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Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 review – once more, with feeling!

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 review – once more, with feeling!
From left: Miriam Shor as Recorder Vim, Chukwudi Iwuji as the High Evolutionary and Nico Santos as Recorder Theel in Marvel Studios' 'Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3'. (Photo: Jessica Miglio. © 2023 Marvel)

The Guardians of the Galaxy are back for their swan song! The final adventure for Marvel’s misfits is a cosmic spectacle, as emotionally resonant as it is hilarious

‘Come and get your love!” That was the catchy line belted out by 1970s funk rock band Redbone during the musical opening of 2014’s Guardians of the Galaxy, as writer/director James Gunn brilliantly used the titular track to not only introduce Chris Pratt as space rogue Peter Quill but also announce to the world that this was a superhero franchise unlike any other. And 11 years later, as this trilogy comes to a close, those very same giddy lyrics may as well be the tagline of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3.

Gunn’s latest comic book caper is filled with all the madcap banter and over-the-top cosmic action you’ve come to expect from Marvel’s beloved band of misfits. There are fleshy space stations, spaceship dogfights, vicious sword fights, sentries that look like the answer to “What if HR Geiger designed the Michelin Man?”, telekinetic bad dogs, other genetically modified animals, fun actor cameos and Chukwudi Iwuji’s colourful new baddie, the High Evolutionary, complete with a god-complex and a face tuck that looks straight out of Terry Gilliam’s Brazil.

However, much more importantly, it’s stuffed with heart-breaking thematic heft as it dives deep into the many different shades of familial love and the lengths to which people are willing to go for those they hold dear. Plotlines may get scattershot at times, but the common nexus for all of them is an intimate treatise on how we place value on those around us – whether we love them for who they are, scars and all, or want them to be something they’re not. And Gunn nails it.

From left: Karen Gillan as Nebula, Chris Pratt as Peter Quill/Star-Lord, and Dave Bautista as Drax in Marvel Studios’ Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3. (Photo: Jessica Miglio. © 2023 Marvel)

Having battled both egotistic space gods and god-killing tyrants to save the universe before, the stakes here are a lot more personal for the Guardians: simply saving a friend. That friend is Rocket, the gun-toting raccoon (a description he vehemently denies!) voiced by Bradley Cooper, who finds himself in the crosshairs of the High Evolutionary due to their shared history. We’re finally delving into Rocket’s mysterious past, and it’s packed full of pathos. Without spoiling the details, here is some advice: Keep the tissues handy. When it comes to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, only Black Panther: Wakanda Forever can compete with how teary-eyed this might leave you.

Alongside Rocket’s story, we also pick up the threads from Avengers: Endgame with Quill trying to get Zoe Saldana’s alternate-timeline Gamora to accept the Guardians as family, much like her deceased multiversal counterpart once did. All of this is much to her enraged dismay, giving Pratt and his co-star a lot of emotion to bounce off each other.

Breaking up all these dramatic outpourings though is Gunn’s signature combo of fluid action, bopping needle drops and ribald wit. But while the first two facets excel, the gags are a mixed bag. Audiences love the oddball pairing of Dave Bautista’s Drax and Pom Klementieff’s Mantis (they’re admittedly great, hence them leading last year’s Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special), especially when Karen Gillan’s cybernetic straight-man Nebula is thrown in between the pair. However, Gunn returns to the well of their oblivious comedy just a tad too much. Many punchlines land with side-splitting gusto, but others feel like awkwardly predictable punctuation just used to fill the screenwriting gaps. It’s a pity, as they, and the rest of the cast, are outstanding in their delivery.

Zoe Saldana as Gamora in Marvel Studios’ Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3. (Photo: Jessica Miglio. © 2023 Marvel)

Will Poulter as Adam Warlock and Elizabeth Debicki as Ayesha in Marvel Studios’ ‘Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3’. (Photo: Jessica Miglio. © 2023 Marvel)

And hardcore fans who were hyped for the long-awaited on-screen appearance of Adam Warlock need to temper their expectations. Will Poulter certainly looks the part, and his recently birthed “perfect being” is a powerhouse who gets to flex his cosmic muscles, but he gets relegated to a B-plot that feels like little more than a holdover from the previous film. 

All of these fumbles are minor irks in comparison with how perfectly Gunn manages to end it all though. There’s a bittersweet natural finality to the personal stories of these beloved characters. Arcs that began more than a decade ago get resolutions in which both the emotional and logical math check out. Gunn understands what makes these characters tick better than any other creator in the MCU and it shows through some of the masterful insights he has about them. With the filmmaker now heading off to spearhead the new DC Comics Universe, it makes Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 a double goodbye. Luckily, it’s a great one. DM/ML

This story was first published on Pfangirl.com

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 is in South African cinemas, including IMAX, from 5 May.

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