Out with a Bang

Marvel’s cosmic misfits return for an overstuffed blowout farewell party

Zoe Saldana as Gamora in ‘Marvel Studios’ ‘Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3’

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3
Starring Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Baustista, Karen Gillan & Will Poulter
Directed by James Gunn

In theaters Friday, May 5, 2023

The gang’s all here as Marvel’s motley crew of cosmic outlaws closes out their movie trilogy with a bang in a daring dash to save one of their own. This big, bold rousing finish (supposedly) is the overcrowded end of the franchise, which began nearly a decade ago and now hinges on the backstory of Rocket, the genetically modified wisecracking racoon (voiced again by Bradley Cooper).

The Guardians quip, banter and rip across the universe, encountering an array of bizarro cyborg critters and a crazed despot (Shakespearean actor Chuckwudi Iwuji, deliciously, devilishly nasty) intent on creating a new, perfected world—and discarding all his “mistakes” along the way.

Vol. 3 throws a lot at the screen—a barrage of digital effects, a who’s who of characters and a dense stream of details. If you haven’t been along for the ride from the beginning, paying attention through the other Guardians flicks, the events of The Avengers and the interwoven connectedness of the broader Marvel Cinematic Universe, well, good luck. You might not understand how the green-skinned Gamora (Zoe Saldana), who died in a previous movie, can show up again, and have no memory that she and Guardians leader Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) were once lovey-dovey.

As diehard Marvel fans know, there’s always the chance of new beginnings and redo’s, thanks to time warps, Infinity Stones and other comic-book shenanigans.

Just about everyone is aboard for this way-out wrap party. There’s Drax the Destroyer (former wrestler Dave Bautista); Gamora’s sister Nebula (Karen Gillan); Mantis (Pom Klementieff), whose enhanced ability for empathy comes in handy. Groot, the size-shifting, virtually indestructible humanoid tree, is voiced again by Vin Diesel, even though he grunts only one thing (“I am Groot”) over and over.

Look: There’s Sylvester Stallone, back again! And Elizabeth Debicki! Will Poulter makes the movie debut of a golden-hued, artificially fashioned space super-dude, Adam Warlock, whose comic-book roots go back to the 1960s. And Cosmo the telepathic dog has a new voice—it’s Bulgarian actress Maria Bakalova, who got an Oscar nomination for playing Borat’s daughter in Borat Subsequent Moviefilm. Returning director James Gunn’s brother, Sean, also returns as a humanoid alien with a mohawk fin on his head and a whistle-controlled arrow in his quiver.

There more than a few space-age shootouts with all kinds of zappers and blasters, and even a high-tech version of an old standby, the hand grenade. But nothing blows up like the heated moment when one of characters drops the F-bomb, marking an onscreen first for a Marvel movie.

At one point, the Guardians plop down in a comically mutated surburbia that looks like Ozzie and Harriett spliced with The Twilight Zone. Is that Howard the Duck, the waterfowl star of Marvel’s first feature-length theatrical movie (1986), playing a card game? Be quick or you’ll miss a visual shoutout to Alf, the sitcom space alien. To top it all off, there’s a climactic rescue of a bunch of cute kids, who look like ragged theater waifs abandoned after being worked to the bone in back-to-back productions of Cats and Les Miserable.

Baby Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper)

It’s a mega-movie loaded with wildly colorful characters, oddball creatures, monsters and cuddly pets, loads of whimsy and jokes, bursts of dramatic intensity, lushly detailed world-building and ka-boomy blasts of explosive, expensive-looking, sometimes chaotic action. But there’s also a surprising amount of emotional heft and heart, particularly in the sentimental swell of Rocket’s early days when he was experimentally bioengineered alongside other “altered” caged animals. If those TV PSAs for animal-cruelty prevention really get to you, you’ll be wrecked by watching what went down with Rocket and his penned-in pals. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.  

And you’ll certainly tap your toes to the soundtrack, a highly curated playlist loaded once again with scene-appropriate tunes by the Flaming Lips, Heart, Faith No More, Alice Cooper, the Beastie Boys, Florence and the Machine, Bruce Springsteen and X. The movie opens, fittingly, with Radiohead’s “Creep”—and Rocket muttering along to the lyrics, about being a self-loathing “freak” and “weirdo”—and closes with a bouncy, upbeat Poco tune that will be familiar to fans of the first movie, back in 2014.

Pom Klementieff as Mantis, Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel), Chris Pratt as Peter Quill/Star-Lord, Dave Bautista as Drax, and Karen Gillan as Nebula

If this is, indeed, the final Guardians mission, they go down swinging (and swearing!). But rest assured, you’ll be seeing these characters—or some of them, anyway—in other Marvel projects, in some form or another. This may be a goodbye, but these Marvel space seeds were also engineered to grow, made to be movie perennials, sewn to sprout—to regenerate like the roots and branches of Groot—over and over, returning again and again.

—Neil Pond


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