With James Gunn returning as writer and director for the third entry of the Guardians of the Galaxy series the trilogy is brought to a bookend conclusion. The MCU has floundered a bit since hitting its apogee in 2019 with the conclusion of the Infinity Wars saga and Guardians III marks a return to form. The pandemic disrupted the release cycle and a stream of hit and miss movies followed. The MCU leaned into TV content on Disney+ and has continued to steadily build its billion dollar brand.
Guardians III plays like a greatest hit record with the return of the entire gang and Gunn's retro needle drops. The story this time centers upon Rocket Raccoon, voiced by Bradley Cooper, who the Guardians must rally together to save. The strongest parts of the film deal with Rocket's backstory, recalling heavy going 70s/80s children's films like Watership Down, The Plague Dogs, and The Secret of NIMH. The '80s nostalgia, an area where Gunn is quite adept, goes into overdrive with references to Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and Return of the Jedi.
All the returning characters are familiar and welcome by this point: Chris Pratt leans into Quill hitting middle age, Zoe Saldana reprises Gamora (alternate version of the character), as usual Dave Bautista gets the best laughs as Drax, Karen Gillian and Pom Klemenntieff are back as Nebula and Mantis. Gunn's gift for witty banter and the chemistry of the cast keeps the film engaging.
At times one can sense Guardians III straining too please a bit too much. At 150 minutes the film goes for the big epic conclusion vibe, when a tighter, more contained story seemed like the better direction to go. Satisfying all the arcs starts to feel more like a burden in the final section.
Overall, a buoyant kick off to the 2023 summer movie season, Guardians III taps into all the best aspects of the MCU.