I anticipated, at the very least, larky malarkey but I got a lot more from “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3.” James Gunn’s third-and-a-half outing with these characters and performers is largely a joyous sweetheart of a movie; even better is that it plays like a film that can stand on its own, not a nubbin-worn Marvel serial. What’s it about? Raccoons and kindness. And gleefully bad gags.
Gunn’s sheer competence soars alongside his customary monumental goofiness. The writer-director fires off a generous flotilla of 1970s midnight movie-style salvos more than innocuous Marvel green-screen renderings.
“Guardians Vol 3” is busy with all sorts of stuff, but it doesn’t feel, for instance, like Taika Waititi’s haphazard aspartame bunkum. And familiarity breeds calculus: the filmmakers know, for the most part, how to use the goodwill earned by the actors in the past near-decade, even the now-massive grown Groot.
Plus Chris Pratt’s doofus is somehow aware of what he’s at the center of: “I’m not some fricking infinity stone scientist,” he says, but an “earthly dude.” He shuts down a malefic dominator of worlds who razes planets he creates then finds wanting: “I don’t need another speech by a renegade wackjob.”
The interplanetary and planetary special effects don’t resemble screensavers, and the looks of the film include a passage of craftily connived allusions to 1960s science-fiction high style and high street fashions of the same time, not limited to spotless high-heeled white go-go boots, Mary Quant-style shift dresses and savage bob haircuts for a couple of characters. It’s design that pleases the eye in its moment but that would also make a luscious coffee-table book drawing not only from exemplars like “Barbarella,” but offhanded touches of style like Middle East-Northern Africa design. This “Guardians” also does well with pacing, including longer takes within its widescreen frames, especially to play off good, dumb gags. Plus, the fights and scenes with multiple characters have spatial coherence. You can tell what’s going on, such as in a bravura battle royale to a Beastie Boys standard.
That mixtape largesse on that pocketed Zune ranges across a wider range of sources, including Bruce Springsteen and the Replacements. Does Gunn allow himself the joy of signing and tearing off each check personally—”Do I make this out to ‘Flaming Lips’ or ‘The Flaming Lips’?” Then you realize it’s just the zapping of cash transfers between corporate entities. Gunn professes to have paid a million dollars of Disney’s cash to use David Bowie’s “Moonage Daydream.”
That carnivalesque jukebox is an elemental part of the bindlestiff of stuff thrown casually over the shoulder: there’s highly calibrated foolishness and even the weightiest weight is matched by kind words, or in the case of the animals who hope to escape terrible humans, hope, elemental yet hardly sentimental hope: “Someday I’m going to build beautiful machines!” And “My beloved Rocket, the sky has been yours all along, you just never knew it.”
Big stuff lights the sky and screen now and again: There are allusions to the ark, to Michelangelo’s “Creation of Adam” as God’s fingertip touches Adam’s, but Gunn is also capable of a good share of PG-13 swears, including Marvel’s first “fuck.”
Dim, durable Drax, too, gets to share his heart: “All you care about is intelligence and competence!”
Warning: the dreamers in Rocket’s origin story face intense animal cruelty. “The Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 3” is in theaters.
Ray Pride is Newcity’s film critic and a contributing editor to Filmmaker magazine.
His multimedia history of Chicago “Ghost Signs” will be published soon. Previews of the project are on Twitter and on Instagram as Ghost Signs Chicago. More photography on Instagram.