Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 3
By: Adam Freed
The greatest visual stories are those that earn the emotional investment of audiences by placing the highest value on promoting dynamic characters. Somewhere in the post Thanos Marvel landscape, character dynamism was asked to ride shotgun on a high speed rocket to nowhere. This, much to the chagrin of hungry audiences, who walk away from the table of recent MCU fare close to emotional starvation. Enter director James Gunn and his gang of Guardians, here to place all reports of the Marvel funeral on hiatus. Be it a swansong or salvation, both mega studio and fans alike can offer a collective sigh of relief. Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 3 is that good.
In 2008 Marvel Studios announced its arrival in a massive way by going “all in” on a Robert Downey Jr. reclamation project that ended up introducing the world to Iron Man, but also to the idea that character depth is possible even in films that feel light and fun. Downey Jr’s smarmy yet lovable Tony Stark plays cinematic father to both the mood and tone of the Guardians of the Galaxy franchise, which was born six years after the original Iron Man outpaced box office projections. What elevates Guardians above other franchise fare is its light and playful touch, artfully dodging the self seriousness that weighs down other Avenger’s solo projects.
Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy coined the idiom “music is the shorthand of emotion,” which in the care of James Gunn couldn’t be a more accurate sentiment. Occasionally films will find a way to breathe new life into sonic relics, a trademark that made the early work of Quentin Tarantino feel inventive in contrast to his contemporaries. Guardians: Vol. 3, like its predecessors, plays the role of Dr. Frankenstein to long forgotten records. No clearer a window into the emotional soul of this film is needed than through Rocket (voiced to excellence by Bradley Cooper) and his aural selection that opens the film. Radiohead’s Tom Yorke emotionally decimates the film’s opening scene with a haunting acoustic version of “Creep” that so perfectly sets the story’s tone that it could constitute the creation of a new Oscar category.
Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 3 provides needed context into Rocket’s backstory, which presents the most emotionally cohesive plot of the trilogy. As James Gunn, now under contract with rival DC Comics, and other cast members (most notably Dave Bautista’s Drax the Destroyer) bid farewell to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, there is a glorious sense of finality to this offering. Due to Gunn’s expertly timed and deployed emotional tone shifts, audiences will most likely excuse some predictable Marvel tropes that bloat the film’s runtime a quarter hour beyond reason. James Gunn's laudable direction highlights that although saying goodbye may hurt, sadness is not the only reason that tears fall. Possibly the only missed musical opportunity in Gunn’s final Marvel offering is the omission of 90’s sensation Oasis who order fans “Don’t look back in anger…at least not today.”