‘Guardians of the Galaxy 3’ Review: A Thoroughly Wholesome Love Letter to Found Families

Guardians of the Galaxy 3 poster with Rocket, Groot, Peter, Gamora, Drax, Mantis, Cosmo, and Kraglin
© 2023 MARVEL

The Marvel Cinematic Universe has grown inexhaustibly since its fraught and vigorous official entry onto the silver screens with Iron Man. So much so that it’s becoming a little outlandish to keep up with at times for those of us who might be smack dab in the middle of battling our superhero fatigue—both because of the extensive universe and the quality of some narratives that contribute to this. Some of the films in Phase 4 make for compelling and memorable origin stories, while others struggle to stick the landing. But like Spider-Man: No Way HomeJames Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy 3 is a gratifying final installment to a tightly stitched story. And interestingly, there’s a fascinating theme that weaves the two stories together, likely appealing to the very same type of audience, those of us who wholeheartedly adore the found family trope.

Guardians of the Galaxy 3 is a love letter in every way, cementing loyalty and surprising empathy through the distinguishing brand of rowdy humor that threads these misfits together. As the trailer teases and, as numerous interviews have pointed out—this is the one last ride with the Guardians as we know them—the final countdown, the end of an era, and the conclusion of a wild chapter in the MCU. But like The Guardians of the Galaxy: Holiday Specialit remains akin to a tender embrace even through the darker themes the film integrates.

Rocket Raccoon sadly looks toward someone in Guardians of the Galaxy 3
Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios. © 2023 MARVEL.

In more ways than one, as promised from the start of the journey, this chapter belongs to Rocket Raccoon (voiced by Bradley Cooper). It’s always belonged to him as the preeminent hero of the wild assemblage overflowing with his raunchy, at times ghastly, humor, only to have his darkness tucked underneath those big brown sad eyes. A trigger warning is imperative for this film if you’re someone who easily hurts from animal cruelty (as we all should be). Though it’s fiction and fabricated, it doesn’t make it any easier to swallow.

Rocket’s story is one of the most compelling origins within the MCU. There’s only so much to say without spoiling for viewers, but it’s a testament to who he is and how fervently he tries to hold on even when he doesn’t realize that’s what he’s doing. It makes losing Groot in Infinity War much more painful because Rocket’s story is one that consistently centers around grief, loss, and regrets. It’s a captivating, heartbreaking, and raw exhibition of what innocence looks like and how losses leave the kind of scar no fatal experiments could ever touch the depths of. We venture into some impenetrable corridors to understand the character more, and coming out of it feels like a punch to the ribcage—breathless and terrorized. 

Chukwudi Iwuji as The High Evolutionary in Marvel Studios' Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3.
Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios. © 2023 MARVEL.

In unveiling Rocket’s origin story and digging into the places he has often hidden from, Guardians of the Galaxy 3 also brings one of the scariest villains to life, reminding us directly through the trailer that it’s not about an ideal sense of perfection for one man, but it’s about the refusal to let people be who they choose. The relatable commentary is more prominent in this film than ever before, allowing Chukwudi Iwuji to breathe riveting life into The High Evolutionary. It’s both gut-wrenching and sinister how terrifying he is, yet it makes for an effective story with our villains and heroes. In truth, Spider-Man: No Way Home works because of our familiarity and nostalgia with the character, yet within the MCU, outside of Thanos (Josh Brolin), Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan), and Gor (Christian Bale), we don’t get many villains whose motives are just as compelling as the performances the actors bring to the screen.

As the film focuses on Rocket, it allows the rest of the Guardians to bare their souls, too, revealing the kind of empathy that’s unsurprisingly always been brewing within them. They’re all flawed, appalling at times, and vastly imperfect, but Guardians of the Galaxy 3 brings their hearts to the forefront and threads them like a tapestry through the profound love they share for one another. Though there’s undoubtedly an exception here as this Gamora (Zoë Saldaña) isn’t the one who dies on Vormir. And how the film handles her inclusion in this story as well as where she ends up, is oddly satisfying to maintain the thematic crux of the film.

Peter, Drax, Rocket, Gamora, Groot, Nebula, and Mantis walk out of a fire in Guardians Volume 3
Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios. © 2023 MARVEL

While the Guardians are always oddly likable (you can’t help it), it wasn’t the case for me personally in Thor: Love and Thunder or even during the Infinity Saga. Moreso, that likely has to do with Peter Quill’s (Chris Pratt) characterization than anyone else’s, but it’s nice to see that this version of him feels much like the one we meet in the original. The character is genuinely funny again, without trying too hard, and most of it comes down to the decisions he makes throughout the film that show how much this team matters to him.

But other than Rocket, this film belongs to another Guardian—a more reluctant one whose character journey has been an absolute thrill ride since the moment we meet her. Nebula boisterously and effortlessly becomes a character whose story is worth investing in and caring for. The similarities between her and Rocket intrinsically tie the two together, even when they don’t, and Karen Gillan is at her best here. Where Nebula starts and where she ends is a place that I hope we pick up from—continue from and tell more stories through. She’s a standout star right from the start, and it’s a gift to witness.

The remaining Guardians, Groot (Vin Diesel), Mantis (Pom Klementieff), and Drax (Dave Bautista), are better than ever before, continuing to illuminate the idea of found families effectively as well as establishing their place with this band of misfits. Every character, whether old or new, like Adam Warlock (Will Poulter), contributes to the thematic idea of establishing who a person is and whether that’s someone they want to remain or change, making the story an account for identity and heart.

From the first needle drop to the last, James Gunn proves with Guardians of the Galaxy 3 that no one crafts a story around music how he does. Awesome Mix Vol. 3 devotes brilliantly to establishing the film’s crux while moving every beat forward, even during slower moments that brunt the pacing. Still, it’s no significant complaint in an overall excellent film, for there’s nothing within the plot or characterizations that I (personally) would change. Yet, in those moments, the music always helps. It’s also a significant improvement from some of the visual effects in the second film, bringing to our screens places that aren’t always appealing but easy to remain in without wanting to look away.

James Gunn undeniably sticks the landing with one of the MCU’s most heartfelt and thoughtfully executed films, allowing the story to ascend to indelible heights. Guardians of the Galaxy 3 is a goodbye and a homecoming simultaneously. It’s a love letter to the found families and the people we fight for, anchoring itself through the inimitable characters who’ll be easy to miss. Despite their correlation to the loftier stories in the MCU, the Guardians have always felt a bit severed, but this conclusion confirms why and illuminates how it’s okay in the grand scheme of things. They aren’t disconnected—theirs is merely a world that orbits around each other and the people who come into their lives that they’re meant to protect. Theirs is a story worth remembering with a journey that serves as an unforgettable ride full of sweeping emotions. 

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 releases exclusively in theaters on May 5.


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