It’s astonishing to think that the better part of a decade has passed since the first Guardians of the Galaxy movie. Yet almost everything about the GOTG franchise is astonishing. It’s unbelievable that Marvel Studios sought to make such an obscure title a major part of the MCU. It’s inconceivable that they’d place so much trust in a director like James Gunn, who was most famous for relatively low-budget horror movies. And it was unheard of that Gunn would be rehired after being fired over a series of tasteless jokes he’d made on social media a decade earlier and an Astroturf campaign of political pundits angered by Gunn’s political comments.
(It should be noted, incidentally, that Gunn had previously apologized for those remarks and that there was no such swift action when feminist groups called attention to the same remarks when Gunn was originally hired.)
I mention this because Gunn’s oeuvre and politics lie at the heart of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, though it is not immediately apparent. Oh, the usual trappings of Gunn’s films are there, including a fantastic soundtrack full of classic rock. And yet, for all the reputation Gunn has as a screwball writer with a gift for snarky dialogue, his writing also tends to deal with some incredibly dark subject matter. Indeed, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 may be the darkest movie made for the MCU, even including the one where half the universe dies.
Rocket takes center stage in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, despite spending part of the movie in a vegetative state. This follows an attack by the forces of the High Evolutionary (Chukwudi Iwuji), the mad scientist and self-styled god responsible for creating Rocket and a number of other societies across the galaxy. The High Evolutionary wants Rocket back and has activated a cybernetic kill-switch, pushing the rest of the Guardians to set up a hasty heist to steal the code that will save their friend. As they work at this, we’re treated to flashbacks of Rocket’s childhood and how he came to be the embittered mercenary and occasional hero he is now.
This is where the horror elements of Gunn’s previous films come into play, along with his politics. The High Evolutionary keeping children and animals in cages as part of his plan to build a better world for his master race is not subtle or pretty. It is triggering because it is meant to be. Unfortunately, that message will likely be lost on those who will point to the evils of evolutionism being responsible for the plot,or those who will dismiss the message precisely because of the disturbing imagery. Yet even that seems unlikely to bother the self-dubbed Guardians of Morality as much as the fact that Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 also contains the MCU’s first F-bomb.
If you enjoyed the previous GOTG films, this movie offers more of the same. The ensemble continue to work together like a well-oiled machine, but there’s not much in the way of character development or major plot beats. The only real subplot involves Gamora (Zoe Saldana) refusing to have anything to do with the Guardians thanks to the events of Infinity War and Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) devolving into an even drunker slob than before because he lost the love of his life. Everything is resolved in the end, more or less, and the film is a fitting capstone to Gunn’s legacy in the MCU.