erik lundegaard

Monday October 30, 2023

Movie Review: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 (2023)


“Guardians 3” is one of the better superhero movies of 2023—we get action, humor, and one of the best arguments against animal testing ever in a popcorn movie—but does it go on too long? Does it undercut itself? Does it insist on giving everyone their unnecessary scene? Yes, yes and yes. It might also be too reliant on music to set the tone. But I like the music. 

It begins with Radiohead’s “Creep” and that’s who our heroes are, and who they think they are—misfits from around the galaxy:

I’m a creep
I’m a weirdo
What the hell am I doing here?
I don’t belong here

It ends with everyone dancing to Florence + The Machine’s “Dog Days Are Over,” and that speaks not only to the end of the action and the defeat of the villain, and the various resolutions for our heroes’ personal dilemmas, but to what we’ve all been through: the COVID awfulness. And maybe the Trump awfulness? Or is it just James Gunn’s sign-off before taking over the DC Universe. Maybe Marvel was Gunn’s dog days.

Kidding. He was living the nerd dream. Is living it. He gets to decide what happens to Superman and Batman and Wonder Woman. Him. That guy. He probably has Radiohead’s “Creep” in his head 24/7.

Lost souls
“Vol. 3” assumes we remember everything about the first two volumes, not to mention the various Avengerses, but I barely remember “Vol. 2.” Didn’t Star Lord/Peter (Chris Pratt) go looking for his father and find Kurt Russell/Ego? I guess (now that I’ve re-read my review) he realized that the Ravagers’ leader Yondu (Michael Rooker) was his real father, since he raised him and sacrificed for him, etc. The oddity is that, in this movie, I thought Yondu was Kraglin’s father. But he just passed on the flute-weapon to him? Apologies for not knowing chapters and verses, Marveldom. 

The movie opens in Knowhere, the Guardians HQ, with everyone dealing with their personal dilemmas—Peter keeps getting drunk because second Gamora (Zoe Saldana) doesn’t know and love him; Mantis (Pom Klementieff) thinks she isn’t taken seriously or something. During this quiet, and despite Radiohead, I thought of an old Cowboy Junkies’ song:

In the storm, you are my destination
In the port, you are my storm

Knowhere is the port and they’re each other’s storm. Then the real storm arrives in the form of Adam Warlock (Will Poulter), a golden-haired, golden-skinned man-baby that I vaguely remembered from my 1970s comic-collecting days. He cuts a swath through the Guardians and is only prevented from completing his mission when Nebula (Karen Gillan) stabs him through the chest. Even so, he all but kills Rocket Raccoon (voice: Bradley Cooper), but when the Guardians try to save Rocket with a med-pack they’re prevented by a “kill switch” because he’s the proprietary tech of Orgocorp. Which, yeah, feels a little meta.

From the beginning we get flashbacks to Rocket’s origins. He was experimented upon then tossed into a cage with other experimentees from Batch 89: Lylla, an otter with metal poles for arms; Teefs, a legless walrus, and Floor, a rabbit that I can’t even imagine what happened to her. They’re self-named. So is Rocket, who envisions great travels and blue sky. To the company, and particularly to the evil High Evolutionary (Chukwudi Iwuji), he’s simply 89P134. “P13” for short. Which, yeah, feels a little “Les Miz.”

To get the code to override the kill-switch to save Rocket’s life, they fly to Orgocorp’s headquarters, an organic, gelatinous thingamajig in space, and with the help of the second version of Gamora (Zoe Saldana), who is now a Ravager (i.e., space pirate), they have to sneak inside, dodge various corporate security, led by Nathan Fillion, get into fights, etc. It’s fun. Oddly, the exposition on how they’re going to do this is given to us by Sylvester Stallone. Sly’s got talents but delivering exposition isn’t one of them. Anyway, they get what they need, but it wasn’t what they needed, so now they have to go to Counter-Earth, a “perfect society” that the High Evolutionary is creating with animal organisms that he has super-evolved into human-like states. Which, yeah, feels a little Dr. Moreau/“Island of Lost Souls.”

Landing their ship into a kind of ’90s suburbia, they’re aided by a bat family, then take off for the big corporate headquarters. Everyone is telling Star Lord he’s falling into a trap but he keeps insisting it’s a face-off, and they keep insisting it’s not a face-off if one side is way more powerful. Turns out Star Lord is kind of right—they jump out of corporate HQ with their maguffin and get what they need. It also turns out to be a pun from Gunn. In flashbacks we see the moment Rocket becomes Rocket—when he realizes he and his friends are going to be disposed of and plots their escape. The friends all die (Lylla's death scene is truly poignant) but Rocket attacks the High Evolutionary before flying out into the great blue sky he’d always dreamed of—but in that attack, we find out later, he’d clawed off the High Evolutionary’s face. For most of the movie, the dude is wearing a mask. So yes: face off.

Because they’re the Guardians, nothing is ever clean. Drax (Dave Bautista) suckers Mantis into going to HQ to rescue Peter and Groot, but now they’re not there, and the HQ is flying off because Counter-Earth is a failure and is being abandoned by the High Evolutionary. And so our heroes have to somehow:

  • Reunite
  • Defeat the superpowerful High Evolutionary
  • Save all the children in cages
  • Save all the animals in cages
  • Realize Drax is smarter than they think
  • Find closure for Rocket’s past
  • Find closure for Peter’s love for Gamora
  • Find closure for Kraglin calling Cosmo, the talking Soviet dog, a “bad dog,” and for Kraglin to master the flute-weapon thingy
  • Allow Warlock to join their community

Whew. It all goes down and everyone dances but it’s a bit much.

But, yes, fuck animal testing. I don’t know how we continue to let this happen.

I have to say, Bautista’s Drax is one of the great, original characters in the Marvel universe, and even in this third iteration they don’t waste him:

Quill: That’s why we’re going to break in!
Drax: And kill anyone who gets in our way!!!
Quill: Not kill anyone!
Drax: Kill a few people.
Quill: Kill no people!
Drax: Kill one guy. One stupid guy no one loves.
Quill: Now you’re just making it sad.

So when did Peter branch out of his 1970s playlist? When he got the Zune last go-round? And why do I know Will Poulter? He was immediately familiar and I couldn’t figure out why. “Detroit”? Was it just that? And trailers for “We’re the Millers”? Oh, “The Revenant”! Third-billed. Probably that. But he seems even more familiar. One wonders if it’s a quality some people have: seeming familiar. I bet it helps.

Post-credits, we get the re-formed “Guardians,” including Warlock, and led by Rocket, and … I just wish they’d let Peter die in space, as he seemed to be doing. It felt like it had the chance to be poignant. But of course not. He’s too valuable. He’s the proprietary tech of Orgocorp.

Early days, not dog days.

Posted at 08:46 AM on Monday October 30, 2023 in category Movie Reviews - 2023  
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