GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 3 Review: All Guardians, No MCU
GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 3 is the final installment of the “Guardians” trilogy from director James Gunn, and it is a swan song to the “Guardians-verse”. In a time when we are experiencing some gorgeous send-offs and show wrap-ups like STAR TREK: PICARD and THE MANDALORIAN S3, GUARDIANS 3 fits right in that emotional window. If you, like us, really love the tone and humor of Guardians films in particular, you will most likely love this film. GUARDIANS 3 does not have ties to the current MCU, however, and we discovered the reason in the Press Conference on April 28th.
Moderator Nathan Filion (who also appears in the film as Master Karja) asked Marvel studio head Kevin Feige just how much leeway he gives to James Gunn with these films.
KEVIN FEIGE (Producer): I think he gets all the slack. He gets as much slack as there is to give. We had some discussions about [who to kill off in previous movies] but not on this one and this one was about seeing it through because it always was designed as a trilogy.
While GUARDIANS VOL. 1 followed Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) and his journey, and GUARDIANS VOL. 2 delved more into the sister relationship of Gamora (Zoe Saldana) and Nebula (Karen Gillan), GUARDIANS VOL. 3 showcases Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper) and his backstory. The film opens on Knowhere, where our found family of misfits has settled. But Rocket’s past catches up with him in the form of Adam Warlock (Will Poulter) attempting to kidnap Rocket for the High Evolutionary (Chukwudi Iwuji) and his nefarious experiments. The Guardians must band together, infiltrate the High Evolutionary’s bio-facility, and attempt to save Rocket’s life and a few more lives along the way. As Rocket slips in and out of consciousness throughout the film, we are treated to heartbreaking flashbacks of his life, going back to when he was just a baby raccoon.
The best thing about GUARDIANS VOL. 3 are these flashbacks where we learn some fantastic backstory to Rocket’s life and how it’s made him into who he is today. We even learn fun, small details that track throughout all three films – rewarding those of us that have been paying close attention to the Guardians-verse. Unfortunately, Bradley Cooper (Rocket’s voice) was not at the press conference, but Rocket’s body double Sean Gunn was able to provide this tidbit about Rocket and the cast.
SEAN GUNN (Kraglin and on-set Rocket): It takes a team of people to create Rocket and I’m a member of that team. I think of the creation of Rocket almost like a relay race where James takes the baton of the character that he’s created and passes it to me. And I work with the cast, you know, and on set and do the, the first part. And then we hand it to the visual effects team and they start to put the whole thing together. And then you give it to the actor and Bradley makes the whole thing work. It’s really a reminder to me of what is so important about collaboration to the creative process and that the that the whole experience of acting is about giving and not about yourself.
You don’t become an actor because you think that you’re special. You become an actor because you think other people are special. I’ve never felt that more fully as I have, trying to trying to be a part of that process collaboratively with all these other minds over the course of these three movies. That’s what makes it great.
That team spirit was alive throughout the press conference, and permeates the film. James Gunn shares his view on this from the very first GUARDIANS VOL. 1.
JAMES GUNN (director): I felt like we were doing something different. I felt like the world needed a space fantasy different from those we had seen before. So I was pleasantly surprised when my greatest hopes came true [and it was a huge success]. But I think in terms of the story we were telling over the three movies, I did have a sense of how it would go from the beginning. I think also in terms of just this family of people, I’ve been really good at hiring non-jerks. People who are actually positive, compassionate, loving, kind people. And so I’ve just grown incredibly close to these people. I really love them. So my main memories are not going to the premieres. It’s being on set and doing bits with Chris in between sets. It’s, you know, talking to Sean, watching, you know, Chuck turn in an amazing performance, goofing around with Pom, wondering what the hell she’s talking about.
Like these are these are the moments. I think there are certain characters that I have a special fondness for, especially Rocket. And yeah, the saddest part of all of this, I’m not going to be writing the characters again, at least not in the near future. And so that’s a real sadness.
He didn’t say he’d “never” write for them again! So here’s hoping.
GUARDIANS films have always included the soundtrack as a character. GUARDIANS 3 takes this one step further with the villain having an obsession with opera. This really informed Chukwudi Iwuji (“The High Evolutionary”) on his character.
CHUKWUDI IWUJI (The High Evolutionary): The first thing that’s written when you meet [the High Evolutionary] is him listening to space opera. So I knew classical music was going to be a big part of this character. I thought I would just listen to many of my favorite arias and send them to [James Gunn], and one or two of them made it onto the film.
So a lot of finding this guy for me was, if he’s listening to opera and he’s this mad scientist sort of person, I just thought of someone that doesn’t sleep.He needs the music as he wanders through his castle at night. And I thought very deeply about Henry the IV. He has a great speech about “heavy is the head that wears the crown. How many thousands of my poor subjects are at this moment asleep.” And I sent that to James. The motivations and stuff are impeccably written in the script, so for me it was about ‘who is this guy before he turns up on the set?’
He’s a villain with a god complex who was born with a silver spoon in his mouth.
So look forward to the addition of opera to the soundtrack! However, there’s a wide range of new music in the soundtrack this time, spanning from the 1970’s to 2000’s. James Gunn has a huge responsibility when picking the music, because it effects not only the film, but the artists!
