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Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 review (2023) – Bleak but beautiful

Our Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 3 review praises James Gunn's MCU movie farewell, but suggests the superhero movie could have taken bigger risks in its finale.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 review: Rocket Raccoon

Our Verdict

A bleak, beautiful conclusion to the Guardian's journey, which produces some of the most emotionally impacting moments the MCU has ever seen.

Any and all promotional material ahead of the Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 3 release date has indicated that this new movie is very much Rocket Raccoon’s story. In focusing on the endearing and complex trash panda, James Gunn has crafted one of the most emotionally affecting superhero movies the MCU has ever produced.

The latest MCU movie has been earmarked as the end of the line for the Guardians team as we know it. Because of this, there’s a natural tension and trepidation that sits with the viewer while watching, as we fear the worst when it comes to the fate of our favourite MCU characters.

Regardless of how painful this goodbye may be, the Guardians have rounded off their Marvel movie trilogy in style. Gunn once again imbues his work with humour and vibrancy but adds a significantly darker edge to proceedings.

The film begins at a frenetic pace and very rarely lets up, as we flick between present-day peril and flashbacks to Rocket’s tragic beginnings as an unwilling test subject. It’s a story of accepting one’s flaws and how much we can or cannot change, which provokes a slew of fascinating questions on morality and purpose.

Without spoiling anything, the general premise of the story sees the Guardians on a mission to stop the new movie villain, High Evolutionary, from studying Rocket in order to perfect his questionable vision for a new utopia.

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Recent entries in Marvel’s Phase 5 – and the back end of Phase 4, for that matter – have fallen short when it comes to the visual side of storytelling. The Guardians movies have never struggled on this front, and the threequel continues the trend of impressive set design and convincing CGI that has become almost exclusive to this corner of the MCU.

One thing that’s never really been associated with the Guardians movies, though, is nuanced acting. Not to say the Guardians of the Galaxy cast is sub-standard, but they’re often too busy cracking wise to deliver captivating performances. That changes here.

Will Poulter as Adam Warlock in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 3

Bradley Cooper does exceptional voice work to bring a heartbreaking edge to his character cementing his legacy as the best of the bunch. Dave Bautista balances hilarity with some surprisingly tender moments. And Pom Klementieff adds impressive depth to Mantis that we’ve never seen before, taking her from an intergalactic tag-along to the moral compass of the team who holds them together in their darkest moments.

As far as Marvel villains go, High Evolutionary will go straight into the upper echelons as one of the more formidable and downright cruel. He’s a man with a god complex, and Chukwudi Iwuji brings a terrifying, maniacal energy to the role, with his character’s brutal methods steering this film into body horror movie territory.

Mantis, Groot, Peter Quill, and Drax in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 3

On that, it’s worth noting that there are plenty of instances of rather graphic animal cruelty. Obviously, no animals were harmed in the making of the movie, but it does make for an uncomfortable and distressing watch at times.

We know Gunn is not afraid to go to dark places, but he’s ramped it up a notch with this science fiction movie. The themes are hard-hitting, and so is the violence. But, with how sanitised the Marvel franchise can be, it’s refreshingly satisfying to see henchmen decimated in an epic corridor fight scene.

Chukwudi Iwuji as High Evolutionary in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3

The other notable trademarks of previous James Gunn movies – great soundtracks and plenty of jokes – are present again. The Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 3 tracklist is implemented effectively, albeit a little excessively at times. When every scene has a different jukebox hit accompanying it, the novelty eventually wears off.

A comedy movie this is not, but it’s been a while since a Marvel movie has been as laugh-out-loud funny as this one. Sure, not every joke lands, and some are painfully unfunny, but what doesn’t work for one viewer might adequately tickle the funny bone of another.

Rocket Raccoon in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3

Will Poulter’s portrayal of Adam Warlock is a highlight in this regard. Not only does he carry out the combat scenes convincingly, but he also has a charmingly simple personality that delivers laughs almost every time he is on screen.

In many ways, Gunn has pushed the envelope for the MCU here – the film even includes Marvel’s first F-bomb – but there’s definitely a sense more risks could and should have been taken. The whole thing just doesn’t quite feel consequential enough.

Ultimately, though, the Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 3 ending gives each and every member of the team their time to shine, and the result is a crowd-pleasing curtain closer for the series. It’s an emotional ride, with a handful of moments that will go down in Marvel history, and is a film whose concluding message is one of hope, which is nice, isn’t it?

For more from Marvel fun, check out our guides on The Marvels release date and the Secret Invasion release date. If you’re curious, here’s the answer to the questions: is there a post-credit scene in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 3, and is Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 streaming?

And now it’s time for something completely different; dive into our list of the best movies of all time, or find out why Dave Bautista is the best wrestler turned actor.

Is Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 on Disney Plus?

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.3 isn’t streaming on Disney Plus yet, and you’ll only be able to watch it in movie theaters upon its release on May 5. We expect it to join the streaming service in a few months, and we’ll share the official date in our Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 streaming guide. For now, you can watch Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 1 and 2 on Disney Plus and Amazon.