Monday Morning Movie Review: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 (2023)

Friday night I went and saw Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 (2023) on a whim.  I hadn’t realized the flick was already out, as I’ve been knee-deep in end-of-the-school-year responsibilities.  After celebrating Cinco de Mayo with Thai food (the Thai place was a lot less crowded than the Mexican restaurants), my companion proposed we check out the latest Guardians flick, so on a whim we made it to a showing that had just started rolling the previews.

I’m a big fan of the first two films.  When I first saw the original Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) nine years ago (has it been that long?), I was hooked.  I compared it favorably to the Star Wars trilogy, and in the wake of the disastrous sequel trilogy in that franchise, the Guardians trilogy serves as an excellent alternative for Star Wars fans slavering for more intergalactic hijinks.

The elements are there in both sets of films:  a group of immature misfits get tossed together into an ad hoc group of unlikely heroes, who, despite their shortcomings and inexperience, grow together to defeat a greater evil.  Along the way, they forge friendships together, and come to learn more about themselves and each other.

The original Star Wars trilogy pulls this off better than Guardians, especially in the wake of this third installment.  Just as Star Wars has its Return of the Jedi (1983)—a fun conclusion to the story, but not quite as weighty as its predecessors, Guardians has its Vol. 3, which is full of bizarre creatures, but is actually much heavier and darker in tone than its predecessors.

The story largely centers on two major threads:  Rocket Raccoon’s troubled (and troubling) past, and Peter Quill’s inability to get over Gamora, who has lost all memory of the pair’s relationship.  Quill stumbles around in a drunken stupor as he tries to cope with the loss of love, and Rocket experiences something akin to adolescent angst.

Their respective pity parties are broken up when Warlock comes crashing in, wreaking havoc and mortally wounding Rocket.  Med packs won’t work on Rocket, as he is built with proprietary biomechanical technology, so the team must begin a daring heist of the company that “owns” Rocket’s innards, the headquarters of which are made from living organic tissue.

The major villain in the film is the High Evolutionary, a man with a face like RoboCop (1987), and who is hell-bent on creating perfect beings through his twisted biological experiments.  He is both the head of a company and a deranged mad scientist with a God complex (even shouting at one point, “there is no God! That’s why I had to step in!”—making for a refreshing moment in modern, mainline cinema in which the villain is an atheist).

Director James Gunn makes the film into a creature-feature playground, and is a bit of a benign stand-in for the wicked High Evolutionary.  Gunn loves making weird creatures (me too!), and has a great deal of fun doing so here.  The High Evolutionary’s corporate guards wear full-body suits of armor that look like lice shells.  When we see Counter-Earth—the High Evolutionary’s replica of circa 1990s Earth—the planet is populated with highly evolved, humanoid versions of animals (the Guardians gather intel from a family of Latin-inspired bat people).  There’s even a super fat guy with an octopus head selling methamphetamines to three kids with cockroach heads—not exactly a perfect world, as Peter Quill points out to the High Evolutionary.

I found myself asking:  why animal people?  Sure, maybe a humanoid turtle that walks upright is the key to genetic perfection in the world of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but it seemed a tad self-indulgent.  Granted, “self-indulgent” is the modus operandi of the High Evolutionary, who plays with living creatures and sentience like a child plays with those Styrofoam glider planes they used to sell at Cracker Barrel—fun for few minutes until you destroy your creation due to your own morbid curiosity (a Slinky would work in this overwrought metaphor, too).  But it seems a little gratuitous, and like an excuse for James Gunn to come up with wacky creatures.

Of course, the High Evolutionary would probably argue that these humanoid animal people are just another step towards his grand design for perfection.  He doesn’t hold much respect for anything he creates, which further feeds into his villainy.

What makes the film so dark is the lengths to which the High Evolutionary goes to achieve his “perfection.”  Before figuring out the rapid evolution of animals, the High Evolutionary created the Sovereigns, a race of golden-skinned beautiful people who aren’t particularly bright (the Warlock is one such creature).  More troubling, he did the sorts of arbitrary experiments on animals that we associate with serial-killers-in-the-making:  there is a talking walrus on wheels, for example, and an albino bunny rabbit with robotic spider legs and metal teeth.

There’s also the violence, some of which is played for laughs (such as when Warlock, given the order to “show him we mean business,” obliterates a hostage with an energy beam, leaving behind a charred skeleton), some of which is quite dramatic (including a scene involving the young Rocket getting his comeuppance against the High Evolutionary).  I don’t remember the first two Guardians films being so violent, and the characters take great pains early on to avoid violence, especially against civilians.  But once that cork is popped, oh, boy, it’s a bloodbath, albeit a CGI one.

Another interesting element here is that, without Peter Quill’s head in the game, the Guardians are falling apart.  They bicker, they rage against one another, they lecture each other, they get frustrated when someone does something stupid.  Nebula, Gamora’s cyborg “sister,” gradually takes command of the beleaguered Guardians, but she is strident and harsh (as befits her character, not because she’s a grrrrrrrrlboss or the like).  I found this internal dissension a bit overdone—it felt a bit forced, honestly—but it does highlight the fractious nature that would probably be inherent in such a ragtag group of intergalactic misfits.

The movie is a visual spectacle, as all Marvel films are.  For me, it didn’t quite have the magic of the first two Guardians films, but it was a fun, albeit extremely violent, romp through a world populated by wacky aliens and weird genetic experiments.  Some of the stuff with Rocket’s origin story are quite sad, but also very disturbing, and I would not recommend taking kids to see this flick.

That’s perhaps the key difference between Guardians and Star Wars—both feel like they should be kid-friendly or “kid-adjacent,” but I wouldn’t let my niece watch the former, while I’d encourage her to watch the latter.

One final coda:  we went to a Friday night showing on the day of the film’s release, and the theater was pretty bare.  There were maybe a dozen people in our theater.  That could be a sign of the decline of movie-going, but I think it’s indicative of the decline of the MCU.  People have superhero fatigue, and it didn’t help that Disney wokified every film and television series from the franchise.  It’s also been six years since the last film (Trump had just started his term in office, to put that in perspective).  Some of that delay is due to the stupid Twitter controversy that saw Disney fire Gunn from the third film, but it seems like the studio could have pumped out another Guardians flick in a bit more timely manner.

As of the time of this writing (7 May 2023), the film has grossed around $282.1 million against a $250 million budget.  Keep in mind that the marketing budget is usually equal to the film’s budget, so we’re looking at a half-a-billion dollar ($500,000,000) production.  The reviews so far are positive, and we’ll see what the next few weekends hold, but based on what I witnessed (granted, extremely limited and anecdotal evidence), the fire from the fan base just isn’t there the way it was just a few years ago.

Regardless, I enjoyed the flick, and while I think it shows some of the signs of wear-and-tear that all of these Marvel flicks are experiencing, it’s worth seeing for fans of the series.


2 thoughts on “Monday Morning Movie Review: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 (2023)

  1. My brother, may he rest in peace, really enjoyed the first Galaxy movie – he had a wonderful deep laugh and the kind of sense of humor that loved those stupid Leslie Nielson movies (like Naked Gun and a half) so Galaxy was a treat for him.

    Liked by 1 person

    • My condolences. That was something I felt was missing from this third installment (except for final third of the film)—the laughs. Yes, there were plenty of gut-busting moments (again, mostly in the final third of the film), but it wasn’t a laugh-a-minute thrill ride like the earlier installments (especially the first).

      Liked by 1 person

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