Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 3 review: Chris Pratt stars in the weirdest Marvel movie yet

(Image credit: Marvel Studios)

While Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 3 is the trilogy’s most “unruly and excessive” installation, it’s also “sweetly touching”, writes Nicholas Barber.


Shortly after the release of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 in 2017, someone made a fuss about the tasteless jokes that its writer-director, James Gunn, had made years earlier on Twitter. Gunn was then fired by Disney, the company behind Marvel Studios’ superhero films, but because the cast and fans of Guardians of the Galaxy stood by him, he was eventually rehired. We’ll probably never know how the negotiations went, but it seems likely that one of Gunn’s conditions for returning to work was that he was allowed to do absolutely anything and everything he wanted. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 3 is a film with the colossal budget of a typical Marvel blockbuster, but the sensibility of the low-budget cult horror comedies that Gunn made with Troma at the start of his career.

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The franchise was always on the fringes of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, of course. Its heroes are a ragtag band of mercenaries comprising Peter Quill, aka Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), a manchild who is obsessed by soft rock anthems; Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper), a tough-talking raccoon; Gamora (Zoe Saldaña), a grumpy, green-skinned assassin; Nebula (Karen Gillan), a grumpy cyborg; Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel), a walking tree; Drax (Dave Bautista), a hulking warrior who doesn’t understand irony; and Mantis (Pom Klementieff), a wide-eyed empath with antennae. They’re an endlessly odd bunch, by anyone’s standards. But they’re the least weird thing about Guardians Vol 3.

It starts with the Guardians living in the hollowed-out skull of a humongous god. Then they’re attacked by a golden superman (Will Poulter) who is both a merciless killer and a bumbling oaf. When Rocket is gravely injured in the attack, they go in search of his medical records, and the film becomes a heist caper set aboard a space station made out of pink, lumpy meat. (The security guards’ uniforms appear to be made out of bread rolls.) But Rocket is also being hunted by the insane High Evolutionary (Chukwudi Iwuji), an interstellar Doctor Moreau whose animal-robot hybrids are disgustingly reminiscent of Andy’s next door neighbor’s creepy toys in Toy Story. Younger viewers might be upset by the gloomy and disturbing scenes in Guardians Vol 3, but you have to admire how wildly outlandish it is. And you can see why Disney caved in and brought Gunn back. No one else could or would make a film quite like this one.

Still, maybe the studio should have reinstated him in a little bit. Guardians Vol 3 is two and a half hours long, and it’s so chaotic and convoluted that it feels twice that long. Watching it is like flicking channels between a whole Star Trek TV series and a whole Star Wars TV series. There are always some fun aliens to look at, but you might not follow or care what’s happening.

Considering the name of their team, it might have helped if the Guardians of the Galaxy had done a bit more galaxy-guarding. There’s always a point in their films when they get their act together and do something heroic, but they do lots of drifting around the universe and bickering in the meantime. There’s rarely any urgency to their adventures. About half of Guardians Vol 2 consisted of Star-Lord’s origins being recounted in minute detail, and about half of Guardians Vol 3 is a succession of flashbacks explaining how Rocket went from raccoon to gun-toting tech wizard. In the present day, the team’s mission – trying to revive their furry pal – seems oddly insignificant for a space opera that zips across so many light years. Gunn, for all of his remarkable skill at juggling characters, is obviously not interested in tonal consistency or clear, compelling storytelling. He keeps inserting sitcom banter into the noisy battles, even if that drains away the tension. The cartoonish, computer-generated visuals ensure that few of the settings feel like real places. And while the potential death of one of the team is treated as a tragedy, the extinction of all intelligent life on a planet is forgotten as soon as it happens.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 3

Director: James Gunn
Cast: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldaña, Dave Bautista, Karen Gillan
Run-time: 2hr 30m
Release date: May 5

The film’s saving grace is that, just as Gunn has been allowed to unleash his gonzo imagination, he has also been allowed to pour out his emotions. Again, a touch of restraint might have been to his advantage: most viewers could have figured out his main theme even if he hadn’t put the word “friend” in every other line of dialogue. But in the final scenes, Gunn’s sincere love for his characters, and their love for each other, becomes infectious. The actors deserve much of the credit. They all sell the relationships more convincingly here than in either of the previous Guardians installations. This one may be the most unruly and excessive of the trilogy, but it is as sweetly touching as any film with so many slimy, tentacled monsters in it could be.


Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 3 is on general release from May 5.

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Andrew Naughtie

News reporter and author at @websalespromo