Guardians of the Galaxy continues its reign as the best Marvel franchise with Vol. 3

3.5 out of 5 stars

It takes a lot for me to admit to enjoying a Marvel movie. For the most part, they’re bloated, ugly and soulless. If the writers are now striking for better pay and protection against encroaching artificial intelligence, the average Marvel film has long felt scripted by an algorithm with increasingly diminishing returns. In the grand scheme of things, Guardians of the Galaxy has always been the exception to that rule, but the last two years of Marvel films have been so dire, rushed and bloated that it seems almost impossible that it would be able to rise above to achieve something more. I was wrong. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 is the exception. Let’s not go crazy and call it a masterpiece, but as far as this franchise goes, it’s the best-case scenario: colourful, chaotic and character-driven.

There’s no point overthinking a Marvel movie plot. Let’s keep things simple: Rocket Raccoon is in trouble, and the rest of the Guardians must step up to save him. It’s a film guided by characters needing to get from point A to point B and back again. Deceptively simple, though consistently crowded with new characters and various obstacles, the film rarely loses the plot. Its weaker elements, as always, tend to try to tie the movie in with the greater Marvel universe. These scenes feel less organic and help contribute to the film’s overlong (though still quite brisk) runtime of nearly 2.5 hours. 

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3

The strength of Guardians is that it always has a solid recurring theme. Much like the Fast & the Furious franchise, the emotional thrust of these movies rests on the idea of “family.” As a rough-and-tumble group of outsiders rejected by society and often their actual families, the film makes a strong case for the importance of standing up for those you care about. If we keep in mind that these movies are for children (and they are), the movie offers a hopeful message that you might feel out of place, but there’s someone, and someplace you can eventually call home.

What does it mean to share your life with others? Though very obviously not a “real” animal, focusing the narrative on Rocket Raccoon opens the movie up to examinations of our relationships with the natural world. In many ways, it’s about pets, what it means to care for them and what it means to have to let them go. It goes beyond that, however, suggesting our animal nature and the false hierarchy we impose on the animal kingdom that supposes that some lives are more valuable than others. It’s a movie that preaches forgiveness and compassion. People are flawed, and animals are also worthy of respect and care. 

One of the reasons these films work is that the actors and performances are a step above your average Marvel adventure. The performers feel they’re genuinely reacting off each other rather than working against green screens. It doesn’t hurt that it features some of the strongest actors, notably Dave Bautista and Bradley Cooper, who gives an incredibly nuanced voice performance as Rocket Raccoon. Particularly compared with several recent Marvel films — such as Thor: Love and Thunder, which aimed for a similar emotional jugular but came across as limp and unmoored — there’s a palpable sense of direction and work with actors that helps overcome the homogeneity of Marvel movies. Gunn as a director instinctively knows that what makes these movies work isn’t spectacle but character. 

Many of the mainstays of the Guardians franchise are here: a lot of needle drops, character banter and strange alien creatures. Though the throughline is emotionally heavy, the movie doesn’t lose touch with its more comedic roots, featuring a lot of visual gags and texture. Though working within the limits of the Disney Industrial Complex, it manages to be beautifully weird at times and even borderline grotesque. The movie still has that commercial sheen and bloated sequences, but overall prefers to take pleasure in the strangeness of the world they create. 

As far as this critic is concerned, the bar for Marvel is incredibly low, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 is one of the strongest entries in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It’s a movie made with heart rather than by board meetings and computer algorithms. It works best if you don’t overthink it and if you revel in the characters and relationships. ■

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 (directed by James Gunn)

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 opens in Montreal theatres on Friday, May 5.

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