Writer/director James Gunn completes his trilogy of space-age strays, agile action, wily wisecracks and nifty needle drops with a wondrous and emotionally resonant finale in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 (A-). Chris Pratt plumbs deeper emotions fighting the loss of his great romance in this go-round as the ensemble endeavors to save their injured and intubated collaborator Rocket Raccoon by infiltrating a series of treacherous lairs. This leaves a game Dave Bautista, Karen Gillian and Pom Klementieff to carry much of the franchise’s incredible comedy, and they get some wonderful zingers. The film is grimmer and more violent than past outings as it tells Rocket’s onerous origin story and terror at the hands of a truly diabolical villain memorably played by Chukwudi Iwuji. The world building and creature effects are first-rate, and the movie builds to a resonant final act. This epic rescues Marvel from its doldrums, but given its auteur has left to shepherd the DC universe, more greatness lies in store for the latter.
Told in multicolor hues that would make a frappuccino unicorn whinny and packed to the gills with gee-whiz gadgetry, action and laughter, James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (B+) is most successful when it examines the unconventional family dynamics of Marvel’s outer space superheroes. With baby on board (Groot, that is, and his highjinks are precious), the Guardians’ shipmates encounter Peter’s father and Gamora’s sister, among assorted new characters, and must reflect on their place in the universe. Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana and Dave Bautista display natural chemistry and charm. It’s like a Corleone saga with blasters and dick jokes. The new planets and plot lines are full of intrigue, and the dialogue is witty and wise. It’s an early summer movie that delivers the goods.
Beaming onto a screen near you is a vaudeville starship troupe milking about five jokes for all they’re worth in James Gunn’s aimless but often joyful space opera comic book adaptation, Guardians of the Galaxy (B). A smuggler out of the Han Solo playbook, Chris Pratt continues his awesome year with crowd-pleasing snark on a mission to keep a mysterious orb out of the clutches of baddies. His companions including an endearing tree-man and a wise-cracking raccoon (voiced by Vin Diesel and Bradley Cooper) who each get some great laughs in mischief-making derring-do. The intergalactic plot? Kinda lost in space. The film deserves kudos in the Marvel canon as a lively lark even if it uses up its clever action conceits in the first hour. The planetary effects are as triumphant as the tone ribald. Motown tracks and monster ballads also add some lift. It’s much more style than substance but filled with the tart nihilism of a cherry bomb that detonates when you least expect it. Side note: On the schawarma scale of consequence, the very brief epilogue will ruffle some feathers.