Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 3 Review: The Most Brutal, The Most Heartwarming, And The Best Of The Trilogy

James Gunn and his incredible cast manage to end the Guardians saga triumphantly with the surprisingly dark and uplifting Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3.

By Michileen Martin | Updated

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3


One of James Gunn‘s signature qualities as a filmmaker is his ability to tell stories with shocking, gory brutality while somehow warming his audiences’ hearts with messages as delightfully corny and uplifting as anything you’ll see in the best Pixar film. The dark half of that equation has been necessarily muted in his Marvel films so far, but in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 he brings it to the forefront like never before, and it helps make the flick the perfect conclusion to his trilogy.

Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper) takes center stage in Guardians 3, and the film opens to a series of shots of the tech-prodigy curmudgeon making his way through Knowhere while mumble-singing along to a cover of Radiohead’s “Creep.” The sequence gives us a chance to catch up on how all the heroes are doing, but things get ramped up quickly when Adam Warlock (Will Poulter) makes an explosive entrance to the Guardians’ new base, with Rocket as his target.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3
Will Poulter as Adam Warlock in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 (2023)

If you’re hoping for a comic book-accurate depiction of Adam Warlock in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, buckle up for disappointment. As Warlock, Will Poulter plays one of the most physically powerful characters in the film, while at the same time being doubtlessly the most clueless. That isn’t a criticism: Poulter is great in the role, but this version of Warlock is an absolute tool, and source material be damned no Infinity Watch would follow this guy to deliver a bottle of milk, much less to save the universe.

James Gunn’s well-known penchant for bringing his actors back for multiple projects serves Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 well, and that’s no more true than in the case of the casting of Chukwudi Iwuji (who first collaborated with Gunn on Peacemaker) as the High Evolutionary. Iwuji takes a cerebral and relatively boring antagonist from the comics and makes him one of the most dynamic antagonists in the MCU.

Honestly? If Marvel does wind up cutting Jonathan Majors loose and re-casting Kang the Conqueror, they had better keep Iwuji’s phone number handy.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3
Chukwudi Iwuji as the High Evolutionary in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 (2023)

Similar transplants from Gunn’s other projects help make Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 an expansive, rich epic. Nathan Fillion plays his biggest role yet in the trilogy as the Orgosphere security chief, Gunn’s own wife Jennifer Holland likewise is one of the Orgosphere’s staff, and Daniela Melchior (Ratcatcher II of The Suicide Squad) winds up as the Guardians’ hostage.

Like in The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special, Mantis (Pom Klementieff) gets a lot more time to shine, and she uses that time well. Karen Gillan’s former villain Nebula continues to evolve in surprising and impressive ways, becoming perhaps the most responsible member of the team (and arguably a better leader than Quill). More than any of the returning cast, I loved watching Zoe Saldana play a completely different version of Gamora who refuses — in spite of the fan-service it would engender — to become the same Gamora we watch die in Avengers: Infinity War.

The music in Guardians 3 is, as should be expected, curated with passion and genius. I never thought one of the MCU’s most incredible fight scenes would be made better with old school Beastie Boys, but I love being proven wrong.

In spite of Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) beginning the film in a drunken stupor, he sobers up quick when Warlock’s attack nearly kills Rocket. While the rest of the Guardians race across the galaxy to save their furry friend, the unconscious hero relives his time as a test subject of the High Evolutionary. Obsessed with creating the perfect society populated by the perfect species, the Evolutionary has turned countless animals into sentient cyborgs including Rocket’s friends Teefs (Asim Chaudhry), Floor (Mikaela Hoover), and the otter Lylla (Linda Cardellini).

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3
Rocket, Floor (above), Teefs (Right), and Lylla in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 (2023)

In any other movie, Rocket and his friends would be family-friendly models for stuffed animals, but in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 they’re inexplicably optimistic victims who have been subjected to horrors that would make A Clockwork Orange‘s Alex envious. The series of flashbacks are somehow some of the funniest, most heartwarming, and yet difficult scenes to watch. The beasts live separated by bars in piles of food pellets and trash, and yet drip happiness from every pore simply by being in each others’ company.

The brutality and gore doesn’t end with Rocket’s flashbacks. I don’t want to spoil anything, but in one scene Star-Lord murders a man in a bizarrely theatrical manner and never betrays even a little of remorse. In another scene, Rocket gets payback on one of his enemies in a way that will straight up make you develop a raccoon phobia.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3
Rocket and Groot in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 (2023)

The fight scenes are a lot gorier than what we’re used to in the franchise, particularly a hallway fight toward the end with the cybernetic Ani-Men. And while the violence in the Orgosphere sequence is pretty much on par with standard Marvel fare, the very fact that the structure is built of organic material — and so makes it seem like everyone’s walking on tumors or stomach lining the entire time — it’s gross enough without any bloodletting.

Yet somehow, even though Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 is without a doubt the darkest movie in the trilogy, you will leave the theater with as many shiny, happy feelings as any film could possibly make you feel. From start to finish, with all the bloodletting and cruelty, Guardians 3 is ultimately about family, even if it isn’t particularly family-friendly.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 delivers the perfect ending to the MCU’s best trilogy. It’s hilarious, action-packed, and it gets those tears out of you. It will shatter your heart to pieces more than once, and rebuild it better and stronger every time.

Nothing goes over your head.

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