James Gunn and the “Guardians of the Galaxy” came at an essential time for yours truly. The film, though more specifically Gunn’s work, got me through a rough period and led me to rediscover my own voice. So, as James Gunn prepares to leave the Marvel fold, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 feels like the end of an era, and frankly, I’m a little sad. Does the movie serve as the fitting send-off Marvel so desperately needs? 

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 sees the team we know and love rushing to save Rocket (Bradley Cooper) as everyone’s favorite raccoon’s life hangs in the balance. Anything beyond that is, sadly, spoiler territory. Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, Karen Gillan and Pom Klementieff (among others) co-star in the movie. James Gunn directs Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 from his script. 

Dave Bautista and Pom Klementieff stare at each other quizzically in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3.

(L-R): Dave Bautista as Drax and Pom Klementieff as Mantis in Marvel Studios’ Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3. Photo by Jessica Miglio. © 2023 MARVEL.

As a filmmaker, James Gunn defined the Marvel Cinematic Universe when he joined the team in 2014. Over the almost 10 years to follow, his auteurist vision has redefined the production house as we know it today. 

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When Gunn jumped into the first Guardians film, he shepherded the then deep-cut series to a position of prominence. He injected the movies with not only what would become his trademark visuals and use of music but also an edgy humor and heart that struck a chord with viewers. 

Perhaps it comes from my specific perspective looking at Gunn and the Guardians, but as I watched Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, there’s a sense this is the end of an era. For much of the film, there’s a heavy air of finality. 

Zoe Saldana waits infant of a portal in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 3.

Zoe Saldana as Gamora in Marvel Studios’ Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3. Photo by Jessica Miglio. © 2023 MARVEL.

Ultimately, though, these are comic book movies. There’s rarely a true feeling of finality to comic books, specifically of the superhero variety. These franchises have continued for decades. Teams have changed form. Heck, it’s a common trope that death doesn’t mean anything until you see a body. Sometimes, even that doesn’t mean someone is truly dead. 

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It’s with that where I say that as everything ends, I was left a bit frustrated. As has been said repeatedly, this should be the end of an era. However, perhaps rather than the story’s conclusion, it’s more appropriate to describe this as the closing of a chapter. It’s a bit uneven but not enough to entirely detract from the power of the narrative. 

As mentioned, Gunn brought his edgy sensibility to Guardians from his earliest days working on the series. And as things come to a close, he ratchets that up to a new level. The filmmaker began his career working inside the Troma production house, and this feels like a meeting point between the MCU and Troma. 

Elizabeth Debicki looks back at Will Poulter as he sits on a golden throne.

(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.

In truth, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 is a hard sit throughout. In tackling Rocket’s origin story, there’s a marked presence of body horror, which will not be easy for everyone, particularly youngsters. 

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Gunn’s script taps into questions of trauma that have hung over this series since its outset, but they’ve always remained just out of sight. As the film gets going, everyone from Rocket to Star-Lord must come to terms with everything they’ve gone through, and it isn’t always the most pleasant. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 is as adult, scary and complex as we’ve seen in this series. 

Much of this has to do with Chukwudi Iwuji as villain The High Evolutionary. This is a decisive and definite breakout role for Iwuji, who has worked mainly on television and the stage before this role. His performance is evil and unhinged in a way we haven’t seen in many a Marvel villain. We don’t know much about him, but this doesn’t matter. In his hands, you don’t care. It’s easy to hate The High Evolutionary.

Cosmo perks his ears up with curiosity in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 3.

Cosmo (voiced by Maria Bakalova) in Marvel Studios’ Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3. Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios. © 2023 MARVEL.

Luckily, all the actors more than meet the challenge posed by this challenging script. Newcomer Will Poulter shines as Adam Warlock. In his hands, the character is a welcomed addition, and here’s hoping we get to see lots more from him in coming MCU installments. 

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The same can be said about Maria Bakalova‘s Cosmo the Space Dog casting. Bakalova emerges as a standout in the film thanks to the delightful chemistry she finds with Sean Gunn as Kraglin. In a film that is solid all the way around, the two characters are undoubtedly responsible for one of the purest, most delightful relationships in the movie. 

It’s also important to call out Pom Klementieff as Mantis. The performer joined the team in Guardian of the Galaxy Vol. 2. In just five years, Klementieff has found this character’s voice and emerged as a standout in a crowded ensemble. While Klementieff has been a significant contributor thus far, her performance this time is star-making. Here’s to seeing where she goes from here. 

Karen Gillan carries Chris Pratt as she's flanked by the rest of the Guardians in a hazy Knowhere.

(L-R): Sean Gunn as Kraglin, Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel), Chris Pratt as Peter Quill/Star-Lord, Karen Gillan as Nebula, Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper), Dave Bautista as Drax, and Pom Klementieff as Mantis in Marvel Studios’ Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3. Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios. © 2023 MARVEL.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 is a bittersweet milestone in the MCU. As this story ends, this series has shown a dark, edgy and charismatic heart. It’s not an easy sit, but it’s worthwhile. In almost 15 years, superhero teams (and the actors inside them) have come and gone. This time around, though, the end is that much tougher. James Gunn has been a vital part of not only this franchise but the MCU as a whole. While we wait with bated breath for his work with the new DCEU, we’ll miss his vibrant voice within Marvel.  

Be sure to stick around for two post-credit sequences. 

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 premieres in theaters everywhere on May 4, 2023.

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