Lightning Strikes 3 Times
One word. During this entire film, one word was in my head. From the start to the end, all I could think was “wow!” “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 was not only a great sequel to the previous iterations, but it is hands down one of the best Marvel Cinematic Universe movies to date.
It seems like director James Gunn is one of few who truly understands the vision of the MCU, the main idea and driving force behind it as well. Gunn does such a great job nailing the comic book feeling but still capturing the moment in 2014 when the first Guardians movie came out. Most Marvel movies fail to encapsulate the comic book energy with jokes and tension coinciding and it can create this amalgamation of funny at the right time and tense at the wrong times. A movie like “Thor: Love and Thunder” is a great example of this problem. Instead of relying on its great cast of characters and amazing villain, Thor is dumbed down to a one-dimensional hunk again with the main bad guy having small screen time and zero payoff.
In Guardians 3, the vast group of characters the audience has grown to love and know have been prominent with great character development throughout the sequels and starred in cameos like the Avengers. In this film, we see the Guardians set out to save Rocket, our favorite raccoon, and explore his hidden backstory to save his life. Gunn does a great job showing the trials and tribulations of the Guardians as they venture out to find this man named High Evolutionary, who was responsible for Rocket Raccoon’s trauma.
One thing that stands out with James Gunn’s take on the series compared to the rest of the MCU is plot direction. From the jump we see a small glimpse of the chemistry of the Guardians and their new home called Knowhere. Each character has their own quirks but are more driven due to the constant character development Gunn has put them through; like Guardians 2 and the holiday special. The Guardians now have another official member: a dog with telekinesis named Cosmo. Their party is interrupted by Adam Warlock, played by the great Will Poulter, and we see our heroes fight to protect Rocket as he is being attacked by Adam. From this point on, the film flows so well across each story point with every scene hitting its mark.
The absolute best thing about this film is the cinematography along with a perfectly curated set of music to go along with it. With every iteration of a Guardians movie, Gunn has pieced together some of the best playlists known to film history. Most MCU films fall into the problem of being overproduced with bad CGI yet this move was great in that aspect. There was so much care into making this movie and it definitely shows. One of the best things to accomplish when making a MCU movie is to make it feel like it could be outside the universe of Marvel as its own standalone film. The emotional moments were brilliantly balanced with the comedic elements and they did not clash against each other. Gunn has shown time and time again that he is the superior director in the land of comic book movies and his ability to draw out great performances from his actors is exemplary.
The acting in this film is above and beyond. Every actor in this movie shines in their own way and everyone gives it their all. The biggest surprises for me were Dave Bautista, Chukwudi Iwuji, and Karen Gillan. If I had the time, I could go into depth on every actor in this film but I want to highlight the great performances by these three actors because they deserve a shoutout. I was only familiar with Bautista from his wrestling career and Guardians of the Galaxy, being able to see his acting progress from Guardians 1 to 3, there is a clear difference. Bautista was able to channel such a vulnerable character that has finally started to find his own in this universe. No longer obsessed with revenge and honor, Drax is now ready to be a father figure and start his own relationships beyond the Guardians. Bautista brings a comedic energy along with caring and loving friends. His comedic moments steal the show at times and his on-screen chemistry with Pom Klementieff’s Mantis is too natural and hilarious.
Karen Gillan kills it in her role as Nebula. Starting off as a villain in the MCU, we get to see Nebula be fleshed out as a character with touching emotional moments and the relationships she develops throughout this film. Gillan has proved that she is more than just a comedy actor, with physical and emotional acting being a key plot point for Nebula. Before this movie I did not see Nebula as a character having room in the Marvel Universe, but now I would love to see her in more projects. Gunn and Gillan have made this character so much more than she used to be and Nebula is starting to become a personal favorite of mine.
Some of the best acting I have watched in my lifetime was done by Chukwudi Iwuji. Playing the main villain High Evolutionary, we see his range from calm, to sadistic rage, to feigned kindness; it is very clear who the MVP is for this film. The amount of times I jumped back when Iwuji would go from a calm and friendly presence, to a shrieking monster was too many times to count. I was familiar with Iwuji from James Gunn’s “Peacemaker”, so I knew he was going to do a great job, but I was absolutely stunned to watch his portrayal of this villain. One thing I really liked about Iwuji’s character was the fact that he was just a bad person. Most Marvel films get caught up in the common villain trope to make them relatable or give them a reason to be as bad as they are so that they make the audience question whether they agree or not. Thanos and Namor are recent examples that come to mind when it comes to villain origin stories. High Evolutionary is pure evil throughout his timeline, and it works so perfectly. With Rocket Racoon’s tragic past directly related to him, we are finally shown the atrocities and cruelties committed with nothing held back.
If you are easily disturbed when it comes to animal abuse, I would avoid this movie. This is one of the biggest tone shifts for the MCU since Infinity War and hopefully a sign that the future Marvel films will follow this blueprint as the audience grows up with these stories. This is one of the few times where I do not think this movie could improve at all. This is a perfect comic book movie in my eyes and for that it deserves a 9.5/10. This is one of the highest ratings I gave a film in a while and I can’t wait for it to have a physical release.