Review by Tim Robins
WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD!
The Film: In Marvel Studios Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 our beloved band of misfits are looking a bit different these days. Peter Quill, still reeling from the loss of Gamora, must rally his team around him to defend the universe along with protecting one of their own. A mission that, if not completed successfully, could quite possibly lead to the end of the Guardians as we know them…
The Review: If you fancy two and a half hours watching grown adults bickering like children trapped in the backseat on a long car journey, the Guardians of the Galaxy. Vol. 3 is for you. As much as I enjoyed the film, a convoluted battle scene, in which no furry critter is left unsaved, I too was wailing “Are we there yet?”.
It’s not that I didn’t enjoy the movie, but, at times, trying to follow what was going on was like fumbling around in a darkened cinema to collect up the contents of a spilled pack of M&Ms, and then only the yellow ones.
The film follows a number of character arcs, including Peter Quill’s attempt to deal with his lost love Gamora, whose alternative timeline self has no memory of their past relationship. But the most compelling story, told in multiple flashbacks is that of Rocket Racoon, who he is, how he came to be and how he got his name. This involves the machinations of a Doctor Moreau-ish character called ‘The High Evolutionary’, and is told as if The Island of Doctor Moreau were narrated by one of the scientist’s Beast Folk.
No-one can say director and writer James Gunn doesn’t have a personal vision. He obviously delights in the weirdness of the Marvel and DC Universes. Here, he lovingly renders the various members of the Ravagers, a cheerful group of cutthroats led by Sylvester Stallone as ‘Star Hawk’, reprising the role from Vol. 2. A high point in the movie is a fight at the headquarters of Orgocorp, a genetic engineering company envisioned as a fascinating, organic construction that look like a cross between Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory and a shopping mall themed around a pack of gigantic Fruit Jellies.
The effects are fun. We meet the Guardian gang at ‘Knowhere’, a final frontier city hollowed out of the skull of a Celestial (Guardians vol 3 is largely free of boorish snap backs to other MCU continuity). There’s a great moment when the city comes face-to-race with the High Evolutionary’s own spaceship.
Knowhere’s denizens include assorted ne’er-do-wells, including The Guardians themselves, a psychic dog (last seen, but not by me, in the Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special) and Howard the Duck (hooray!). Mostly the inhabitants are fodder for various cyborg creatures in an attack that recalls the Squid assault on Babylon in the final Matrix movie.
As the film’s principal character, Rocket Racoon is a wonderfully rendered CGI creation. You can literally count every whisker on his face. The detail sells the performance and makes the Racoon an even more compelling character. He has to be, because this film starts with the assumption that the audience already knows most of its characters.
The downside of all this is Gunn’s blanding of key characters down, in the quest for gags and fleeting emotional moments. If you are hoping to see the Adam Warlock of old, forget it. I loved the 1960s comic character, particularly his Jim Starlin iteration (which has just been collected by Panini) but Gunn opts to turn him into another child-like character, this time with mother issues. Sigh. What made the MCU nostalgic fun has now become a palette knife, thickly plastering over a beloved past.
We get little of Warlock’s association with Christianity. He’s not the Jesus figure of The Power of Warlock, nor the conflicted deity of The Universal Church of Truth, as first seen in Strange Tales. Gunn makes Warlock his own but, stripped of religiosity and respect, the character is dull and, for a fan like me, disappointing. I suppose 1970s cosmic melodrama would jar with the more cynical world view of the MCU. And maybe America’s reassurance of a Far-Right Christian Nationalism would have led to outraged protests.
Still, Gunn is clearly aware of Warlock’s back story. There’s a brief but knowing shot of Warlock reaching out to Quinn that replicates Michelangelo’s fresco, “The Creation of Adam”.
The High Evolutionary is compelling but his surrogate position of Mad-God is also downplayed. His creation, Counter-Earth, is underwhelming. This act of creation, and the motivation for its creation, are underwhelming. The High Evolutionary-Warlock-Counter Earth dynamic really needed its own movie.
But there you go. At least no Evangelicals were harmed during the making of this movie.
Yes, there are mid and end credit scenes, but, in a film that just can’t stop itself from tying up absolutely every plot point, they really don’t have the impact that they might. That said, it’s easy to get caught up in Gunn’s excess, although this time the music fails to enhance the space antics through irrelevance and overuse.
Perhaps Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 is best compared with a pack of Maynard’s Liquorice All-Sorts – bright, colourful with rather too much to chew on but, if you don’t like liquorice, it’s best not to even open the packet.
• Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 is in cinemas across the UK now
• Warlock By Jim Starlin Omnibus
Out: Now Publisher: Panini: ISBN: 978-180491078
• Buy it from Forbidden Planet (Affiliate Link)
At Marvel in the 1970s, no one mastered the startling scope of cosmic adventure like Jim Starlin! In this star-spanning spectacle, Starlin evolved Adam Warlock to the next level, imbuing the character with the inner demons of a man-god on the brink of insanity.
Forced to confront an evil version of himself and the nihilistic menace Thanos, Warlock’s conflicts weren’t just knuckle-grinding throw-downs – they were existential struggles for his very soul.
Featuring the first-ever assembling of the Infinity Gems, the debuts of Gamora and Pip the Troll and an all-out struggle to save the universe – joined by the Avengers, Captain Marvel and Spider-Man!
Collecting: STRANGE TALES (1951) #178-181, WARLOCK (1972) #9-15, AVENGERS ANNUAL (1967) #7 and MARVEL TWO-IN-ONE ANNUAL (1976) #2.
A freelance journalist and Doctor Who fanzine editor since 1978, Tim Robins has written on comics, films, books and TV programmes for a wide range of publications including Starburst, Interzone, Primetime and TV Guide.
His brief flirtation with comics includes ghost inking a 2000AD strip and co-writing a Doctor Who strip with Mike Collins. Since 1990 he worked at the University of Glamorgan where he was a Senior Lecturer in Cultural and Media Studies and the social sciences. Academically, he has published on the animation industry in Wales and approaches to social memory. He claims to be a card carrying member of the Politically Correct, a secret cadre bent on ruling the entire world and all human thought.