They’re back. This interspecies, intergalactic hodgepodge group of rambunctious space marauders-turned-crusaders is trying to make another bloated Marvel epic fly. Kids and diehard fans will be onboard. Adults may wait for the next flight.
They’re cross-galaxies adventurers. Close knit and lose knit all at the same time. In this third installment of the Guardians of the Galaxy saga, the group is hurting. Rocket (Bradley Cooper), a genetically and cybernetically modified raccoon, is ailing. Near death and in a state of grace as he remembers his origins and the evil being that created him. That mad scientist is The High Evolutionary (Chukwudi Iwuji, The Underground Railroad), a power-hungry creator who experiments with genetic manipulation and is out to change animals, humans and worlds to his liking. “My secret mission is to create a perfect society.” He’s bleeding the life out of the masked mammal.
The Guardians’ leader, the celestial-human hybrid Peter Quill, aka Star Lord (Chris Platt), reassembles his band of warriors to save Rocket. Clumsily, like too many clowns stuffed into a small car, they gather. The bulky dimwit Drax the Destroyer (David Bautista), the assertive Nebula (Karen Gillan), mindbender Mantis (Pom Klementieff), morphing tree-like protector Groot (Vin Diesel) and Quill’s old heartthrob, the very pugnacious Gamora (Zoe Saldaña). And so, they fight the good fight to help their friend stay alive.
For fans of the trilogy, the characters are pulled together with their quirky manners and infighting, like kids at the little table during Thanksgiving dinner. They fly spaceships, battle the bad guys, try to save children, animals and aliens from the wicked ways of a deranged villain and his henchmen. The script by director/writer James Gunn is serviceable, but not more. It sets the premise, problems, solutions and rescues as it builds to a cataclysmic ending. Be forewarned, it’s a slog for the first 90 minutes of its 2h 30m length. Then real energy kicks in.
Rocket’s backstory is the one storyline that sets this venture apart from other generic Marvel narratives. Audiences will liken it to watching displaced pets and wildlife in an animal shelter that are being maltreated, but one escapes and comes back for the others. PETA will be thrilled with this subplot. And in fact, this part of the superhero fable is filled with deep emotions that elude every other angle of this over-cooked and inconsequential movie. GOTGV3 isn’t nearly as miscalculated as Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania. Still, it also feels like the filmmakers have gone to the well too many times. Spaceship fights, force fields, explosions, jokes and banter all feel too familiar. Rocket: “You got issues, Quill.” Quill: “Oh, come on.” Yawn!!!
Gunn’s direction is efficient and cartoonish, not brilliant. The one time his command of the footage, special effects (Dan Sudick), visual effects (Stephane Ceretti) and stunt team (Heidi Moneymaker) excels is in a too brief scene when the Guardians get in a scrape with The High Evolutionary’s thugs. The coordination of this fight sequence, in an enclosed area, is perfect. The kicks, punches, shots, slices, dices and body slams are intense and thoroughly entertaining. Like one of the high-voltage scenes in John Wick: Chapter 4. The key difference? JWC4 had brilliant, mindboggling combat scene after brilliant, mindboggling combat scene. This film has one. The rest of the brawls and skirmishes seem derivative.
Using only his voice, Cooper emotes in the most compelling ways making Rocket worthy of love and empathy. Iwuji, in a high-energy performance as the venomously evil theorist who wants to speed up evolution, sneers well. The actor, dressed in a purple costume, that drapes like a king’s robe, storms around as if he’s on Broadway doing Othello. His decrees, threats and indignation stick with you.
The very orangey looking and over-the-top interior set design with pillowed tangerine-colored walls in some sequences is bright, loud and eye catching. Production designer Beth Mickle, set decorator Rosemary Brandenburg, costume designer Judianna Makovsky (Avengers: Endgame) and the entire art direction team should take a bow for their visuals. Whoever picked the rock steady goodtime playlist deserves a pat on the back too: “Creep,” by Radiohead; “No Sleep Till Brooklyn,” Beastie Boys; “Reasons,” Earth Wind & Fire; “Come and Get Your Love,” Redbone.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 is billed as the last film in a trilogy. If it gets close to the $1bn mark at the box office, there will be plenty more. Maybe with a revised team. But more. Fans of the genre who love this crew of screwed-up misfits will be happy if that happens. Others may warn “Come back with something better, or don’t come back at all.”
There’s a difference between being awful and not knowing when to leave the party, and not being great. This is the latter.