Movie Review: Guardians of the Galaxy, Volume 3

Can I tell you something?

It really feels like this will be my final review.

When I went to see “Guardians of the Galaxy, Volume 3,” that thought couldn’t have been further from my mind. When I sat down to write about it, though, something strange happened.

I didn’t feel like writing about it. AND I REALLY LIKED THE MOVIE. That doesn’t happen, like, ever.

I always wondered how Roger Ebert, who did this twice as long as I have, found a way to make writing about movies not only fun for the reader but for himself as well. With most things, the ability to do something improves with experience, but for me, writing has only gotten harder. Here’s my inner voice every time I sit down to write one of these: “You use that adjective too much.” “You’ve used that analogy already.” “Stop talking about how Edgar Wright would have done all of this better.” (More on that later, actually.)

Writing about movies isn’t my full-time job, and hasn’t been for over a decade, so I no longer have literally all day to work on a review. I have an hour here or there, yet there is still the pressure to post the review before the movie is released, or no one will bother to read it. Same deadline, less time to make it good. Not a great combination.

So this feels like the end. Who knows, maybe I’ll be inspired a month from now. But as I write this, I think I’m finished. With that in mind, I’d like to thank anyone who ever took the time to read my words. I am flattered that anyone, anywhere, has thought, “Hey, I’d love to hear what David thinks about this movie.” You have no idea what that means to me.

Okay, here we go.

Marvel has hired several ‘name’ directors – Kenneth Branagh, Sam Raimi, Chloe Zhao – and then promptly placed them in a box, bound and gagged, where they artistically suffocated to death. There were maybe two vintage Raimi moments in “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness,” while Edgar Wright left “Ant Man” once he saw that they were never going to let him make the film he wanted to make. “I was interested in making a Marvel movie, but I don’t think they were interested in making an Edgar Wright movie,” he has said about the experience. He’s not wrong.

Just think: somewhere in the multiverse, there’s an “Ant Man” film, maybe more than one, directed by Edgar Wright. I hope those people know how lucky they are.

Marvel President Kevin Feige likes to talk about how loosey goosey the storytelling process the MCU films are, but one could argue that he lords over MCU films in a manner similar to how the Broccoli family micromanages the James Bond movies. The Bond films of the last three decades have been directed by men who may be perfectly capable but are also fine with toeing the line and delivering a safe, nonthreatening film that does not question The Broccoli Way. Even Sam Mendes couldn’t break free of that with “Skyfall.”

All of this is a long way of saying that the one person in the MCU who was able to inject a healthy dose of personality into his films was James Gunn (no doubt because he also wrote them). The first two “Guardians of the Galaxy” movies were funny but also clever, and contained some of the most heartfelt moments in the history of the MCU. (They probably also made the accountants crazy because of how much they had to spend securing rights to pop songs.) And now Gunn’s leaving, switching teams to direct the next Superman movie as his DC follow-up to “The Suicide Squad,” far and away the most entertaining film the DCU has produced to date.

It’s hard to ask for a more fitting MCU sendoff. “Guardians of the Galaxy, Volume 3” is better than its predecessor and weirder at the same time, but the film’s genius move is how effortlessly it ties together several threads from the first two films. The song selections don’t make a ton of sense – Peter Quill’s mother, the source of the first two mixtapes, died long before most of these songs were written and recorded – but I’m sure there’s an explanation for that that I’m overlooking. Or I’m right, and Gunn just wanted to work more ‘90s songs into these films. Either way, it’s all good.

The Guardians are chilling on Knowhere, mostly. Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) drinks himself stupid because the love of his life Gamora (Zoe Saldana) has no memory of their time together. When Adam (Will Poulter), one of the Sovereign (the orange perfectionists from “Volume II”) attacks Knowhere in order to kidnap Rocket (Bradley Cooper), the rest of the Guardians are able to stop the abduction, but they discover that there is a chip planted in Rocket’s head that prevents them from using conventional medicine to heal him from the injuries he sustained in the kidnapping attempt. In order to keep Rocket from dying, the crew needs to infiltrate the home planet of the corporation that created Rocket, but I don’t think I need to tell you that doing so is a suicide mission, and that long-held grudges will come to a head.

It is clearly time for me to walk away, because I’m at the point where I talk about certain themes or directorial choices, then a paragraph about the acting…and I just cannot be bothered. I’m listening to baseball while watching basketball while “writing” this, so instead I’m going to jot down a series of thoughts that I just don’t have the drive to organize in a meaningful way. Quite the auspicious farewell on my part, I know.

I wonder how Chris Pratt feels about the way the MCU writers turned on Peter Quill. It started in “Avengers: Endgame” when Rhodes says to Nebula, “So he’s an idiot?” Here, a woman he’s schmoozing refers to him as a douchebag. That has to hurt.

Gunn’s script has a textbook lesson on the importance of emotional intelligence, and it’s wonderful.

Elizabeth Debicki (she plays Adam’s mother) is 6’2”, and it feels like every movie she’s in contains at least one scene – and often several – where she’s bullied into submission. It happened in “Widows,” it happened in “Tenet,” and it happens here, and I am tired of it. I’m eager to see her lay someone out for a change. Does she fare better in Guy Ritchie’s remake of “The Man From UNCLE”? I’ve heard good things about that, despite its lack of box office success.

The sequence where the Guardians are moonwalking on the headquarters planet where Rocket was created is a master class in physical comedy, for the simple fact that Mantis (Pom Klementieff) is flailing in every shot.

The movie’s villain is Chukwudi Iwuji, who plays The High Evolutionary. He’s created entire races of life forms (including the Sovereign, which is why Adam is doing his bidding), and he wants to study Rocket’s brain, which means…

…we finally get Rocket’s back story, and it is devastating. Also, Iwuji chews scenery like his life depends on it. He’s the least interesting villain in the series by a country mile (short man has God complex, bored now), but the overall strength of the story makes up for it.

There’s a battle sequence that looks like a love letter to the church scene in “Kingsman: The Secret Service.” It’s fantastic.

Gunn uses a song that means a lot to me, and anyone who saw our wedding program or the announcement of the birth of our son will know what it is.

If this is the last screening I attend as a member of the Columbus Film Critics Association, “Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 3” is a good way to go. The movie is a ton of fun, and I loved that my son was there to see it with me (he laughed a lot, and would occasionally lean over and say, “I know this song,” parental win). I loved taking the family to screenings, and they loved being able to see the big movies in advance. If this is the last screening, I’m glad I didn’t spend it alone.

Thank you, once again, to anyone who ever read or cared about my thoughts about movies. Bye.

3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)
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