Cinematic Releases: Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 3 (2023) - Reviewed

Images courtesy of Disney

The first two entries of the Guardians of the Galaxy franchise were a breath of fresh air in the MCU. Light-hearted, zany, and colorful, they masterfully mixed humor with pathos, featuring an ensemble cast with excellent chemistry. Unfortunately, this third installment suffers the same fate as other recent films in the MCU--it's unfocused, messy, and overstuffed.

The Guardians have set up their home base in Knowhere but are aimless and antsy. Star-Lord (Chris Pratt) is in a drunken depression due to the loss of his lover Gamora (Zoe SaldaƱa), and without his leadership, the team is at a standstill. This uneasy calm is shattered by the appearance of Adam Warlock (Will Poulter), a powerful being sent to destroy the Guardians. Warlock's master High Evolutionary (Chukwudi Iwuji), has ties to Rocket's (Bradley Cooper) past, which ends up being the catalyst for a new mission that the Guardians must undertake.

Much of the film is spent delving into Rocket's backstory, and this is where the narrative shines. His origin story is melancholy and touching, taking a few notes from Grant Morrison's fantastic 2004 comic series We3 with a touch of Plague Dogs (1977) for good measure. It could have been the film's entire focus, and it would have been fantastic, but there are all these other side plots crowding it out and bloating the runtime.

The haphazard editing doesn't do the pacing any favors either, and by the third act, it becomes a cacophony of admittedly cool action scenes and revelations. Warlock has been shoved into the story as a side character and reduced to a himbo instead of the naive but powerful being he is in the comics. Really, he needed his own stand-alone movie, and he is woefully underused.

While the interactions between the characters are amusing at times, they seem to have fallen victim to "Flanderization." This term, coined by TV Tropes, refers to character traits overpowering their personality until it is exaggerated to absurdity. It simplifies the portrayal of the character, and they lose all of their subtleties and dimension. For example, Drax (Dave Bautista) is no longer a person hiding a profound tragedy with a blunt sense of humor; now, he's just a big dumb oaf that says silly catchphrases. This has happened to almost every character in the film save Rocket, who is given more depth. Chukwudi Iwuji is fantastic as the High Evolutionary, giving the villain an almost Shakespearian grandeur, and he hams it up to the perfect degree required for the role.

The set design, makeup, and costuming are top-notch, and this is one of the most visually creative MCU films to date. The song choices seemed forced; in the past, they felt organic when they cropped up, but in this film, it feels awkward. 

Although there are a few touching moments, for the most part, Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 3 is a convoluted work trying to juggle too many plotlines. 

--Michelle Kisner