A Soft Ending To A Bizarre Trilogy |  “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3” (2023) Movie Review 

Closing out a trilogy is no easy task. “Spider-Man 3,” “The Dark Knight Rises,” and “X-Men: The Last Stand” are all examples of third films in massively successful franchises that couldn’t quite close the deal. 

“Guardians of the Galaxy” wraps up as director James Gunn takes the helm at DC to direct their rebooted cinematic universe. Truthfully, this franchise had no signs of slowing down and could’ve pumped out at least a few more sequels before the formula got stale. 

The first “Guardians” film was a refreshing surprise in what had been an overly-formulaic Marvel Cinematic Universe, with its sequel similarly defying expectations, being one of the strongest sequels in the MCU. That puts huge expectations on the third film, ones I think are barely possible to achieve. 

“Guardians” 3 follows Peter Quill/Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), Nebula (Karen Gillan), Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista), Mantis (Pom Klementieff), Groot (Vin Diesel) and Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper), as well as B-team Guardians Kraglin (Sean Gunn) and Cosmo (Maria Bakalova) on Knowhere, which the Guardians purchased and rebuilt since their Disney Plus Christmas special. The plot goes into motion when Adam Warlock (Adam Poulter) crash lands in their home and attacks, in search of Rocket.

This film is mostly Rocket’s story. We get his backstory — he was engineered by a being called the High Evolutionary (Chukwudi Iwuji) who has artificially created entire species in his goal of creating the perfect society. Rocket was an experiment who defied his expectations and he wants him back. Adam and his people (the gold-skinned people seen in previous “Guardians” films) were also created by the High Evolutionary and are indebted to him. 

The High Evolutionary is a truly despicable villain, as whenever his experiments fail to meet his expectations, he kills them. He’s even done this to entire planets, taking a page from God in the Old Testament. Iwuji, who was also a cast member in Gunn’s “Peacemaker” show, puts in a great performance, though he does lack layers and depth that some of the better MCU villains, like Thanos, Loki and Erik Killmonger, have. 

What he does to Rocket is especially cruel. Nebula at one point remarks: “This is worse than what Thanos did to me,” and I think she might be right, which is a tall order considering he’s the reason why most of Nebula’s body has been surgically removed and replaced by cybernetics. 

Our B-plot revolves around Star-Lord and Gamora (Zoe Saldana) reconnecting. The Gamora we last saw in “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” was killed in “Avengers: Infinity War,” whereas the version of her seen in this film is the one from 2014 that entered the main MCU timeline in “Avengers: Infinity War.” Trilogies in the MCU are not standalone series; you really have to watch the team-up films that happen in between installments to get what’s going on. 

Long story short, this Gamora never dated Star-Lord and never joined the Guardians. Instead, she has joined the Ravagers, led by Stakar Ogord (Sylvester Stallone). It intentionally resets their “will they?/won’t they?” dynamic prevalent in the first two films, though it takes them a while to like each other again. 

This was a fine sequel, but it doesn’t reach the highs of the last two films. James Gunn has created a wonderfully wacky universe with a cast of likeable characters that I’m perfectly happy with watching just talk to each other in a room for a few hours. Its comedy is still strong, albeit not as effective as the previous films. 

I like how each character at one point questioned the status quo and had to ask themselves if the life they’ve chosen is the one they want. These films have been a fast-paced rush from the first one, and I think this necessary reflection comes after much thought from Gunn himself on where these characters will end up. Clearly not challenging the status quo will lead to the death of many Guardians, something I’m sure Marvel and Gunn were keen to not do. 

Spoilers: No major protagonist dies in this film, but several Guardians do go their separate ways. This will let Marvel tap into these characters again if they need to, while also preserving the Guardians, although their lineup has changed dramatically after this film. 

It’s for that reason that this film really doesn’t feel like the end of a trilogy. It feels more like the “Avengers: Endgame,” which closed out a huge chapter of the MCU, but left the book open to future adventures. It’s a soft ending to these adventures — perhaps the Guardians’ adventures will continue in a new trilogy or in a Disney Plus show sometime in the future. 

With that being said, I feel mixed on this. It’s a mostly excellent “Guardians” film but it doesn’t quite stick the landing.

“Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3” gets a 7.5/10

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

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