The best Marvel movie since No Way Home

Cinema fans are like classic popcorn flavours — there’s the salty and the sweet. You have the people that have only ever cried once at a movie, and if that’s you I’m pretty sure you remember the place and the date, back in 2008 when Marley and Me popped off at your local box office. And then there’s the rest of us — played like a maudlin violin and reduced to a snotty sobbing mess at the slightest sniff of sentimentalism. Subsets within the latter grouping will all have their own bawling buttons and tear triggers of course, but even amongst the eyes-wet-set — Marvel movies (excluding certain main character bow-outs) rarely call for the emergency Kleenex.

End game

The Guardians of the Galaxy (GOTG) movies are not your standard Marvel outings, yes they’ve featured storylines and subplots that have been central to pushing their respective phase narratives — but their style, content and delivery are shot from the barrel of an altogether different sort of Gunn. They’re sassy, self-aware, sarcastic and comicy in the purest sense. GOTG films, like characters that light up their screen time, are delicious little misfits.

(L-R): Pom Klementieff as Mantis, Dave Bautista as Drax, Chris Pratt as Peter Quill/Star-Lord, and Karen Gillan as Nebula in Marvel Studios’ Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3. Photo by Jessica Miglio. © 2023 MARVEL.

This chapter is no different – it’s rendered in that same swashbuckling, space pirate, wise-cracking, emotive, family-by-choice format that made the first two entries (and the festive special) so watchable. But the saturation has been ramped up on all those aspects for this, what is likely, the last ride-or-die odyssey for the OG Guardians line-up. it’s fair to say, we’re in the end game now.

We see it most clearly in the heart, humour and smash-thwack-wallop that have been the GOTG series’ chief love languages. I am unashamed to share that I wept multiple times during the movie, I legit-LOL’d 3,000 at the dialogue, and found sci-fi nerdy reverence in the deliberately Star Trek-style furry fetish costumes. For me, this is probably the strongest Marvel Movie since No Way Home, possibly even End Game. Big Talk, but I stand slightly biasedly by it. If there’s one tiny criticism to be made, it’s that the ending feels a little drawn out and so loses a crumb of potency, but fans will easily see past this. It is a swansong after all.

Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper) in Marvel Studios’ Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3. Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios. © 2023 MARVEL.

En garde

The crew has grown since Vol.1, and the final match teamsheet now features Peter Quill/Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista), Groot 2.0 (Vin Diesel), a reluctant Gamora 2.0 (Zoe Saldaña), Rocket (Bradley Cooper), Mantis (Pom Klementieff), Nebula (Karen Gillan), Kraglin Obfonteri (Sean Gunn) and Cosmo the Spacedog (Maria Bakalova).

They’re going up against the High Evolutionary (played with fiendish gusto by Chukwudi Iwuji, adding more currency to the claim that villainy has probably been Marvel’s strongest suit in Phase Five), a being obsessed with righting the inadequacies of the universe’s natural order. And the occasional smattering of apocalyptic cleansing.

(L-R): Miriam Shor as Recorder Vim, Chukwudi Iwuji as The High Evolutionary, and Nico Santos as Recorder Theel in Marvel Studios’ Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3. Photo by Jessica Miglio. © 2023 MARVEL.

He, the High Evolutionary, also has a conductor’s role in one of the Guardians’ origin stories, but I won’t share any more because to spoil this movie would be a crime more heinous than the infamous Star-Lord x Thanos fumble. What I can say, because the information is in the public realm, is that Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.3 also benefits from the inclusion of Will Poulter as the powerful but intellectually tragic — Adam Warlock. He doesn’t get a huge amount of screen time, but what there is — sparkles brighter than his Dulux gold base coat.

And it’s a joy to watch how far the main characters have travelled on their arc voyages — James Gunn’s commitment to developing his rascally bunch of cosmic buccaneers is beyond impressive. Special praise must be heaped on ex-wrestler Bautista’s Drax (in with a shout of being modern cinema’s greatest non-actor actor) and Klementieff’s Mantis — as they are so superbly scripted and magnificently embodied.

Awesome Mix Vol.3

Speaking at the launch junket, director Gunn highlighted how important the soundtrack was to the overall experience. “I mean, I keep a list of like hundreds of songs that would be, you know, Guardians Vol.3 type songs” he said. After seeing the popularity of the first two ‘mixtapes’, James is fully aware of the power that inclusions can make to musicians who likely assumed their glory days were behind them — “they changed the lives of some of these artists who now have big hit songs”. For further evidence of the power that this sort of retro-record-bin-raiding, narrative-associated music can make outside the MCU, one only has to look at what happened to Kate Bush’s royalty cheques after the Stranger Things treatment.

(L-R): Will Poulter as Adam Warlock and Elizabeth Debicki as Ayesha in Marvel Studios’ Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3. Photo by Jessica Miglio. © 2023 MARVEL.

The tune selection on the now multi-decade Zoom MP3 player library from Vol.3 is another zero-miss playlist and likely to massage the ATM withdrawal interactions of several semi-retired musicians. From the opening Creep, by Radiohead to the main refrain of In the Meantime by Spacehog, GOTG Vol.3 feels at times like a grand ol’space opera. And that’s a genre we’d like to see more of.

Verdict: It’s unclear, and with his position as co-CEO of DC Studios, indeed unlikely (at least for the short term) that we’ll get to see any more James Gunn Marvel movies, and that is a shame. As we’ve laboured to say above, GOTG Vol.3 is amongst the best of the Marvel movies. But his legacy has undoubtedly left a mark on architect Kevin Feige (and we trust Kevin), that comic movies, at their best, are comic movies…

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.3 is in cinemas across the UAE from May 4. Book tickets: Here.

Images: Provided