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REVIEW: James Gunn makes a graceful exit from the MCU in ‘Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3’

By Jerald Uy Published May 03, 2023 8:30 am Updated May 03, 2023 1:07 pm

James Gunn’s swan song in the Marvel Cinematic Universe proves to be a fresh cup of joe in a world full of lukewarm concepts.

The current co-chair and co-CEO of DC Studios has one final gift to “true believers” with Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 that concludes the madcap tales of the legendary Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), the genius tinkerer Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper), the tree monster Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel), the brute Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista), the cyborg Nebula (Karen Gillan), and the empath Mantis (Pom Klementieff). Going along for the ride is a time-displaced and emotionally detached Gamora (Zoe Saldaña), a literal manifestation of what they have lost during the events of Avengers: Infinity War.

Structured around the secret origin of Rocket, the third volume highlights how the Guardians have built a “found family,” after either losing their blood family or getting estranged from abusive adoptive parents. I’m looking at you, Thanos. As the Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special also revealed though, Mantis is Star-Lord’s half-sister and thus, we see a positive sibling relationship in a Marvel movie, without one being riddled with bullets by a genocidal robot. Sorry, Wanda.

Vol. 3 also clues us in on why Rocket has the temper of a grumpy uncle and a taste for prosthetics. Cooper’s voice acting skills deliver, showing nuances of innocence and the wrath of a tortured soul. Fair warning, the subplot can be heart-wrenching, especially for fur parents. Add a box of tissues to your arsenal. 

This brings us to the diabolical High Evolutionary (Peacemaker’s Chukwudi Iwuji). A great superhero story is nothing without an effective adversary and Iwuji knows the assignment. A mad scientist he is—in every sense of the word—the High Evolutionary treats everything as inferior lab experiments he could raze to the ground. 

Pom Klementieff, Chris Pratt, Dave Bautista, and Karen Gillan in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3

In the comics, the High Evolutionary is connected with X-Men villain Mister Sinister, a geneticist obsessed with the mutant gene rather than the former’s forte on animal DNA. The two frenemies have played gods in their respective corners in the Marvel Universe, both having low regard for life. It will be fascinating to bring their love-hate relationship to the big screen.

Another addition is Adam Warlock, a character intertwined with the Infinity Gauntlet mythos in the comics but only appears post-Endgame. Will Poulter (Black Mirror: Bandersnatch) carries the charm of a naive misguided godling and a wildcard in the cosmic corner of the MCU.

This shows how Gunn’s world-building enriches the MCU. It’s bizarre to think that he almost lost the director’s chair when he was fired by Marvel Studios in 2018 after a batch of old social media dispatches. All’s forgiven and good karma did arrive after making amends with Marvel Studios and his surprising appointment as co-chair and co-CEO of DC Studios in 2022. 

Despite Gunn dusting off B-level cosmic characters in the comics and making Guardians of the Galaxy a household name, there are a few missed opportunities in the trilogy. First is we never got to see the Ravagers in action, whose members were the original comics iteration of the Guardians of the Galaxy in the 70s. Oscar winner Michelle Yeoh, who appeared as Aleta in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, is also missing in action. I surmise it might be because of her dual role in the MCU as Ying Nan in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. We get Sylvester Stallone though, albeit without his luminous Starhawk wings. 

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 is hitting Philippine theaters on May 3. 

Another subplot that is left hanging is the destruction of Xandar, the planet home to the peacekeeping force Nova Corps. First introduced in Vol. 1, Xandar was destroyed off-screen by Thanos in Avengers: Infinity War after claiming the power gem. It could have been a springboard to introduce Richard Rider, the Nova Prime, and a Guardian, too, in the comics.

At its best, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 shows off an unprecedented creative alchemy between Gunn and a strong cast. Save for Saldaña who came from Star Trek and Avatar franchises, the majority of the ensemble were relatively unknown in Hollywood a decade ago. As much as it is bittersweet to see the characters go, it is exciting where the actors will lead outside Marvel. Case in point is Bautista who is killing it in more serious roles from James Bond films, whodunit mystery Glass Onion, to sci-fi flicks Blade Runner 2049 and Dune. 

Deserving of a requiem, Gunn’s last hurrah in the MCU is a fun widescreen action with solid character development, a fitting send-off to the ragtag bunch of misfits-turned-heroes of the galaxy. 

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 is showing in Philippine cinemas starting Wednesday, May 3. Stay for one mid-credits scene and one post-credits scene.

Watch the trailer below: