The ‘Guardians Of The Galaxy’ finale does its franchise proud
Director James Gunn’s farewell to the MCU is finely tuned, says Hanna Flint
Saturday 6 May 2023 By Hanna Flint
The final hurrah for James Gunn and his Guardians Of Ohe Galaxy series has rocketed into cinemas and it’s a real testament to what the Marvel Cinematic Universe can deliver when not entirely hindered by factory-line storytelling. In fact, Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 3 is even more of a triumph when you remember just how close it came to not being made.
Back in 2018, Gunn was fired from directing the third instalment by Disney in response to controversy that arose from historic, yet pretty problematic, joke tweets that were unearthed and posted by alt-right figures who disliked his vocal anti-Donald Trump stance. The idea was to get the filmmaker cancelled but, I guess, the jokes on them – Gunn is creatively thriving. Not only was he brought in by Warner Bros to make The Suicide Squad, then a Peacemaker spin-off series – both acclaimed. He was also rehired by Marvel Studios to finish his Guardians trilogy and, most recently, named co-chairman and co-CEO of DC Studios. (Trump, meanwhile, failed to get a second presidential term and is currently facing multiple legal battles, but I digress.)
This final film of the Guardians’ franchise – well, certainly, with this incarnation of the team – is one of the darkest and most traumatising in the MCU thus far. Maybe the Marvel playfulness he brought to The Suicide Squad has worked vice versa with DC’s gloomy tone injected into this superhero series. Its trademark bright, bombastic energy and bulging rock’n’roll soundtrack features a melancholic maturity that serves the overarching narrative very well.
Daddy issues seem to be the running theme in this franchise. Chris Pratt’s maverick Peter Quill, aka Star-Lord, the half-human, half-celestial orphaned antihero in Vol. 2 had to kill his dad Ego, a maniacal living planet (I mean, his name is a giveaway) to save the universe. He lost his surrogate dad, Yondu, in the same battle and then his lover and teammate Gamora (Zoe Saldana) in Avengers: Infinity War when she was killed by her father Thanos.
Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista) has long been motivated by the murder of his wife and daughter while Mantis (Pom Klementieff), Quill’s half-sister, was manipulated and controlled by their dear old dad for eons. Then there’s Nebula (Karen Gillan) who had been abused, physically altered and tortured by Thanos for her entire life, and there’s a reason he didn’t bring her to Vormir to get the Soul Stone – he never loved her; thus, her death would not be a loving sacrifice like Gamora’s was.
Now, Gunn offers us the origin story to Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper) with the introduction of the High Evolutionary, (Chukwudi Iwuji) an almighty father-like figure to the genetically-engineered races and species he has created in the pursuit of evolutionary perfection. From the opening scene of this mad scientist selecting the baby raccoon that would become Rocket, there’s a gut-punch of feels waiting to bubble over.
We finally understand why the gun-loving Guardian has been so closed off and cynical. While in captivity, Rocket made friends with a group of mutilated animal test subjects like himself and each flashback shows the harrowing treatment they received before eventually revealing the tragic circumstances of his escape from the High Evolutionary’s internment. I wonder if this film is PETA-approved because if you ever questioned the scientific testing of animals, this movie might be the one to really push you over the line against the practice.
In the present timeline, Rocket’s teammates are on the hunt for a genetic passcode to save the racoon’s life and this search delivers the action-packed, heist-antics that typify the Guardians’ brand of superhero storytelling. Gunn’s B-movie origins come through in a major way with some grotesque renderings of anthropomorphic and robotic animals proving both friend and foe.
A sequence that takes place on a fleshy space station has the aesthetic drama of David Cronenberg’s Existenz by way of Tim Burton’s Willy Wonka. There’s even a touch of the Edward Scissorhands meets The Island Of Doctor Moreau to heighten the sci-fi horror atmosphere, but comedic reprieves keep the film from becoming too despairing. Gunn knows when to drop a quip or throw in a sight gag to pierce the intensity.
Will Poulter’s glittering MCU debut as Adam Warlock means he gets to flex his comedy chops again as an artificial (and still immature) cosmic being antagonising the Guardians. Plus, Maria Bakalova’s Cosmo the SpaceDog – a Soviet canine with psionic abilities – is an endearing and adorable addition. The cast are all on tip-top form, ensuring the depth and humanity of their misfits is never far from the surface.
As swansongs go, Gunn’s farewell to the MCU is finely tuned.
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