‘Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3’ Review: A Joyous Farewell To The Family You Choose

guardians of the galaxy 3 group shot

Marvel Studios

This article will contain light spoilers for Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, which hits theaters on May 5.

Superheroes are seen as legends, myths, and icons. They’re played by square-chawed A-listers who take home more in one paycheck than most people will ever see in their lives.

But what Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 director and newly appointed DCU mastermind James Gunn understands perhaps better than anyone — and what made his trilogy of Marvel movies so successful — is that these titans are ultimately outcasts.

Peter Parker is a nerdy teenager. Bruce Wayne is a perpetually depressed and potentially psychotic loner. Stephen Strange is a rampant narcissist. Superman is literally alone.

The Guardians films understood that from the start and that allowed the franchise to shed that superfluous fat that usually comes with superhero films and instead zero in on what makes the engine run: who these people are, where they came from, where they’re going, and what they want.

And those desires, just like ours and particularly in the case of outsiders like them, can be boiled down to one thing: being loved. Has there ever been a comic book movie series — certainly within the history of the MCU — that’s been such a sure bet to have you, at the very least, welling up with tears in the closing stages, whether they be sad, happy, or a cosmic blend of the two?

Whether they’re descendants of living planets, obtusely literal warriors, former cold-blooded assassins, Frankenstein-esque creations, or more machine than the are man, the Guardians of the Galaxy, more so than heroes or saviors, were friends. They were a family. And that’s what makes saying goodbye to them, as equal parts harrowing and joyous as it may have been, so difficult in the most rewarding way possible.

You love them not because you grew up idolizing them as they leaped from the pages of your comics and into the endless arena of your imagination — in fact, when they first arrived on the cinematic scene back in 2014, they were the first MCU headliners to genuinely make casual pop culture fans say ‘Who?!’ — but because you got to know them, began to like them, and eventually learned to love them, just as you would any friend or family member.

With that clear intent of the Guardians films being stories about finding a home where you have none and a family when you have none, each character is given the opportunity to do so and bring a satisfying resolution to their arc, both within the framework of the film itself and the trilogy as a whole.

To facilitate this character-driven story — as advertised in virtually all of the marketing, from the trailers to the posters, Rocket is *really going through it* in this one — and that serves as the bare-bones plot of the film: save Rocket. This, given the recent atom-sized absurdity that propelled the narrative in Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, is an undeniably refreshing reset to simpler times within the MCU, when the movies were just allowed to focus on their titular characters and not the grand machinations of the Disney machine.

That choice, however, will likely serve as a litmus test for how much audiences relate scope to quality. While it’s the final Guardians of the Galaxy film, its scale is also the smallest. Part of the MCU’s issue post-Endgame has been that everyone is expecting everything to be, well, that. But the contained scale of Vol. 3 allows for the focal point to be solely on the Guardians and their respective journies.

After previously being unceremoniously denied the opportunity to finish telling this story, Gunn — perhaps one of the few directors that the notoriously monolithic franchise would let end a franchise so aggressively on his terms and in his style — used that second chance to deliver one of the most cathartic chapters in comic book movie history.

And that’s how goodbyes should feel; a mixture of joy and sorrow, remorse and pride, regret and hope, with an eye to both the past and forward into the forever and beautiful sky.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 — which stars Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Bradley Cooper, Vin Diesel, Karen Gillan, Will Poulter, Pom. Klementieff, and more — hits theaters in the United States on Friday, May 5.

Random thoughts:

-For all the talk about CGI in the movie industry, particularly when it comes to Marvel Studios, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 looked good.

-Perhaps the best soundtrack of the trilogy yet? Maybe that’s my inner-Millenial speaking.

-Virtually every single character’s final story beat ends on an earned, well-constructed note, regardless of its tone.

-The DCU is in great hands with Gunn, as Vol 3. proves that, if nothing else, the floor for his projects is consistently high.

-Chris Pratt is a better actor than people give him credit for.

-Will Poulter could have used more screen time, but given the profile of both him and the character he’s playing, it’s doubtful he’s a one-and-done.