Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana and Bradley Cooper star. James Gunn wrote and directed the Marvel adventure.

Editor, U.S. ; Dallas, Texas (@HatefulJosh)

It can be difficult to say goodbye, and that’s certainly the case with director James Gunn’s closing entry in his Guardians of the Galaxy trilogy.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 finds Gunn and his band of broken heroes recovering from the aftermath of the Infinity War; close bonds shattered between Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) and his former love Gamora (Zoe Saldana) through some multiversal tragedy. While Quill seeks to deaden himself to the world through booze, a sudden and unwelcome interloper mortally wounds Rocket (Bradley Cooper), shocking Star Lord back to life and sending this disjointed crew into hyperdrive to find a way to save their mascot and best friend, though not everyone will make it out unscathed.

While the Guardians have been laying low in their celestial abode of Knowhere, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been churning around them. And even though they’ve occasionally been involved in the ongoing dramas, this closing chapter of the saga wisely chooses to keep itself tightly focused on this team that we’ve grown to love and understand over the last eight years.

Unfortunately, the universe in which they find themselves must keep moving; enter Adam Warlock (Will Poulter), a half-baked Sovereign creation of the High Evolutionary (Chukwudi Iwuji). Warlock appears out of nowhere to lay waste to Knowhere with the express goal of collecting Rocket and returning him to his maker. Over the course of the series, Rocket has frequently alluded to the cruelty through which he was birthed, but Vol. 3 spares no detail in showing the audience exactly what he was talking about.

While Warlock fails in his initial recovery attempt, the damage done to Rocket in the process is enough to send his disjointed crew to the ends of the universe to find a cure. This being a Guardians of the Galaxy film, the story is filled to the brim with allusions to found family, daddy issues, and lots of cool/cruel violence, humor, and action.

The core team is here – minus Gamora, who is substituted for a multiverse alternative version of herself – but this chapter fleshes out a few of the side characters in fun ways. Yondu’s disciple Kraglin (Sean Gunn) gets his own arc, in which he struggles to light the torch passed on to him from his and Quill’s aforementioned adopted Dad, and alongside that story is the introduction of Cosmo (voiced by Borat Subsequent Moviefilm’s breakout star Maria Bakalova) as one of the most charming onscreen pups in years.

Fun cameos from Nathan Fillion as a ridiculously garbed security chief, Linda Cardellini voicing Rocket’s incredibly sympathetic fellow test subject Lylla Otter, and Asim Chadhary as the robo walrus, Teefs, all make big impressions as well.

…And yet, there’s something missing here.

Gunn’s first Guardians movie was a watershed moment for the Marvel universe, taking what were largely generic superhero films with charismatic characters and presenting them in a novel, almost auteurist light. It was the first comedy-forward entry in this insane continuum, and proved that formula was no longer necessary for success, these films could have personality and still be unbelievably successful. The trend continued with Vol. 2 and then with Taika Waititi’s Thor Ragnarok, but from there things reverted back to their generic origins.

Vol. 3 is an obvious goodbye from Gunn and many of his characters – several actors have declared that they are done, now that Gunn is leaving – and that has a definite chilling effect on the proceedings. Guardians of the Galaxy has never shied away from the emotional elements, in particular the overwhelming wave of daddy issues with which almost every character is dealing at every moment, but the overall levity made it all palatable. Vol. 3 shifts the tonal balance away from the free-wheeling fun in an effort to give us a Return of the King-style victory lap, wrapping up a dozen stories all at once.

It's heavy. Really heavy. And while there’s always a place for genuine emotion in any story, no matter how zany, it feels like not only a closing chapter for Gunn’s version of this story, but also for Marvel as a whole. No other filmmaker has managed to wield such consistent control over stories in this universe as he has, and with his departure, I can’t help dreading a return to more of the same generic superhero action.

I won’t lie, I’ve largely given up on the MCU, but it has been the unique visions of filmmakers like Gunn, Waititi, and Raimi that kept me marginally interested. It feels like those days may have passed, and I can’t help feeling a bit relieved.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3

  • James Gunn
  • James Gunn
  • Dan Abnett
  • Andy Lanning
  • Chris Pratt
  • Zoe Saldana
  • Dave Bautista
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Bradley CooperChris PrattDisneyJames GunnMarvelUSZoe SaldanaDan AbnettAndy LanningDave BautistaActionAdventureComedy

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