elevated the part to the next level.
It’s a similar story from most of the other characters as they struggle to find their way throughout the wild action. It’s all underpinned by the gravitas that Chukwudi Iwuji has brought to the part of High Evolutionary. Like a number of real earth examples, his motives and rationale don’t make any sense whatsoever to anyone else but him and he showcases that fractured righteousness and entitlement with aplomb. He’s helped by both Elizabeth Debicki and Will Poulter as High Priestess Ayisha and Adam Warlock to give the Guardians more than enough to deal with.
Overall, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 3 is well worth seeing on the big screen and it salvages things for Marvel somewhat in the face of a number of duff films. Ant-Man and the Wasp Quantumania, Thor Love and Thunder and Eternals may well have fallen a little flat, but with Black Panther Wakanda Forever and GotG V3 there’s still a little hope for films like The Marvels and Avengers The Kang Dynasty.
Oh, and there is one mid-credit and one after credit scene to wait for.