Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 3: In the years since Avengers: Endgame, there has been much scrutiny surrounding the ongoing state of the MCU. Even franchise staples like Thor and Ant-Man are wavering under the pressure of superhero fatigue and diminishing audience return. So Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 3 has much to prove, closing off James Gunn's trilogy in style and marking an endpoint for these characters while convincing us that the MCU is still a viable endeavour.
The Guardians of the Galaxy films are often considered the benchmark of quality in the MCU. Gunn's thematic and stylistic sensibilities have been a breath of fresh air in each phase they're present, whether it's the whimsy of Volume 1 or the gonzo oddity of Volume 2 all while being grounded with genuine heart and emotion. Volume 3 is no different – refreshingly contained and minimalistic within a slew of recent projects that have been predominantly focused on multiversal action. There's focus and coherence to it, something that has been oddly absent in superhero films of late. After an altercation with Adam Warlock (Will Poulter) leaves the Guardians of the Galaxy reeling and one of their own in a precarious condition, they set out after the High Evolutionary (Chukwudi Iwuji) – an all-powerful being hell-bent on making the perfect society – in search of answers that forces them to confront some hard truths about who they are.
The Guardians films are great because they're blockbuster spectacles that put story and character first; the care that Gunn puts into each and every arc is apparent because there's a purpose to every character. Even supporting characters like Adam Warlock and Cosmo have their own thoughtful arcs within the bigger picture. But the main focus in Volume 3 is Rocket (Bradley Cooper), especially his origin, and it's a devastating story that recontextualises the entire character and his place within this team. The ways in which Gunn peels back the layers are genuinely heartbreaking to watch and easily when the film is at its strongest. The placement of the other Guardians within this narrative is also cleverly done and they all take their own touching journeys within the 150-minute runtime too. Nebula's arc, in particular, is particularly moving. It's a seamless juggling act from Gunn who directs with deft precision, superbly balancing a plethora of storylines and tones as he flows from humour to heart to emotion and action. The writing is hilarious and the set pieces are exciting; there's an action sequence towards the end set to No Time For Brooklyn by the Beastie Boys which is a standout scene not only in the film but the entire Marvel catalogue. But it's the emotional core that really makes this particular instalment so brilliant.
That being said, while it certainly feels like a singular vision, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 is still an MCU film and it's hindered by the usual MCU-isms of connectivity, world-building, setting up other films, and cryptic teases of what's to come. There's also no real sense of finality. Despite this being Gunn's last endeavour and the so-called finale of the Guardians trilogy, the send-off is disappointingly weak. Gunn does tie everything together but perhaps it's hard to see this as the end when the post-credits scenes not even five minutes after it's over signposts that a few of these characters will be returning in some form or another in the future. It just feels like all of this will be undone come Avengers: Secret Wars. With Gunn no longer in the fold either, it's hard to see these characters coming anywhere near as meaningful as they have been throughout these three films.
If that is indeed the case though, at least we got a great trilogy out of it. The arguments of which MCU trilogy is the best are all over now because Volume 3 cements Guardians of the Galaxy as the resounding winner. To say this is the best MCU film in years feels a bit reductive. No, this is one of the best MCU films to date – up there right alongside its predecessors.
Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 3 is out in cinemas on May 3rd, 2023.