“How old are you? How young am I?” snaps Paul Westerberg in The Replacements’ “I Will Dare,” the first of two songs played to the end during the signature long credits of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3. “Let’s count the circles around my eyes.”
GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 3 ★★ (2/4 stars)
Once reserved for those who keep coming back to these movies because they’re short on options, the rings have also been visible around the Marvel movie giant over the last few iterations, if not longer.
It graces the latest and ostensibly final Guardians episode – which can sometimes feel like a Spotify playlist in search of a movie – which mostly manages to drown out the corporate exhaustion of the parent company with copious and often inspired needle drops, even more hit – or-miss one-liners and a visual playfulness reminiscent of real comic books.
Sadly, writer-director James Gunn’s movie – the series mastermind and one-off lost son who has since left Marvel’s established playing fields to become co-overseer of the DC Comics movie franchise – has been less successful in his calculated efforts to convince his audience to care. Instead, it creates worlds that it either destroys or simply bores away moments later, reducing what should be complicated relationships to reductively sincere proclamations.
“He’s our friend!” roars Chris Pratt’s Star-Lord over and over.
The friend in question and in need is Rocket Raccoon, the hot-tempered pilot and weapons specialist voiced by Bradley Cooper, and the character intended to deliver the film’s emotional and narrative through lines – and for whom Full. 3 serves as the origin story.
Rocket, a humble North American raccoon who was picked at random, was given incredible brains and cybernetic implants by this movie’s resident world conqueror, The High Evolutionary. (He’s played by British theater actor Chukwudi Iwuji, who gives the character the persona of an aggravated long-running TV series executive producer.)
When a battle with Warlock (an underused Will Poulter), a super-powered doofus painted as one of Goldfinger’s victims, activates a self-destruct mechanism in Rocket’s chest, the team must steal the code from a living planet to stop it. This perilous venture needs help from the group’s former adversaries, the Ravagers and Gamora (Zoe Saldana), or rather a version of Gamora we first met in 2019. Endgame who shares the same ingenuity as the Gamora that perished in 2018 Infinite War– but none of her memories.
As a result, Pratt’s Star Lord spends most of the movie pining for the new Gamora about the fun times he spent with the old Gamora as a guy who’s been blocked on Instagram by an ex-girlfriend and can’t get over it . While his attempts to revive things are initially violently rebuffed, we all know all too well that the object of his passion will ultimately be won over by his man-child charms. The dynamic is far too reminiscent of the relationship between Pratt’s character and Wyldstyle in 2014’s The Lego movieand is a sad reminder that Hollywood still has no idea how to write”strong female charactersexcept for ultimately having them sacrifice their independence at the altar of the bumbling hero’s idiotic allure.
What the film offers is Gunn’s undeniable love of comics and his ability to remix and revive them in a way that recalls the playfulness of pop art rather than Marvel’s responsibility to Disney stockholders.
This is most evident in the delightfully odd costume choices (Orgocorp sentries wear armor similar to buns and when they float around in zero gravity, it is reminiscent of Maurice Sendak’s In the night kitchen) and the new animal characters. These include new team member Cosmo the Space dog (Maria Bakalova) and Rocket’s love interest, the cyborgotter Lylla (voiced with tenderness by MCU mainstay Linda Cardellini).
But anyway – and few comic book movies have tried harder – the emotion Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 trying to whip up feels forced, empty and pushed to the characters rather than generated by them. As a result, the film comes across less as a smashing farewell than as a tired DJ trying to fill the dance floor instead of admitting that the party ended hours ago.
Observer Reviews are regular reviews of new and notable movies.