Take that, superhero fatigue.
Just when Marvel’s quality and cultural value have begun to be challenged, Guardians of the Galaxy: Volume 3 answers all of these questions with a definitive statement. No matter what the Internet may fear, Marvel still knows how to make a great film when given the time, budget and talent.
In Guardians of the Galaxy: Volume 3, Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), Groot (Vin Diesel), Nebula (Karen Gillan) and the rest have begun to build a new world on Knowhere. However, when their turbulent past comes back to haunt them, Rocket (Bradley Cooper) finds himself on the brink of death. Now, Peter and his band of misfits must pull together to save their best friend (or ‘2nd best’) on a dangerous mission that will require them all to revisit their past.
As one of their best films in recent years, Volume 3 is a return to form in every way. Written and directed by James Gunn, this is an emotional gut punch. Whereas the third (and final?) film in the Guardians trilogy features a booming soundtrack and all the humour that fans expect, they may not be prepared for the emotional ride that comes along with it. This is a story that is not only meant to entertain, but it is also meant to challenge its characters (and viewers). As such, Volume 3 has a much darker tone to its story than its predecessors. Featuring themes of animal abuse, abduction and trauma response, Gunn really does not hold back. For each of his characters, he has written an appropriate character arc and rarely lets them take the easy way out as he wraps up his trilogy.
As he moves over to the ‘enemy’ as the head of DC films, there’s no question that Marvel is absolutely going to miss Gunn’s phenomenal work. When operating at the top of his game, he has a way of blending humourous banter with heavy darkness in ways that other directors cannot. Those skills remain fully on display in Volume 3 as each of his characters has both their moment of crisis and their moment to shine.
To say too much would be a disservice but, suffice to say, Volume 3 absolutely wrestles with the effects of trauma on the soul. Whether it’s Rocket’s personal journey or Quill’s mourning for the love that he lost, multiples characters are forced to face their own shattered past. In this way, Gunn seems to allow more moments for his characters to breathe than in other entries. While each character quips at the usual Marvel frenetic pacing, so too do they take time to grieve and sit in their trauma. In the wake of its revelations, Volume 3 is very much a film about trying to figure out who you are in the face of abuse and suffering.
Suddenly, they’re not just guarding the galaxy. They’re guarding their souls.
Admittedly, Guardians 3 still falls into the some of the common traps of the Marvel universe. For example, The Grand Inquisitor is yet another forgettable villain, even if he does seem more terrifying than other recent threats. What’s more, the presentation of Adam Warlock, an example of the ‘perfect man’ of the comics, will likely divide fans due to his portrayal as an immature fool.
But, these are minor quibbles. The reality is that Guardians of the Galaxy: Volume 3 breathes (muchly needed) life into the mega franchise. After almost 40 films and series, one could easily be forgiven by thinking that the Marvel engine is running out of gas. Nevertheless, Volume 3 proves that, regardless of whatever galaxy they’re from, the stories of these Guardians resonate everywhere.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 is available in theatres on Friday, May 5th, 2023.