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Dan Webster reviews "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3"

DAN WEBSTER:

With a few exceptions, the first film in a franchise is typically the best. Case in point: 2014’s Guardians of the Galaxy. Written and directed by James Gunn, that film—which introduced us to an eclectic band of superheroes, based on an evolving series of Marvel Comics characters—was a hit both with moviegoers and critics.

As Los Angeles Times critic Kenneth Turan wrote at the time: “Blessed with a loose, anarchic B-picture soul that encourages you to enjoy yourself even when you're not quite sure what's going on, the scruffy Guardians is irreverent in a way that can bring the first Star Wars to mind.”

Turan’s description is right on, capturing the sense of fun that Gunn was determined to convey, from the free use of 1980s tunes that Chris Pratt’s character Peter Quill was obsessed with to the clever quips delivered by the likes of Bradley Cooper’s Rocket Raccoon and the clueless-if-truthful reactions of Dave Bautista’s Drax the Destroyer.

Guardians of the Galaxy proved so popular, in fact, that Marvel Studios couldn’t resist hiring Gunn to produce two sequels, Vol. 2 in 2017 and now Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3. As usually happens, though, what at first seemed fresh and funny gradually turned more serious—as if being serious was the only way such a franchise would be taken, well, seriously.

So, following the exploits of Vol. 2, which had Quill (aka Star-Lord) discovering his origins, the Guardians became part of the Avengers team (in 2018’s Avengers: Infinity War) in an effort to thwart the alien warlord Thanos’ plan to destroy half of all life in the universe. In the struggle, Thanos sacrificed Gamora—Quill’s lover, played by Zoe Saldana—to achieve his ends.

Thanos, of course, received his comeuppance in 2019’s The Avengers: Endgame. But as Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 opens, we see the team—now living in their headquarters of Knowhere, spelled "K-N-O-W-H-E-R-E" for reasons that relate to the various complex gestations of the Marvel Comics universe—and employed here by Gunn as just another example of his clever sense of wordplay.

And by living, I don’t mean to say that the Guardians are thriving. Certainly Quill isn’t. All these years later he’s still grieving the loss of Gamora. Suddenly, though, things get even worse when the powerful entity Adam Warlock (played by Will Poulter) attacks, intent on returning Rocket to his creator, the High Evolutionary (played by the Nigerian-British actor Chukwudi Iwuji).

Though Warlock’s efforts are thwarted, Rocket is seriously wounded. And the only way to save him is to retrieve a code from Orgocorp, the maniacal High Evolutionary’s bioengineering company that keeps records of all his experiments—said experiments, Rocket being one, intended to create what the High Evolutionary considers a perfect race of beings.

So, two plotlines then open. In one, the Guardians travel to Orgocorp and eventually are forced to face Rocket’s creator. In the other, a comatose Rocket relives his past through dreams—a past so troubled that he has kept it buried from even his closest friends.

If none of this feels like a laugh-fest, you would be correct. We’ve come a long way from the 1960s when the television version of Batman was nothing but a joke, through Tim Burton’s 1989 darker revamping of the character starring Michael Keaton to the new century’s remaking of everything Avengers-related. For while the jokes still remain, they feel less and less germane to the larger storyline—which is mostly a classic study of good versus evil.

So, amid all the state-of-the-art computer graphics, the various secondary characters suddenly getting more exposure (Cosmo the talking Space Dog, for instance) and the obligatory violence, the jokes come few and far between. They seem far less important than the numerous references to other plotlines for potential future projects (one perhaps involving even Sylvester Stallone).

All of this will delight some Marvel fans, especially those familiar with the Marvel Universe Wiki, while leaving others wanting. As for the rest of us, well, the explosions are loud and the music is cool. When it comes to the superhero movies of today, especially the sequels, that’s about as good as it gets.

For Spokane Public Radio, I’m Dan Webster.

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Movies 101 host Dan Webster writes about movies and more for Spokane7.com.

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