Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 3 Makes The MCU Feel Like 2017 Again

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Six years ago, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 was released in theaters, eventually earning $869 million dollars in global box office revenue. Why is that important? Well, if you need me to tell you how the world has changed in the last six years, you’re probably not six years old yet and aren’t scouring the internet for film reviews. 2023 is a very different world from 2017, and yet  Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 3 feels like a pre-COVID Marvel Cinematic Universe movie should. It’s laugh out loud funny, heart-wrenchingly touching, brilliantly soundtracked, and leaves you wanting more. Spoiler alert: we likely will not see this version of the Guardians on screen again, due in no small part to director James Gunn’s recent appointment as Creative Director of DC Studios.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 3 boasts an impressively large cast, pulling from all of the previous Guardians appearances (except for Thor: Love and Thunder, which is probably for the best). Star-Lord (Chris Pratt) is still trying to convince Gamora (Zoe Saldana) that she loves him, even though this one never met him until she was taken from her timeline after Thanos sacrificed the one that did love him on the mysterious planet Vormir…look, if you’re starting out with Volume 3 you are really going to be confused. Meanwhile, his half-sister Mantis (Pom Klementieff), Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista), Rocket (Bradley Cooper), Groot (Vin Diesel), Nebula (Karen Gillan), Kraglin (Sean Gunn), and Cosmo the Spacedog (Maria Bakalova) are suddenly attacked by Adam Warlock (Will Poulter) of the Sovereigns, the gold-colored humanoid aliens who were gunning for the Guardians six years ago. His mother, Golden High Priestess Ayesha (Elizabeth Debicki), sent him in part for revenge and in part to placate her creator, the sinister High Evolutionary (Chukwudi Iwuji), who wants his prized creation back. That prize…(spoiler alert) Rocket. Thus the rescue mission for Rocket is set into motion, and goes astray as only a Guardians of the Galaxy plan can.   

There are a number of surprises in the cast, if you know where to look. Ura, an employee of Orgoscope, the somewhat disgusting bio-company (in the most literal sense of the word) that is a front for the High Evolutionry’s unsavory experiments, is played by Daniela Melchior AKA Ratcatcher from Gunn’s The Suicide Squad. Another employee, the security monitor, is played by another Squad carryover, Jennifer Holland AKA Emilia Harcourt, who seems poised to become the Nick Fury of the DCU. More obvious is Nathan Fillion, long rumored to be up for a variety of roles over the years by hopeful MCU fans, here sadly wasted as a hammy, camera mugging security guard in a biotech fat suit. He could have been Wonder Man. Jack of Hearts, The Sentry (oh wow…how cool would THAT be?!?) hell, even Captain Hammer would be better than this. I mean, that’s what Bruce Campbell is for, right? Fortunately, ravagers Martinex (Michael Rosenbaum AKA Smallville’s Lex Luthor) and Stakar Ogord (Sylvester Stallone AKA Rocky, Rambo, numerous other beefy action heroes since the 70s) are on hand to serve the film better. I’d be remiss in omitting a couple of MCU alums in voice acting roles here: Mrs. Hawkeye Linda Cardellini as Lylla the Otter, a significant player in Rocket’s long-mysterious backstory, and the former Mrs. Ant-Man (now divorced but still friends) Judy Greer, as Warpig one of the High Evolutionary’s homegrown army of “ani-men'' that'll you’ll just have to see for yourself.

And see it you should–there’s plenty of the tried-and-true James Gunn quirkiness that has always made the Guardians so enjoyable. Star-Lord admits his “screwup” that helped Thanos destroy half of the universe, albeit only temporarily. Drax’s childlike ways mask surprising depth we, the viewers, never suspected. Snotty punk teenager Groot is now the heroic and resourceful young man Groot. In fact, when I asked him about how his character has evolved over the course of the trilogy, appearances in other films and the Guardians of the Galaxy Xmas Special, he thoughtfully replied, “I am Groot.” Indeed he is. Nebula becomes a true team player, keeping it galvanized against their own self-destructive tendencies. The real star of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 3 is Rocket, whose backstory is finally explored. It feels a little odd to tell that story in the last planned Guardians of the Galaxy film, but I’m glad Gunn did it. It’s a poignant bit of heartstring-tugging that gives the irascible raccoon-in-denial a lot more depth and repositions him as the heart of the team. 

If you’re feeling superhero movie burnout or just find the MCU less interesting without the high profile superheroes like Captain America and Iron Man, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 3 might boost your interest level. In many ways it’s the Star Wars for the current generation, a rousing space opera that threw wide the doors to the rich cosmic tales of the Marvel comics to be mined for MCU treasure. My main quibble here is the wasted opportunity to give Nathan Fillion a more meaningful role. I just sat there, head leaning on my right hand while my left hand’s fingers drummed quietly in annoyance on the armrest of the theater seat. I know Fillion is talented at  expressively mugging for the camera and providing a very natural gift of gab. He’s also capable of much more. I know the Internet has often called for his casting as Wonder Man, but Wondy is such an odd character–created by Baron Zemo, in love with Wanda “Scarlet Witch” Maximoff, at odds with The Vision, etc. He actually did play the role in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 but Gunn ultimately cut the scene entirely. The character has since been recast with actor Yahya Abdul-Mateen II for the Disney+ show that’s currently in the works. I think Fillion would be a fantastic Robert Reynolds AKA the Sentry…and also his own arch enemy The Void, who is so feared by the other heroes that they willingly cause the world to forget who Reynolds is, including Reynolds himself. Fillion could surprise people with a strong performance as both a Superman-level hero and an Avengers level villain. Alas, I’m not consulted in casting decisions. 

Other than the Fillion segment, I really enjoyed Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 3. It’s garnering good buzz, strong early reviews and should be a hit for the MCU, as judged by the standards of  the post-Avengers: Endgame, post-COVID box office world. It probably isn’t fair to expect MCU films to push a billion dollars every time. It’s not 2017 anymore. It is, of course, a Marvel movie, so yes, there are credit scenes to expect. The first gives us a look at the post-Star-Lord/Drax/Gamora Guardians. Pretty cool, but nothing revelatory. The last one is a brief glimpse into how Star-Lord's “retirement” is going. The credits end with “The Famous Star-Lord will return…” setting up the possibility of a Chris Pratt-led solo Star-Lord adventure, likely helmed by someone other than James Gunn. 

The Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 3 is 2 hours and 30 minutes long and is rated PG-13. It opens across America officially on May 5th, 2023. Cinco de Mayo and Guardians 3 sounds like a pretty great date night to me! May the Fourth be with you!

4.5 / 5.0