“Avengers: Endgame” was a miracle for Marvel Studios. One of the biggest blockbusters of all time in terms of budget, profit and sheer scale, “Endgame” was a worldwide phenomenon years in the making. The film was by all means, a complete and utter success.
But it was also a curse.
After the film’s hype waned, Marvel Studios had to face the music, Kevin Feige and his legion of Marvel executives were forced to ask themselves that fateful question: what do we do now? However, the COVID-19 pandemic was a huge blow to their plans and their slate of post-Endgame theatrical projects proved to be underwhelming for audiences.
Four years and 18 projects later, it’s evident that the MCU is still struggling to pick up the pieces. The multiverse saga was supposed to be the next big thing, but “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” received lukewarm reactions and was quickly forgotten. “Thor: Love and Thunder” was a critical and commercial bomb, with even longtime fans dismissing the film’s ineffective humor and weak story. “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” was supposed to establish the MCU’s next big villain, Kang, but the film quickly faded into obscurity.
So naturally, more people — even longtime fans — began to turn on the MCU, especially with blockbusters like “Avatar: The Way of Water” and “The Batman” proving that franchise films can still have strong cinematic merit.
To put it simply, Marvel Studios was in desperate need of a win.
Thanks to James Gunn, they finally got one.
“Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3,” the final film in Gunn’s “Guardians” trilogy, serves as a reminder that these films can be great under the right circumstances. So why does this film work?
The “Guardians of the Galaxy” films have always felt distanced from the rest of the MCU. Even though the characters were included in the MCU’s bigger storylines and events, the trilogy felt like a standalone product because Gunn infused it with his own cinematic style.
The most obvious example of this is Gunn’s extensive usage of classic rock throughout. The needle drops are plentiful, but always work alongside the image on the screen, never distracting from the main story. Some pleasant additions to the soundtrack in the third film include an acoustic version of “Creep” by Radiohead and “Dog Days Are Over” by Florence + the Machine.
Gunn also leans into the film’s PG-13 rating. Not only does he include the MCU’s first f-bomb, but he also tackles disturbing subject matter like animal abuse and testing. The villain is genuinely sadistic and isn’t given a sad backstory or redemption arc.
Even the special and practical effects are quite gruesome. Some parents have called the film inappropriate for children, but PG-13 films don’t have to be child-friendly. It’s not Gunn’s fault that past MCU films have been overly sanitized to be appropriate for the broadest possible audience.
The “Guardians of the Galaxy” films also feature some of the best character work in the entire MCU. Gunn chose to center the third installment around Rocket Raccoon — voiced by Bradley Cooper — and his untold tragic backstory. On paper, this shouldn’t have worked, but because of the grounded writing and genuine chemistry between the cast, it does. Each of the core characters are given a complete and satisfying arc, making “Vol. 3” the perfect sendoff.
But above all else, the film’s pathos is what distinguishes it from its MCU counterparts. As cheesy as it sounds, “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3” is about perseverance and the power of connection. It’s about finding a home, wherever or whoever that may be, and cherishing the life you have. Overall, the film wears its bleeding heart on its sleeve, making it an appropriately bittersweet conclusion to the Guardians’ story.
As Rocket says in the film, “We’ll all fly away together, one last time, into the forever and beautiful sky.”