It was always your story. You just didn’t know it.
It’s hard to reconcile the past you cannot escape with the future you must build. Life constructed by the pain you have suffered and the people you have lost, a melancholy drift through the cosmos, floating from moment to moment too busy running from the past to comprehend the present. Even worse to have bonds forged by comradery in this dissonant loneliness and to have it ripped away, the only source of light shattered, leaving some impossibly infinite void inside. Eventually, it all catches up, forced to face the past you’ve been running from, eye to eye with every failure and every regret.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 opens with Radiohead’s “Creep,” a marked change in tone from the original film’s upbeat dance heist to “Come and Get Your Love” by Redbone and Vol. 2’s exuberant bubblegum fight scene to the tune of “Mr. Blue Sky” by Electric Light Orchestra. Still, it’s a natural change of pace as we return to the familiar band of scrappy outlaws at their lowest. There’s a distinct lack of energy as Rocket (Bradley Cooper) shuffles through the dusty streets of Knowhere reflecting on when he was tortured into sapience, as Peter (Chris Pratt) drinks himself into a stupor after Gamora (Zoe Saldaña) died and returned without any of the knowledge of their time together, as Kraglin (Sean Gunn) fails to wrest control over the arrow Yondu passed on to him. It’s not long before the golden-skinned Adam Warlock (Will Poulter) arrives in a ball of flame, shattering the melancholy atmosphere.
The ensuing fight is a breath of fresh air, one that serves as a pleasant reminder of what set the original film apart from a universe that had quickly generated a remarkably simplistic and redundant aesthetic. Nearly a decade later, the MCU may have taken some vaguely disparate notes on infusing things with a little bit more color and vibrance, but after the recent string of films feeling generated by AI and wrung dry of creativity by an impossible pipeline where nobody knows what anybody else is doing, the simple act of seeing a director actually making choices in how to construct a scene in a physical space with dynamic camerawork and coherent narrative created by movement is a stunning reminder of the possibilities this space once felt like it offered.
In broad strokes, Vol. 3 is more of the same, an oversaturated planet-hopping adventure with a ragtag cast of characters looking to take down an egocentric supervillain, but the pain of lost adolescence and cosmic longing is stronger than ever before, driven by Rocket’s journey to come to terms with how he came to be. His existential clash with the central antagonist The High Evolutionary (Chukwudi Iwuji) creates a gravitational center that pulls everyone’s story within it, a question of the imposition of will that is creation, and an exploration of how to find purpose in a life that seems determined to tear it away from us. We yearn for utopia but it does not exist, it cannot exist – existence is imperfect and inspiration breeds rebellion, a natural instinct to reject a creator that asks us to bend to some invisible force, that desires perfection but cannot accept its own fallibility. The resulting blend of signature kaleidoscopic, overwhelming visual language and the brutality of suffering some unimaginable fate that both created your body and destroyed your soul creates the team’s most pained and heartbreaking story yet, a small snarky raccoon longing for love while friends reconcile their idiosyncrasies and find a way to accept that the past cannot be re-tread.
It’s a lot to stuff into the film’s nonstop 150 minutes and there aren’t many points where it doesn’t feel like it’s maybe got a few too many ideas in the mix, but it still manages to quite eloquently weave touching resolutions for the whole group as they all individually reflect on the past they’ve been so desperately trying to escape. It’s as corny as the films have ever been, but it’s more than earnest enough to earn it all the same, and every time it explodes into hyperpop chaos it remains a complete visual delight. Through all the existential suffering and the crushing pain of loss, there’s a warmth to it all, a note of embracing your singularity, accepting the needs of those we love, and just a little bit of listening to the Beastie Boys on your way to dethroning god.