How can you resist a group of misfit superheroes described as “a bunch of A-holes”?
I can’t. And that’s largely why the first “Guardians of the Galaxy” ranks as my all-time favorite superhero movie. (It also ranked No. 1 of my favorite films of 2014 and No. 10 in my best films of the 2010s.)
Based on Marvel Comics characters, the Guardians are rebellious, and often they can be obnoxious knuckleheads. They are A-holes, but they’re our A-holes, and director/co-writer James Gunn makes us relish their bad attitudes, delight in their flaws and root for them.
The first film introduces us to the original lineup:
– Half-human, half-alien Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), the leader, a self-described “legendary outlaw” who calls himself Star-Lord (though nobody else does) and fancies himself a master planner when it comes to heists and other missions.
– Gamora (Zoe Saldana), a skilled, no-nonsense assassin/warrior, the one member who doesn’t come off as a goofball. Peter digs her.
– Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista), a powerful, muscular hulk who takes everything everyone says literally. Not super-bright.
– Rocket (voice of Bradley Cooper), my favorite Guardian, a gruff, irritable raccoon who’s a crook.
– Groot (voice of Vin Diesel), Rocket’s sidekick, a giant plant who can only say “I am Groot.”
Gunn returned with “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” (2017), and it is also entertaining, though, typical of sequels, it lacks the freshness of the original. The team also appears in a holiday special, a Thor movie and two Avengers films, including one in which – SPOILER ALERT – the original Gamora is killed.
Now Gunn is back at the helm in “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3” (PG-113, 150 minutes, in theaters), and he makes two mistakes.
1. It’s too long.
2. It’s too serious.
The film is almost a half-hour longer than the original “Guardians,” and for no good reason. It’s the same problem with so many superhero flicks, whether from the Marvel or D.C. universe: The effects-heavy action scenes go on and on (Zzzzz), when it’s really the characters, the humor and, if we’re lucky, the plot that keep things interesting.
The series has always had serious subplots – even the comically lunkheaded Drax has a tragic backstory. But by zeroing in on Rocket’s heartbreaking – and horrific – history, and the emotional suffering he feels as he deals with it, Gunn all but eliminates one of the most entertaining aspects of the Guardians: Rocket’s edgy smartassery. It does give the movie, and the character, the opportunity to show more depth and heart, and that’s admirable. But it comes at a cost.
By now, the group has gone through some changes. Quill, Rocket, Drax and Groot are still around. Gamora is replaced, in true comic-book fashion, by an alternative Gamora (still Saldana), who joins forces with the Guardians but doesn’t feel a part of them. Nebula (Karen Gillan), a former villain and, like her adoptive sister, Gamora, a trained assassin/warrior, is now a Guardian, along with Mantis (Pom Klementieff), an empath who’s Quill’s half-sister, and former space pirate Kraglin (Sean Gunn, James’ younger bro).
The group’s latest challenge involves clashing with the High Evolutionary (Chukwudi Iwuji), a power-mad scientist – Aren’t they all? – who ruthlessly works to create a better, alternative Earth, Counter-Earth, and the powerful supervillain Adam Warlock (Will Poulter). The details, as you might suspect, are complicated.
One big plus for “Vol. 3” is that Gunn ends it in a way that effectively wraps up the “Guardians” trilogy. If there are more spinoffs, so be it, but there’s definitely a sense of closure, at least for this chapter of the saga.
And, as usual for “Guardians” films, Gunn enhances the action with a “mixtape” of song hits, this time including Radiohead’s “Creep,” the Beastie Boys’ “No Sleep till Brooklyn” and Spacehog’s “In the Meantime.”
How can you go wrong with Spacehog?
Answer: You can’t. *** (out of four)
** Click here for Tim Miller’s previous movie columns for Cape Cod Wave **
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Tim Miller is co-president of the Boston Society of Film Critics. He teaches film and journalism at Cape Cod Community College in West Barnstable. You can contact Tim at [email protected] or follow him onTwitter @TimMillerCritic. Or you can ignore him completely.