The Guardians of the Galaxy were unknown outside of the comic book world until they surprised everyone on the big screen nearly a decade ago, becoming instant fan favorites. Each film has touched on themes surrounding found families and how special those bonds can become. Even though James Gunn did initially get fired for “offensive tweets” after Vol. 2 was released, he was quickly rehired and managed to create a holiday special along with closing the saga of this iteration of the Guardians in the MCU, making it truly feel like the end of an era.
The Guardians of the Galaxy are now owners of the celestial head, Knowhere, and are fixing up as their homebase. Out of the blue, the Sovereign, Adam Warlock (played by Will Poulter), enters Knowhere and attacks the Guardians. While the team is able to fend off Warlock’s attacks, Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper) is gravely injured. This forces Star-Lord (played by Chris Pratt), Nebula (played by Karen Gillan), Mantis (played by Pom Klementieff), Drax (played by Dave Bautista), Gamora (played by Zoe Saldana), and Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel) to pull out all the stops to save Rocket. But this puts the Guardians in the crosshairs of Rocket’s maker, The High Evolutionary (played by Chukwudi Iwuji). With Rocket's life on the line, the Guardians must face the music that this might just be their last mission together.
From the get-go, there was a feeling that this was gonna be a much darker take on the Guardians of the Galaxy. Vol. 1 had Star-Lord dancing to Redbone’s “Come and Get Your Love” and Vol. 2 topped with the best opening to an MCU movie ever with Baby Groot dancing to ELO’s “Mr. Blue Sky”. Vol. 3 is much more somber with Radiohead’s “Creep” and doesn’t start with a dance sequence. Instead, it follows Rocket humming along to the bar and visits a very drunk Peter Quill. This dark tone is also matched by some brutal imagery that felt out of a horror movie, particularly in Rocket’s backstory as he watches his first family die before his eyes and claws off half of the High Evolutionary’s face, which we see the result of in the climax. Now I know never to make Rocket that angry ever! The way they kept teasing that some if not all the Guardians were gonna die at some point in the film as well really kept viewers on the edge of their seats, we knew going in that this was the end, but we didn’t know how it was gonna end.
Speaking of the High Evolutionary, holy shit! Chukwudi Iwuji really brought the character to life with his animated facial expressions and desperate, yet calm tone of voice. Really making him a self-loathing megalomaniac. Iwuji really understood the capability of this villain’s intelligence and the horrifying mixture of his selfish obsession with perfecting evolution. An argument can be made that he surpasses Kang the Conqueror from Quantumania, but for me right now it is a tie as both antagonists in their respective films knew how to create an intimidating and evil presence.
Other performances from the entire cast really stepped up their game for their final outing as this band of A-holes. Bradley Cooper in specific as this was Rocket’s story, Cooper managed to capture the characters pain and trauma while keeping his sarcastic demeanor, and did all this with his voice. Chris Pratt also knocked it out of the park with a poignant performance along with Pom Klementieff with her comedic timing and Karen Gillan as Nebula, in fact the entire cast didn’t take a day off it seems as everyone performed above expectations. The only character that received the short end of the stick was Adam Warlock, but that may happen in an ensemble like this. It is worth saying though that Will Poulter was hilarious with the material he was given!
The MCU particularly in phase 4 received a lot of flack for the visual department as the quality was severely lacking in some projects, but for Vol. 3 the visuals are far more realistic than anything in Phase 3 or 4 combined. I completely forgot some of the sets and creatures were completely CGI, kudos to that! But it also led to some well shot, edited, and choreographed fights as well. In the climax, there was a hallway fight that gave Oldboy (2003) a run for its money as it was a continuous take that never felt like it got in the way of the action and the camera remained fluid as it progressed through the action.
Gunn has always written the Guardians of the Galaxy movies with themes surrounding family, with Vol. 1 on found family and Vol. 2 surrounding fatherhood. But Vol. 3 goes a different direction and looks inward this time for our characters. The themes take a look at coming to terms with trauma and facing it to move forward in life instead of remaining stuck. Which is why the ending works so well. They could have easily killed off the Guardians and placed a new team in their stead to continue the story, but the team decides to maturely disband in order to grow. Each member has their own goal they want to pursue and they decide to go after it. The scene becomes even more poignant as we understand Groot for the very first time.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 is not only the best MCU film of Phase 4 & 5 (although that isn’t saying much), but the best of the Guardians of the Galaxy movies. Its introspective themes combined with its heartbreaking and personal story really knew how to bring out the emotions. Bradley Cooper outdoes himself bringing out dimensions of Rocket’s character that he was afraid to show before, along with the rest of the Guardians giving it their all. Chukwudi Ewuji as High Evolutionary is something else as his obsessive and egocentric personality truly make him a villain to despise. The visual effects are the best since The Avengers, and the fight sequences are better than ever. This is the end of the Guardians as we know them, making it truly the end of an era in the MCU.