MAY 5, 2023

“He didn’t want to make things perfect, he just hated things the way they are.”

— Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper)

When Phase 1 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe wrapped up in 2012, fans wondered what could be next. Little did they know that Kevin Feige and company were just getting started. When Marvel announced the slate for Phase 2, it included sequels to recognizable characters like Iron Man, Thor, and Captain America. Yet, it also contained Guardians of the Galaxy and Ant-Man. I remember wondering how they could make a talking tree, an anthropomorphic raccoon, and a guy that runs around with ants interesting. Eleven years later, not only are those characters the ones kicking off Phase 5, but they’re the most emotion-eliciting characters of the entire franchise.

James Gunn is Guardians of the Galaxy. His unique brand of heart and humor permeates the stories and characters. With his tenure at Marvel coming to a close, “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3” is the perfect send-off. There’s a passion shown by Gunn and his troupe that can only come from genuinely loving these characters and inhabiting them for over a decade. If the actors reprise these roles after Gunn is gone, they might as well be versions from another universe because they won’t have the same puppeteer pulling their strings.

Not only did Gunn make me care about a talking raccoon, but he also made him the star of this final act. What is essentially an origin story for Rocket Raccoon, “Vol. 3” sheds light on his tragic genesis and the madman who brought him to life. Chukwudi Iwuji plays the villain, the High Evolutionary, who wants his creation (Rocket) back and sends Adam Warlock (Will Poulter) to retrieve him. When the Guardians defend themselves, Rocket ends up hurt. With the crew unable to heal him with their med-packs because of a safeguard for “proprietary technology,” they must embark on a scheme to save their friend while also delving into his past.

Emotion is on full display. Not only is this Gunn’s swan song for the Marvel Universe, but it is likely some of these actors’ last performances as these characters. Talk about a fever pitch of sentiment. Pile on all the experiences these characters have been through, and the trauma they’ve all endured, and Gunn brilliantly finds a way to imbue moment after moment of expressive ecstasy.

One of my original gripes with the Guardian films was how goofy they could be. They constantly sacrificed stakes and depth for jokes and silliness. Granted, it set the franchise apart from its more profound predecessors; it took so much more work to emotionally invest in the characters and their situations as fully as Iron Man or Captain America. But “Vol. 3” changes all that. It entertains with some of the funniest elements of the entire series but also draws the audience in with moments of sincerity and anguish. I’d compare it to starting a romantic relationship. When you first meet, you share laughs and get to know each other. It’s light. But eventually, you let the other person see what’s behind the curtain. And that’s when the deeper connections begin.

Investment aside, Gunn also does a great job crafting exceptional set pieces, honoring iconic moments from the past, and introducing entirely new experience. The “one-take” hallway battle rivals any action sequence from the last decade. The exploding planet’s magnitude reverberates throughout the film’s entire conclusion. And Gunn’s willingness to mix practical effects with CGI elevates the film into classic territory.

There’s validation for the argument that “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3” is a massive tonal shift from the previous installments. But that’s the deviation I’ve been waiting for. For some, it means fewer funnies, but the same adjustment allows the tears to flow. If I could say one thing to James Gunn, to encapsulate how I felt about this final film, it would be: “Thank you for understanding the assignment.”

May 5, 2023

James Gunn

James Gunn

Marvel Comics

Walt Disney Pictures
Marvel Studios

(for intense sequences of violence and action, strong language, suggestive/drug references and thematic elements)


150 minutes

Henry Braham

John Murphy

Fred Raskin
Greg D’Auria

Chris Pratt
Zoe Saldana
Dave Bautista
Karen Gillan
Pom Klementieff
Vin Diesel
Bradley Cooper
Sean Gunn
Chukwudi Iwuji
Will Poulter
Elizabeth Debicki
Maria Bakalova
Sylvester Stallone
Nathan Fillion

Kevin Feige

$250 million

Friday, May 5, 2023
Universal Cinema AMC at CityWalk Hollywood | IMAX

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