I’d like to air my dirty laundry straight away with the admission that my Marvel days ended, like many others’, in April 2019. Besides two of the saga’s most believed heroes still lays the fresh carcass of my longstanding interest in the MCU. Endgame, as was fairly indicated by the title, was the natural conclusion for many abiding fans of the superhero cinematic universe. It forecasted total and unavoidable change, and brought with it the unnerving realisation that a) there was about to be a big and steady cast change for our beloved hero roster and b) it was almost certainly all downhill from here.
Sure I saw No Way Home like everybody else in the whole wide world- and I enjoyed it. I even dabbled in Shang-Chi and I scrolled through some Easter egg clips from The Multiverse of Madness, but I did all this with the surprisingly liberating ignorance of somebody who only understands the mere basics of the plot and not the intricacies of the grand battles each film is slowly gearing towards. But since the original Guardians of the Galaxy got everyone’s mums, grandma’s and dogs interested in the MCU, why couldn’t it drag me back in?
There’s one very important question that any and all Marvel film reviewer is eager to answer. Did it fall into ‘the Marvel trap’? For anybody who doesn’t know, the Marvel trap is characterised by the MCU’s tendency to stick to a formulaic plotline, with throw-away villains and weakly developed character relationships. So firstly, can our beloved and bizarre cast of space aliens manage to break the mould like they originally did? My answer is distressingly certain. No: not really.
I’ll admit, the first 10 minutes of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 were surprisingly stylistic. There’s a wonderful opening one-shot where we follow Rocket as he ambles through the Guardian’s new home on Knowhere, and some other nice artistic choices which give a very fresh start to the film. But this care quickly peters out as the runtime extends.
One thing that does make Vol. 3 stand out from its peers is the deliberate decision by James Gunn to trade out much of the comedy for a more sombre tone. Having Rocket’s horrific origin story be the driving force behind the narrative and introducing a villain that felt a little mature for the 12A age rating of the movie did, on occasion, allow Gunn to escape the shackles of the Marvel trap. Some scenes were even genuinely a little bit disturbing. Whilst this choice makes logical sense after the losses of Endgame, it leaves our heroes without the metaphorical arsenal that originally made audiences fall in love with them. Sure the humour is still there, but there is a tragic tone which undercuts every joke.
My attention entirely lapsed for the final half hour for the film, although luckily by this point the plot truly required the most minimal attention. After confronting the High Evolutionary, our easily hateable eugenicist villain, things quickly amount to an incredibly basic cut and paste plotline. One of the film’s final objectives is for the Guardians to save a bunch of kids from the bad-guys ship, which appears out of nowhere, with no clear purpose for how it furthers the plot. The only reason to include it seemed to be that it added an extra half hour onto the runtime, and set up a potential new cast member for future films.
Luckily, the soundtrack throughout these segments is able to sprinkle at least tiny bits of genuine excitement into otherwise bland scenes. Gunn can certainly rely on a good song to elevate the film in its worst moments; and despite my feelings towards the rest of the Guardians of the Galaxy, the music for the finale had me in an unexpected fit of tears that gave a lovely sendoff to the MCU’s favourite heroic aliens.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 is not a film I recommend to anyone who isn’t already a fan of the MCU, or who is wanting the light-hearted relief Gunn nailed with the first one. If you want to see the beloved rag-tag-team of space aliens get a proper send off then it’s worth a watch, but don’t be surprised if you leave the cinema feeling more sombre than joyous.