In the seventh and possibly final appearance of this ragtag, super team in the Marvel cineverse, GOTG: Volume 3 is an intergalactic explosion of weirdness and forced emotion.
This film by Director James Gunn, marks his departure from the Marvel Cinematic universe as he heads to helm Warner Bros / DC films, and his last involvement with anything, GOTG. In doing so, he remained loyal to his friends, making sure everyone in his sphere of influence had a speaking role. We had appearances by longtime pals Nathan Fillion and Gregg Henry, brother Sean Gunn, wife Jennifer Holland, and anyone else he wanted to make sure kept their SAG card.
On his way out, he also made effort to bring as much closure a possible to the unique world he helped create, albeit one chock full of open ended plot threads and unnecessary nostalgia. That’s ultimately the achilles heel of GOTG.
The first film was fantastic but also heavily guided by Marvel to bring about Thanos and the Infinity Wars. It had real character development, fantastic light hearted humor, and a heavily motivated soundtrack that all made space fun instead of terrifying.
Volume 2 is easily the weakest film of the three. With no real bad guy pulling the team to fight together, it split the chemistry and cheer of the squad, only to bog down the final act with too much CGI and daddy issues that never paid off.
The third chapter loads is guns with heavy fodder guaranteed to elicit emotion without trying to recreate the chemistry that got it there. In what is essentially a two hour PETA commercial, the Guardians vacillate between yelling at each other and hugging it out, while still missing a villain half as good as Thanos or even Ronan from Volume 1.
In order to expand the GOTG universe, James Gunn brought in new characters for Volume 2 that were fun at the time but really dead ended future viability. The Sovereign were a new addition of gold skinned, remote ship piloting, people that were ex machina for the franchise and added other space monsters like the Abilisks. It also shoehorned an odd origin story for Adam Warlock and a demigod powers for Starlord that never went past the end credits. In many ways, Volume 2 tried so hard to create something fresh that it failed gloriously and screwed Volume 3 with the need to incorporate all the random pieces and bring finality.
GOTG 3, goes a different way for the first two and a half acts by removing Rocket Raccoon’s dynamic and delivering his backstory through traumatic flashbacks while he’s in a coma of sorts. This worked as much as it didn’t for the film. Rocket is easily the most motivated of the Guardians. He brings much needed cynical humor and fully interacts with the rest of the crew in a way that others aside from Starlord do not. Removing this vital cog didn’t have the team fighting for function and creating watchable drama, so much as operating poorly and yelling at each other while feeling stiff.
The dialogue is far less fun, the chemistry was off, and adding Mantis and Nebula as full time team members brought more decorum than irreverence. That said, the Rocket origin story will absolutely make you weep. It has all the subtlety of a Sarah Mclachlan commercial combined with children’s voices and death scenes that will quickly ruin any childhood. These are easily the best parts of the film but whoa man, good luck talking to your kids about death on the car ride home.
The entire premise of GOTG 3 is singularly geared to save Rocket. It’s a plot wrought with excuses to create cool new worlds, gorgeous explosions of vivid color, and some of the better dialogue brought by character actors in said places. This is where James Gunn shines. It was reminiscent of the quirky Nova Corps in the first film, which is oddly never brought back for the sequels, despite providing great fun.
Then comes the blunt instruments. For unknown reasons we are thrust into a facsimile of Earth, that was created using space age tech but has all the trappings of early 1980’s United States. James Gunn forces us to relive his childhood in each installment through music but this time around we had to physically go to the suburbs filled with genetically modified aliens. It’s all unnecessarily filler between the patches of Rocket’s story and the villain (The High Evolutionary) played wonderfully by Chukwudi Iwuji.
Iwuji is great but also has worked with him before on the John Cena led series Peacemaker for HBO Max, showing that Gunn doesn’t really cast, so much as flip through his Rolodex.
There are other forced relationships that we must endure such as Starlord tormenting himself over the old Gamora, which is a bond we as an audience never really saw become what this film said it was. During Infinity Wars we witnessed the first and only kiss, as well as the exchange of the word “love”, but at no point in seven appearances did they ever come off as an item, let alone a “fun couple”.
This is constantly forced down our throats during this film, but Gunn can’t be completely faulted for this one, as it is fallout from the Infinity Wars plot. To add the need for drama aside from Rocket, there’s also an abundance of random children who must be rescued as well as helpless lab animals. If nonexistent lost love, rescuing kids, and helpless critters weren’t enough, Gunn had the audacity to have a character freeze in space again only to be rescued. Seriously, this has happened in all three volumes now. By the end of the movie I was amazed there wasn’t a character thrown in named, Kitchen Sink.
The music in this film is also surprisingly unmotivated. Where it fits seamlessly into the other two volumes, it’s now randomized and inserted throughout the action scenes to make parts feel more like a music video than nostalgic love letter. We are out of the 70’s and 80’s to have a shuffle of sorts drop Beastie Boys and Florence and the Machine to fill the need for needle drop emotion. I’m aware that Starlord received a Zune with updated music at the end of Volume 2, but again that’s one of the things just sloppily crammed into this with no need.
Forcing the Ravagers, Abilisks, Adam Warlock, Sovereign, and 80’s setting into the story felt like Gunn making sure he reused his toys once more before they went back on the shelf. None of it was motivated and distracted from an otherwise riveting origin tale for Rocket.
Aside from fun new worlds and Nathon Fillion, there are some other bright spots though. Dave Bautista is the most Drax he’s ever been and rescues every scene where he’s given even a word of dialogue. Chris Pratt is just fine as Starlord but without Rocket to play off, loses much of his charm. The fight scenes are clunky stylized, fun but Groot along with Nebula are convenient plot devices that keeps the audience guessing during said moments.
All in all, what GOTG 3 shows us is that Rocket Raccoon is a character powerful enough to carry his own film. This should have been a spinoff and not the final entry for this group of Guardians of the Galaxy. It works to bring some bits of closure to MCU phase 1, so of course go see it, have a few laughs, bring a tissue or two, but don’t expect it to meet the bar set by the first film.