JAMES GUNN: Honestly, it has become strange because the first two albums were huge hits. They changed the lives of some of these artists who now have big hit songs. And so I know that when I’m choosing a song, a lot of people will listen. I want to choose good music by good bands.
When I’m writing, I put the music in along with the script. And sometimes that changes as we go along. It was very difficult choosing the music for this movie because in the first two movies, they were basically all AM seventies pop hits. But [at the end of GUARDIANS VOL. 2,] Yondu gives Peter Quill a Zune. And it’s music from the ‘70s, ‘80s, ’90s, and 2000’s so it was very difficult because of that. I keep a list of hundreds of songs that I could use, but there are things that I have on the list that I could never use like “Cruel to Be Kind” by Nick Lowe. And I’ve just never found a place to work it in. But mostly it’s like “What fits the scene?”
Beyond the Music
Much of QUANTUMANIA we had trouble connecting with, because it felt like it was a CGI stew. GUARDIANS doesn’t feel that way and this is thanks to some enormous physical sets, according to the director.
JAMES GUNN: They were big sets, huge! But we like a practical set. We’re out in outer space, right? We’re in these incredibly strange places. And when it becomes too much CGI, it ungrounds us a little bit. So I like big sets both for shooting with crew and cast, but also it looks good on screen to be able to do practically what you can.
In physicality, GUARDIANS VOL. 3 succeeds. But no film is without sin, and we must suspend our disbelief for a few scenes. The most glaring of which is when our heroes want to infiltrate the High Evolutionary’s bio facility. They fly there, park their ship right outside three completely transparent safety rings, and proceed to break through in full view of the facility. No ships or people come out to intercept them, and it’s clearly a glossed over plot point to get our heroes in the desired location quickly.
However, the best thing about this film is the characters and their relationships with each other – mainly the humor that comes from pairing up different characters. As teased in the trailer, Star Lord and Nebula find some common ground and maybe more. Cosmo (Maria Bakalova) and Kraglin (Sean Gunn) must learn to work together. Mantis and Drax continue their antagonistic yet loving brother-sister vibe, with Groot as their younger sibling. That “family” feel also permeates the cast. Let’s hear from each of the actors explaining their characters and how they relate to each other.
CHRIS PRATT (Star Lord): We find ourselves in relationships or the affiliations we have. [Star Lord] is definitely lost. In the beginning, he was running away from the death of his mother. But he got to pretend to be this character based on his pop culture icons of his childhood of the late eighties. But it was kind of B.S., you know, and he found himself with the Guardians of the Galaxy. And then he thought he could find himself by discovering who his father was. And then he found it again in his relationship with Gamora. And so when that’s stripped away from him, he’s the guy who’s realizing that all of these various people that he’s found, none of them have been the real him. And so he’s lost again.
KAREN GILLEN (Nebula): I think post-Thanos being eliminated from her life, [Nebula is] starting to flourish a little bit more and she’s a little more willing to show vulnerability. What’s changed for me, is definitely understanding what it’s like to be a scapegoated sibling. Nebula was never the golden child. And so I never understood that because I’m an only child. So that was a really sort of interesting exploration for me. So now I just have so much respect for people that have gone through that.
It’s been beautiful to see, you know like Nebula was always so jealous of Gamora. And then she evolved and Gamora helped her gain some compassion along the way. And now they’ve kind of switched places in a way, which is really interesting to play around with. But yeah, it’s been really beautiful to watch their relationship evolve and become what it is.
Pom Klementieff (Mantis): Each character, they complete each other, you know? And I remember James telling me that Mantis was the glue that kept the guardians together. I think it’s also cool to have somebody whose superpower is actually empathy. Feelings, emotions are so important to Mantis and we’re so used to this very sort of, you know, I mean, the male hard core macho like shooting rays out of their arms and lifting cars and throwing automobiles and shooting people. And she comes in with emotions and is equally, if not more powerful. She was the one that almost took down Thanos. We need diversity, and it’s the character the Guardians needed.
SEAN GUNN (Kraglin): Kraglin was with Yondu and and Quill from the beginning and was sort of like, why am I on the outside? And his journey to learn why he belongs is my favorite thing about him.
Whether you are a huge fan of Marvel comics or just a general fan of the MCU, Guardians was made for you. The head of Marvel Studios reiterates this.
KEVIN FEIGE: The goal has always been to do justice to the audience members who have loved these characters their whole lives and to audience members who’ve never heard of these characters or who heard of them for the first time in the trailer or poster, which for Guardians in particular was certainly the majority of the of the audience. So you really have a lot of leeway to do new things, which you do. But James was going to the comics and constantly referring to the comics and constantly building off of the storylines. So people who did know these characters from the more recent run at the time or the early run saw things they could get excited about. And just as important, people who never heard of this crazy space fantasy with a tree and a raccoon could fall in love with it.
Are you one of the die-hard comic book fans with previous knowledge of these characters, or did you fall in love with THE GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY in 2014 with its MCU debut? Either way, prepare yourself for an emotional wrap-up full of humor, action, and music. GUARDIANS VOL. 3 opens in U.S. theaters May 5.