Trilogies are tough.
Even Francis Ford Coppola stumbled when he made The Godfather Part III. We all hoped that he could pull off the perfect movie trifecta—a cinematic trilogy for the ages.
It didn’t happen.
And so, it is with Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol 3. It was a franchise with a blockbuster opening film that grabbed everyone’s attention and earned a boatload of money at the box office. It had everything: a great story, great ensemble cast, visionary director, dazzling special effects and that brilliant playlist of a soundtrack that brought smiles to everyone’s faces.
Audiences loved Guardians of the Galaxy. There was the inevitable sequel which was a shade less successful than the original, setting the stage for the long-awaited, much anticipated third and final chapter.
Audiences were pumped, the director and cast were reunited and everything seemed set for sure-fire mega-success.
But then the rumors started trickling out during the production indicating that something was amiss. Criticism arose about the story, the character development and the overall creative direction of the final installment.
Before it even hit the preview screens, there were complaints about the dark turn that the storyline had reportedly taken, incorporating excessive elements of animal cruelty and torture.
Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 3 is essentially the backstory of Rocket, the loveable, foul-mouthed space raccoon voice by Bradley Cooper. He’s a cranky crook of a critter capable of piloting a spacecraft and blazing away his enemies with the best of them.
You could argue that each of the original characters was loveable in their own right, but there was something about Rocket that begged the question of how Rocket became Rocket. It was a backstory ripe with possibilities.
As it turns out, Rocket’s backstory is a shockingly dark, depressing tale of nightmarish, traumatic childhood experiences that not only formed his persona but also reflected the very darkest side of humanity.
Time and time again, movies have turned to the rise of Hitler and the Nazi movement as the lowest depths of unspeakable evil and horror in modern history. In an ugly way, it’s hard to top, and Guardians: Vol 3 wastes no time delving into the past and drawing connections to that chapter of world events.
There is The High Evolutionary (played to terrifying perfection by Chukwudi Iwuji), a megalomaniac of a villain who shares much in common with Adolph Hitler. His obsession to create a master race of both animals and humans knows no limits or restraints.
We discover that his twisted plan includes the torturing and killing of baby animals and young children in his quest for perfection and absolute power.
Guardians: Vol 3 returns repeatedly to dungeon cages of adorably cute helpless animals as they shudder in the dark upon hearing the ominous, approaching footsteps of the scientists who regularly subject them to cruel, painful surgical experiments.
The movie effectively captures the look of sheer terror in their eyes in close-up, as they tremble in fear. To make matters worse, the abuse doesn’t stop with torture and disfigurement. After being heartbreakingly mistreated, they are eventually exterminated.
In true Nazi style, a few are even incinerated alive when they are deemed to be failed experimental attempts.
Young children are also victimized in the film, though the scenes of abuse are mostly implied and not shown.
Make no mistake, Guardians: Vol. 3 is a disturbing movie, but let’s face it, we live in an age when movie torture sells movie tickets. It’s a sad commentary. And it raises some serious questions about the parameters of movie enertainment.
Aside from the gratuitous, heart-wrenching pain and suffering depicted in the movie, Guardians: Vol 3 doesn’t have much to offer.
The plot centers around Rocket’s buddies scrambling to save his life, a mission that sets them upon an action packed adventure bursting with digital effects.
What’s interesting is the odd throw-back, campy look and feel. reminiscent of movies like Barbarella (1968) or any of the Austin Powers films. Yes, some of this is played for comedy, but some of the staging and style look jarringly out of place compared to Guardians 1 and 2.
The term “Superhero Fatigue” has popped up in reviews and comments about Guardians: Vol 3. In my estimation, that observation would also apply to pretty much the entire superhero genre which has slowly spiraled down into a tired, repetitious, predictable formula.
Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol 3 seems to be content to just be an early 2023 summer movie, money-making hit. The gang of beloved characters is back (including a character who we thought we might never see again), the quota of crowd-pleasing action sequences and special effects are back, and the fan-favorite,
series-defining playlist of killer popular songs is back in the soundtrack. At a glance, it would seem that all the boxes were checked, which raises the question of how none of it really came together.
To paraphrase William Faulkner, it’s a lot of sound and fury up there on the big IMAX screen -- signifying nothing.
Photos copyright Marvel 2023