It’s been something of a rocky road for the Guardians Of The Galaxy both in front of and behind the camera. Not only did the lovable gang of interstellar a-holes see their tight-knit group rent asunder by the still freshly felt events of Infinity War and Endgame, but writer/director James Gunn also found himself metaphorically snapped out of existence after some old tweets cost him his place at Marvel.
However, much like Groot regrowing himself from a teensy tiny twig at the end of the first movie, Gunn managed to also plant some brand new roots with rival firm DC; first delivering the wickedly brutal The Suicide Squad, then the tremendously subversive Peacemaker and even going as far as running the whole shebang as Warner’s soft reboot of the universe looms ever closer.
The point of all this backstory? Gunn’s welcome reinstatement back into the world of the MCU is now a goodbye on multiple levels as the director says farewell to the franchise that made this all possible. Seal the airlocks, people; things are about to get emotional.
First those of you who haven’t seen the Guardians Holiday Special: a quick refresher – Mantis is Peter Quill’s sister, Groot’s an adult again and the Guardians have made the huge floating space head known as Knowhere their base of operations. Oh, and they also have a Russian Cosmonaut dog with telepathy.
Right, back to it. Finally picking up the threads of that post credit scene in Vol 2, the Sovereign leader sends her specially created warrior, Adam, to perform an errand for the High Evolutionary, a being obsessed with manipulating life itself thanks to a God complex the size of… well, a god.
What he wants is Rocket, but in the ensuing brawl, the bitter racoon is severely injured and a kill switch located within his little mangled body means that resuscitation would ironically result in his death. It becomes clear that to save their grouchiest member (and that’s saying something), the Guardians are going to have to infiltrate the High Evolutionary’s corporations in order to get the information they need – however, there’s a problem: the Guardians are sort of a mess right now.
While Mantis, Drax and Nebula are starting to question their respective places in the universe, Quill has crawled into the bottom of a bottle, mourning for the death of his Gamora while pining for the Gamora variant who now runs with the Ravagers. With only 48 hours until Rocket’s body succumbs to his injuries, the Guardians have to focus up, perform some incredibly outlandish heists and avoid the spiteful wrath of the High Evolutionary whose previous attempts at perfecting life included the truly harrowing origin of Rocket himself.
Emotion has always been at the forefront of the Guardians movies, be it Groot’s sacrifice, Yondu’s sacrifice, or any other sacrifice that’s allowed Gunn a straight punch right to the unprotected feels, but it seems that the heir apparent to the DCU has left the most gut wrenching tale for last – the unfeasibly dark origin story of Rocket. Marvel characters seem to horde traumatizing events the way Thanos covets Infinity Stones (surely Thor and Shuri are neck and neck right now), but Rocket’s backstory – told in episodic flashback while he weakly struggles for life on an operating table – may actually be the most emotionally scarring of all and takes the MCU into easily the darkest territory it’s ever been. Rocket has always been the stealth lead of the Guardians saga and at first, the decision to bench him with a coma for most of the movie seems a little foolhardy – but when you consider how many moving parts Vol 3 actually has, removing one of the characters in order to tell his story provides some much needed wriggle room. Lets put it this way, endings are needed and to do that, the movie has to focus on its main, five, humanoid characters and give them all satisfying character arcs that all have resolutions that do justice to everything that’s come before. Weirdly, the two who benefit the most are Karen Gillan’s Nebula and Pom Klementieff’s Mantis, two characters who started off as one dimentional goons/lackeys to the main villain and their rise from supporting roles to plot changing leads is genuinely rewarding. Also receiving a boost is Zoe Saldãna’s Gamora, now freed from being the romantic lead, she gets to play a rougher, more abrasive version of the character who took an express trip off a mountain on Morag. Groot gets to do some cool, form shifting, tendril-shit and David Bautista’s Drax still plays the hulking clown, but Chris Pratt’s Quill finds himself in a struggle to move on from his romantic feelings toward a version of a character who isn’t the one he remembers. The cast all do fine work, but it does mean that some of the supporting characters struggle to resonate thanks to some frantic ret-conning.
Despite being set up back in 2017, Will Poulter’s Adam Warlock feels a little like an afterthought despite amusingly playing his ridiculously over powered man-child as an upper-class doof. Elsewhere, Chukwudi Iwuji’s High Evolutionary also lacks much of a back story, but thankfully still retains more than adequate villian credentials due to his relentless, enthusiastic and unending cruelty to animals.
However, at the end of the day, it’s pure, unbridled emotion that fuels the engines that make Vol 3 go and make no mistake, you will be blubbing uncontrollably at numerous times throughout the hefty runtime – but maybe not for the reasons you first may think. Gunn is certainly merciless with the many lives in his hands (collateral damage is huge), but those expecting a more devastating body count may do well to remember that is only the second entry to the MCU’s fifth phase and any hopes of some seismic, game changing happenstances probably should be checked at the door.
The flip size to all this pain and trauma being exorcised on screen means that while Vol 3 is by far the most emotionally searing of the bunch (even more so than Yondu’s funeral at the end of Vol 2), it’s also the least laugh-out-loud funny of the trilogy and the requisite Awesome Mix isn’t as instantly iconic as past entries.
Still, to feel this much for a group of outlandish losers, two of whom are a CGI tree and a woodland creature, one is part bug and another is a black-eyed cyborg, just goes to prove how successful Gunn has been in his endeavors. A fitting, tear-soaked farewell to Marvel’s underdog misfits may result in more ugly-crying into your popcorn than out and out mirth, but as goodbyes go, it’s an utter banger.