After Guardians of the Galaxy and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, the final film in James Gunn’s trilogy marks the end of its eponymous team and their story. As the first two films established the roots of the MCU’s sci-fi capabilities against the backdrop of Gunn’s trademarked style to great success, a third film seemed a natural conclusion. Needing to end the Guardians’ story with an appropriately heartfelt narrative, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 3 was forced to strike a delicate balance.

Following the second film’s revelations about Star-Lord’s origins, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 3 explores one of the team’s most fascinating characters, Rocket Raccoon. After an attack leaves him fighting for his life, the Guardians must delve into Rocket’s past in order to save him. Doing so not only reveals his tragic story, but also sees him confront his own nature and finally embrace his true potential.

The film sees the stacked cast of talent of its predecessors return, with Chris Pratt, Karen Gillan, Dave Bautista, and Pom Klementieff returning, and Vin Diesel and Bradley Cooper reprising their voice roles as Groot and Rocket respectively. Will Poulter also joins the cast as Adam Warlock, with Chukwudi Iwuji starring as the film’s villain, the High Evolutionary. The final film in Gunn’s trilogy certainly doesn’t want for on-screen talent, but that’s only half the battle. It’s a film that needs to live up to the success of its two wildly popular predecessors, and also deliver a fitting end to the team’s story. No pressure, then.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 Delivers A Particularly Powerful Message

Chris Pratt as Star-Lord, Dave Bautista as Drax, Bradley Cooper as Rocket Raccoon, Zoe Saldana as Gamora, Vin Diesel as Groot, Karen Gillan as Nebula, and Pom Klementieff as Mantis in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 (2023)

Despite the inherent team dynamic, much of the film’s story centers around Rocket Raccoon and his tragic origins. This pays off multiple teases about the character from previous movies, taking one of the trilogy’s most common jokes and highlighting the harsh reality behind the character. It’s pretty dark, and it’s incredibly powerful. Even with plenty of levity, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 3 is something of a challenging watch at times, making its story all the more engaging.

Rocket’s story feeds into the trilogy’s most consistent theme: each film concerns a character questioning their past and discovering that their friendships among their chosen family are what ultimately define them. However, the third film also introduces a handful of new characters, a number of which are now set to feature as the new Guardians in the MCU. In other words, Vol. 3 achieves a lot in the span of a single film.

In many ways, it’s a film that highlights why the MCU remains so popular. It features excellent action sequences, a heartfelt story, and plenty of lighthearted moments. Visually, it continues the style of its predecessors, demonstrating that Gunn knows precisely how the characters and their story need to be presented within the franchise. By having the story be about Rocket discovering that his horrific past doesn’t define him, it sets up an exciting future for a compelling character. It’s ultimately this that makes Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 3 such a powerful and touching film, and though the impressive sci-fi set pieces certainly don’t hurt, they at times feel like surplus to requirements.

The MCU has faced criticism throughout Phase 4 and into Phase 5 that its stories are becoming increasingly shallow. Guardians 3 proves that the MCU can (and should) be better, providing something of a template for how to bring even outlandish stories to life in a way that feels heartfelt and organic. As well as a great story, it’s got a distinct visual style, an outstanding soundtrack, and handful of sympathetic characters, making it a standout among some of its less impressive contemporaries.

Rating: 80%

Summary: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 rounds off the trilogy in emphatic fashion, continuing to build upon its characters while also ending their story in its previous form. It’s fun, it’s fresh, and it’s a timely example of what the MCU needs to be moving forward.

Highlight: The one-shot action sequence set to Beastie Boys’ “No Sleep Till Brooklyn” perfectly captures the spirit of Gunn’s trilogy – it’s flashy, it’s fun, and it’s incredibly cool.