‘Guardians of Galaxy Vol. 3’ flies above the MCU din

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click to enlarge ‘Guardians of Galaxy Vol. 3’ flies above the MCU din
From left: Pom Klementieff, as Mantis; Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel);Chris Pratt, as Peter Quill/Star-Lord; Dave Bautista as Drax; and KarenGillan as Nebula star in “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3.”

As a critic, it has long felt futile to critically engage with the Marvel Cinematic Universe. By the end of Phase Three, with “Avengers: Endgame,” it was clear that these movies were less discrete pieces of cinematic art than they were puzzle pieces of content made to fit into a sprawling, interlinked multimedia experience. Crafted with a house style that only sometimes allows for the emergence of an auteurist point of view, the narrative emphasizes surprise cameos and crossover multiverses. The movies of the MCU dominate the box office no matter what critics think, sometimes in spite of reviews (no spoilers). Now, two movies into Phase Five, it can be a challenge to muster the enthusiasm to even watch these films, to say nothing of generating new thoughts and ideas in reaction to them.

But then there’s “Guardians of the Galaxy” director James Gunn, who got his start writing low-budget horror comedies at Troma Entertainment, and is the freshly minted co-chairman and co-CEO of DC Studios over at Warner Bros. With a new comic book movie gig at another studio, Gunn is a filmmaker with nothing to lose in the MCU, and for the end of his trilogy, his Marvel swan song, “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3,” he throws it all at the wall with a satisfying splat.

It’s to Marvel and Disney’s credit that they let Gunn deliver such an incredibly weird, gleefully goopy genre picture. It’s a nod to his roots, but there’s a surprisingly emotional core focusing on the origin story of Rocket Raccoon, the snide CGI rodent voiced by Bradley Cooper. The movie seems inspired by “The Island of Dr. Moreau,” and “The Stepford Wives,” with a sci-fi kaiju creature-feature bent, all implanted inside the irrepressibly irreverent “Guardians” universe.

Act One is a colorful and kooky heist movie, which finds the Guardians infiltrating the space biotech lab OrgoCorp to snatch a bit of code to save Rocket’s life after an attack from the golden god-like superhero Adam Warlock (Will Poulter). That gives way to a suburban gothic sci-fi interlude, in which we discover that the Dr. Moreau of OrgoCorp, the High Evolutionary (Chukwudi Iwuji) has populated a planet called Counter-Earth with his human-animal hybrids, genetically engineered to be perfect and peaceful.

“Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3” pulses with a manic energy soundtracked to a predominantly ’90s playlist (though it dips into the ’80s and 2000s as well). At times it’s convoluted and busy, and it tries to do too much at once, thereby sidelining characters like Adam Warlock. It ruminates on rather uninteresting relationships between a wounded Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) and strident Gamora (Zoe Saldana), and the entirely too silly chemistry between Drax (Dave Bautista) and Mantis (Pom Klementieff). But Gunn manages to achieve true pathos in the flashbacks to Rocket’s experiences at OrgoCorp as a lab raccoon under the High Evolutionary, especially in the cruelty he and his animals friends experienced as abandoned experiments.

It’s in the wild and wacky moments — the fleshy, outrageous production design of OrgoCorp, the Guardians landing in the manicured streets of Counter-Earth, the “Children of the Corn”-styled kids they find themselves rescuing in the third act — that “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3” thrives, finding something somewhat original and creative to present. Though it is bogged down by incomprehensible action and MCU fan service, Gunn has no fear about making such a big movie so strange.

It’s not perfect, but the moral of “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3” is that striving for perfection is not only a fool’s errand, it’s inherently toxic. Gunn exhorts the audience to embrace the quirky, the messy, the flawed, to strive for connection, not precision in this world and beyond. It’s a resonant message at the center of all the din.

Walsh writes for Tribune News Service.



2.5 stars (out of 4)

RATING: PG-13, for intense sequences of violence and action, strong language, suggestive/drug references and thematic elements.


OPENING: Today, in area theaters. Showtimes are on Page 11.

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