Moving Pictures
May 05, 2023, 06:27AM

Groot and Gunn Might Save Marvel

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 shows there may be hope for the MCU.

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The Marvel Cinematic Universe’s recent losing streak has finally been snapped by Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, the third and presumably last chapter in the Guardians series, and the Marvel swan song of director James Gunn.

The film, unlike so many from Marvel in the last two or three years, tells a compelling central story that makes the 160-minute running time pass quickly. And the classic music needle drops, always a big part of these films, are especially well-chosen here. It’s a bit overstuffed, with dozens of characters, and non-MCU obsessives who haven’t watched the previous Guardians movies recently might find themselves completely lost. But this is a big success.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 brings the focus to the character of Rocket Raccoon, the talking, intelligent raccoon voiced by Bradley Cooper. The previous explanation of how a raccoon came to walk upright, speak, and operate weaponry has never got much further than “because,” but the new film delves into his background. It turns out Rocket was created as the result of experiments by a mad scientist and villain called The High Evolutionary (British stage actor Chukwudi Iwuji), a story rolled out in a series of flashbacks, including a group of fellow lab animals who comprised his original chosen family. The Rocket story drives the plot, and attaches real stakes in a way these film usually don’t.

The villain’s out to recapture his creation that got away, leading to a series of space clashes that pull in both the Guardians and antagonists old and new from previous films in the series. This includes those gold aliens who look like walking Academy Awards, this time represented by a very game Will Poulter, and his mother (Elizabeth Debecki).

The main character, Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), is driven by the pull of home, as well his pining for his sometime-lover Gamora (a green Zoe Saldana), who “died” in one of the Avengers movies, although an earlier version of her has been brought back to life through time travel. The film also gives a fantastic payoff to Mantis (Pom Klementieff), a character who I’d always found intensely annoying. As for the heroic tree monster Groot, he’s bulked up, and now has powers similar to those of Inspector Gadget, with the ability to seemingly pull weapons out of his tree bark.

There are a couple of outstanding one-off characters, including an assassin called “War Pig,” who’s female and voiced by Judy Greer. And there’s a talking dog, canonically a veteran of the Soviet space program, who’s voiced by Borat 2 veteran Maria Bakalova. The locations are also cool, including a space-set corporate headquarters called the Orgosphere. But “Counter-Earth,” an alternative planet created by The High Evolutionary and consisting entirely of his creatures, may be the film’s best-executed idea. The third act battle is better than these things typically are, featuring a fun homage to the Sarlacc Pit scene from Return of the Jedi.

Director James Gunn, who directed all three Guardians movies, has taken a job as the primary creative head of the rival DC movies, so we likely won’t be seeing him in the MCU again. Gunn was briefly fired from the film due to controversial tweets, before he was brought back. This was in 2018, five years ago.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 is everything the recent Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania wasn’t, and shows that there may be hope for the MCU.


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