Friday, May 5, 2023

Review: James Gunn Delivers a Series Best in the Great "GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 3"

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 20 of 2023 (No. 1909) by Leroy Douresseaux

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 (2023)
Running time:  150 minutes (2 hours, 30 minutes)
MPAA – PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, strong language, suggestive/drug references and thematic elements
DIRECTOR:  James Gunn
WRITERS:  James Gunn (based on the Marvel Comics characters)
PRODUCER:  Kevin Feige
CINEMATOGRAPHER:  Henry Braham (D.o.P.)
EDITORS:  Fred Raskin and Greg D'Auria
COMPOSER:  John Murphy


Starring:  Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Karen Gillan, Pom Klementieff, Chukwudi Iwuji, Sean Gunn, Will Poulter, Nico Santos, Miriam Shor, Elizabeth Debicki, Sylvester Stallone, Nathan Fillion, Michael Rooker, Gregg Henry, and the voices of Linda Cardellini, Seth Green, Maria Bakalova, Bradley Cooper, and Vin Diesel

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 is a 2023 science fiction, comedy, and action-adventure film written and directed by James Gunn and produced by Marvel Studios.  It is the third film in Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy film series, following 2014's Guardians of the Galaxy and 2017's Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.  It is also the 32nd film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU).  Vol. 3 finds the Guardians fighting to save one of their members from his creator, a mission that may destroy the Guardians whether they are successful or not.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 opens on Knowhere, the strange space station where the Guardians of the Galaxy have established their headquarters.  Their leader, Peter Quill/Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), mourns the loss of his girlfriend, Gamora (Zoe Saldana).  The alien warlord, Thanos, killed Gamora (as seen in Avengers: Infinity War), but an alternate universe version of her appeared (as seen in Avengers: Endgame).  This new Gamora does not love Peter, and she associates with The Ravagers, which was once essentially Peter's surrogate family.

The group has bigger troubles ahead.  The Guardians are being targeted by the “Sovereign” empress Ayesha (Elizabeth Debicki), someone with a grudge against them (as seen in Vol. 2).  She sends her son, Adam Warlock (Will Poulter), to attack the Guardians, and he grievously wounds Rocket (voice of Bradley Cooper).  To save Rocket, Peter and his fellow Guardians:  Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista), Groot (voice of Vin Diesel), Mantis (Pom Klementieff), Nebula (Karen Gillan), and a reluctant Gamora, must confront The High Evolutionary (Chukwudi Iwuji), the Counter-Earth scientist who created Rocket.

The original Guardians of the Galaxy was one of the surprise hits of 2014, if not the surprise hit of the year.  Vol. 2 was a fun sci-fi-action movie and a surprisingly thoughtful character melodrama.  Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 does everything the first two films did well and amplifies that.  Vol. 3 is the series' funniest film, and I found myself laughing throughout it.  That still surprises me because this movie has some pretty dark moments, especially concerning The High Evolutionary, who is superbly played with volcanic intensity and unremitting cruelty by the most excellent Chuckwudi Iwuji.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 is one of Marvel Studios' best films in years.  I think it works for three reasons.  First, the film's production values and special effects are impressive.  The CGI-created environments, backdrops, sets (interiors and exteriors), space-ways, worlds, etc. are so dazzling in scope, color, and imagination that they surpass the impressive work of the first two films, especially the second film.  The entire entire “Orgoscope” sequence is an eye-popping collection of inventiveness.  Even the menagerie of people, creatures, and robots exceeds the first two film, probably combined.

The acting is quite good, and that makes me want to engage the characters even more.  Chris Pratt gives his best tern as Peter Quill/Star-Lord – drama, pathos, big emotions, and the sarcasm and quips are still here – but with edginess.  This is the first time that I really hoped that Star-Lord would be a long term MCU character.  It is so shocking that Zoe Saldana can convince me that she is a different Gamora.  Karen Gillan as Nebula and Pom Klementieff as Mantis do superb work with the character arcs that the story gives them.  As Drax the Destroyer, Dave Bautista makes the character seem not extraneous for the first time.  Vin Diesel and Bradley Cooper as always are winning in their voice roles as Groot and Rocket, respectively, with Diesel bringing some extra to Groot this time.

The third reason Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 is so damn good is writer-director James Gunn.  This is Gunn at the peak of his powers.  Honestly, I liked Vol. 2 so much that I didn't think he could top himself, but he does with this third film.  I did find Vol. 3 a little dry and too dark in the beginning, but once it grabbed me, it would not let go.

This film has a heart – a center that is about the struggle to help a friend or family member no matter how bad his or her troubles might be or even if he or she resists and rejects the help.  In Vol. 3, Gunn makes all the characters unique individuals with wants, needs, goals, conflicts, and melodrama.  However, the best thing that Gunn does is accept that even the most intense relationships change, so he lets some of the characters move on.  The result is a last act for the ages and a closing sequence that recalls the beginning of the original film and leaves the viewer with the warmest feelings.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 opens in the U.S. today, May 5, 2023.  That is 15 years and a few days after the release of the first MCU film, Iron Man (2008).  Vol. 3 exemplifies something that I just realize runs throughout Marvel Studios' film.  In almost all of them, a dominant theme is the formation of surrogate families.  Friends, enemies, heroes, and sometimes even the villains come together in a unit that is more than just a group of friends; they are family.  In Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, James Gunn gives us the end of one version of the family as it evolves into something larger.  What makes Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 an amazing film is that it is as heartwarming as it is exciting and thrilling.  Yes, there are big, mesmerizing action set pieces, but by the end, I really believe that these guys love one another.  I could watch it forever.

9 of 10
★★★★+ out of 4 stars

Friday, May 5, 2023

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