Review: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3
Jake Avery, Print Music Editor, discusses the choice to welcome darker themes in the latest instalment of The Guardians of the Galaxy, with high praise for director James Gunn.
James Gunn’s final entry in his Marvel trilogy delivers the expected humour and zippiness, but catches you off guard with its exploration of more harrowing themes. This deviation takes form through the narrative focus on Rocket Raccoon and the trauma of his upbringing; the film opens with an acoustic rendition of ‘Creep’ by Radiohead as the rebellious rodent hangs his head in sorrow, immediately informing the audience that Gunn will be venturing into upsetting territory. Flashbacks into Rocket’s past are framed to be horrific, with chiaroscuro lighting and imposing cinematography exhibiting the abuse that the character suffered at the hands of the film’s villain, The High Evolutionary, with an audaciously targeted sting. This bleakness and overall departure from the feelgood tone of the first two volumes might be enough to push some fans away, but Gunn deals with the theme of animal abuse with a bold but measured sensibility. Instead of shying away from its horrors, Gunn leans into it, and contrasts it with the support that his surrogate families (the other animal test subjects and the Guardians) have to offer him, establishing a narrative that is just as much focused on the empowering aspects of overcoming trauma as it is on the abuse itself.
This bleakness and overall departure from the feelgood tone of the first two volumes might be enough to push some fans away, but Gunn deals with the theme of animal abuse with a bold but measured sensibility.
Whilst this is predominantly Rocket’s story, other characters are still given satisfying progression. Peter’s development consists of dealing with the loss of lover Gamora through encountering her doppelganger, a version that is entirely disinterested with him. This romantic conflict rounds off the journey that the character has been through in the trilogy, crystallizing the maturity Peter has been developing since resolving the problematic relationships he’s had with his maternal and paternal figures. The obstacles and dramatic need of his character are tackled head on: Peter has been too dependent on others, and needs to establish his own identity. He achieves this through the hardest but most simple mindset to adopt – the ability to embrace change. It’s a straightforward arc, but one that Gunn resolves with a very humble resolution that coalesces with Rocket’s journey fittingly. Moving on with your life and facing problems from your past isn’t just an inevitability – it’s a responsibility – one that we are all forced to acknowledge directly at some point in our lives, and Gunn illustrates this incredibly well as the flagship message of the film.
Every character in Volume 3, even the villain, is struggling with their own self-esteem and ego. This plight is woven into the fabric of the narrative, and the result is an incredibly endearing and moving film. Chukwudi Iwuji embodies a deliciously evil villain, The High Evolutionary, and a nail-bitingly tense opposition against Rocket is uncovered. What makes the villain interesting, despite his nebulous origins, is the relatability of the character. His greatest motivation is also his greatest flaw – he is a perfectionist, never satisfied with his creations. Gunn’s tendency to forge characters that are grounded, despite their various super-abilities and quirks, strengthens the impact that each has on screen. The High Evolutionary’s real opponent isn’t Rocket; it’s his own self-loathing and hatred, the seething bitterness that exists when you agonize over the truth that nothing you do will ever be entirely perfect. Even Kraglin, a relatively minor character, also embodies the struggle with self-esteem as he struggles to gain confidence in controlling Yondu’s telekinetic arrow. Volume 3’s characters are compelling because they have incredibly personal conflicts.
Gunn’s tendency to forge characters that are grounded, despite their various super-abilities and quirks, strengthens the impact that each has on screen.
Heartfelt characters aside, there are some scratches on the record. The film is slightly inflated in length, mostly due to an overabundance of characters, and there is a headache-inducing number of scenes of characters arguing towards the end, an attribute that feels ill-judged and overblown. Whilst all characters are delightfully charming on screen (Cosmo the Space-Dog always brings a warm presence), the inclusion of many feels obligatory. Golden man-child Adam Warlock stands as the worst offender- a character that feels like his inclusion was predicated upon tying off loose ends from Volume 2, rather than contributing any meaningful development to the narrative.
Despite its swollen runtime, Volume 3 stands as a daring and surprisingly blunt ending to a franchise that has previously been engrained into pop culture for its comedic zest. Its exploration into abuse, trauma, and stoicism projects a positive message that demonstrates that James Gunn can tackle
troubling themes in a deeply meaningful manner.