Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 Review

The highly anticipated climax to Marvel Studios’ fan-favourite Guardians of the Galaxy franchise has been a long time coming.

Sporting a rather eyebrow-raising six-year gap from 2017’s previous Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 has ironically arrived so fashionably late that the trilogy’s writer-director, James Gunn has since been hired as co-CEO and creative shepherd of the competing, newly-minted DC Studios! Gunn’s new post as a DC creative head directly came about after Disney rather publicly fired him from Marvel’s cosmic threequel in 2018 as well (hence why Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 has taken so long to release), thus allowing Gunn to deliver one of DC’s best modern movies with 2021’s The Suicide Squad, along with its subsequent, and equally superb HBO Max series spin-off, Peacemaker. That’s a strange blessing, and more fortunate still is that Disney ultimately saw the light and reinstated Gunn on Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 in the end, allowing Gunn to wrap up his celebrated sci-fi superhero trilogy on his own terms, before fully defecting to the Distinguished Competition.

If you’re a more casual Marvel Cinematic Universe follower, the ten-year-and-change canonical gap between the events of the previous two Guardians of the Galaxy movies and its trilogy capper can be equally daunting from a plot perspective. Last year’s Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special on Disney+ can help to ease non-fans into the Guardians’ highly altered new status quo, but Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 nonetheless picks up with the team in a very different place than they were in 2014; Star-Lord is an apathetic drunk, former foe, Nebula has become one of the Guardians’ most responsible members, Kraglin has become a full-time custodian of Knowhere alongside Cosmo the Spacedog, now rescued from the Collector, Mantis has settled into her role as Star-Lord’s half-sister, Drax, Rocket and Groot all suffer from a lack of purpose, and Gamora is dead, with her alternate-timeline variant from Avengers: Endgame now having become a high-ranking member of Star-Lord’s former crew, the Ravagers. If you’re immediately jumping from Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 into Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, these huge character shifts are enough to make you think that this threequel is practically a soft reboot!

After a rather wobbly start to the MCU’s Phase Five with this past February’s uneven Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania however, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 also feels like it rights the ship again. It’s a go-for-broke James Gunn production built around a potent combo of sardonic mischief and unflinching disillusionment. In fact, some of the more intense scenes in this movie might be a little taxing for children, particularly given the astonishing amount of animal cruelty on display, with Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 strangely standing as one of the most unapologetically ‘grown up’ movies in the MCU catalogue to date! If you can handle its darker moments however, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 is also an easy improvement over its somewhat contested predecessor, skillfully wrapping up one of the MCU’s best dark horse trilogies on a boldly definitive high note.


Not since Avengers: Endgame has an MCU blockbuster so proudly marketed itself as a franchise conclusion, at least at the time. Not even 2021’s landmark Spider-Man: No Way Home was so direct with its ambitions as an MCU trilogy capper, instead merely setting the stage for a new era with Tom Holland’s same lovable Web-Slinger. With Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 however, James Gunn and co. are quite blunt with the edict that this is it for this familiar superhero team, though obviously not for the Guardians of the Galaxy brand as a whole, which I’m certain Disney and Marvel will eventually find a way to reboot and relaunch both within and without the MCU.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 spotlights Rocket’s trauma most of all.”

To that end, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 doesn’t hold back as a swan song for many of its personalities, in effect putting them through some brutal moments of trauma and anguish. Sure, there are still plenty of moments of spacefaring adventure and barbed banter between the Guardians, but Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 nonetheless feels different right from its first frame; It’s sadder, more overwhelming, and sometimes feels downright hopeless. It can be tough to watch sometimes, but that’s also what pulls you in, as Gunn’s colourful intergalactic odyssey suddenly pulls back a sobering layer of emotional tolls on its longstanding lead heroes.

On this note, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 spotlights Rocket’s trauma most of all. Before now, Rocket’s MCU backstory has been largely shrouded in mystery, despite him being one of the only Guardians to survive the Blip during the prior two Avengers movies, alongside Nebula. Not even the fallout from the Blip could ultimately dig into where Rocket came from, or how he came to be who he is. Finally though, that question is answered in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, after a chance encounter leaves Rocket with no choice but to face his old creator, and greatest adversary.

Gunn has described Rocket as the, “Secret protagonist” of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, but even if that does indeed feel true, Rocket’s origins merely serve as the inciting incident in a plot that eventually pushes every Guardian to their limits. The resulting gauntlet contains some hard-to-watch scenes, as I mentioned (particularly for animal lovers!), but that incredible emotional weight that’s innate to a trilogy capper is only further enhanced by how courageously Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 pushes its characters into uncharted territory. That’s why the ultimate conclusion of its journey manages to feel especially satisfying; Because it’s a bittersweet, hard-won resolution that leaves its survivors thriving under genuine character growth. This means that regardless of whether or not enduring Guardians ever show up in the MCU again later, they’re still left in a place where you know they’ve achieved something greater than where they started, and that’s exactly what a great trilogy capper should deliver.


Despite the wide distance in time between Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 and its 2017 predecessor, the post-credits tease from the previous Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 still needed to be paid off; Specifically, the introduction of high-powered cosmic hero, Adam Warlock into the MCU. Adam is portrayed by Will Poulter in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, serving as the main fixer for the returning Sovereign, the race of golden people that served as secondary antagonists in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, under the leadership of Elizabeth Debicki’s Ayesha, who returns to menace the Guardians again in this threequel.

Gunn has been foreshadowing Adam Warlock in the MCU since 2014’s original Guardians of the Galaxy movie, and yet despite that, Adam feels frustratingly underused in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3. Poulter, despite initially feeling like a strange casting choice for a character that’s supposed to be famously muscular and highly attractive, essentially existing as a perfected model of the male form in Marvel Comics lore (no offense to Poulter, but he’s not quite that…), rises to the occasion with a surprisingly fun and heartfelt performance, delivering an MCU take on Adam that leans hard into his young age and naivete. This makes Poulter’s Adam remarkably ‘cute’, though not quite in the way that some viewers may initially expect, if they’re familiar with Adam’s comic book origins.

If anything however, Poulter’s highly entertaining Adam Warlock performance merely draws more attention to the character feeling like a vestigial tail within the final story template of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3; A relic of a creative plan from before Gunn was initially fired by Disney, and before Disney had regained the movie rights to all of the desired cosmic-scale Marvel characters that Gunn formerly wasn’t allowed to use, thanks to the Disney-Fox merger. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3’s ultimate villain was himself gleefully taken from Fox’s freshly-reclaimed X-Men movie license, after all, with Gunn now being forced to shoehorn his half-formed Adam Warlock ideas into a storyline where it doesn’t really feel like Adam is all that necessary for the plot to proceed, even considering his role as a fixer for the Sovereign.

On the bright side, at least Adam Warlock and the Sovereign help to compensate for a more psychological villain that can’t so easily engage the Guardians in direct combat. Despite his limited significance in the narrative, Adam still functions well as a Thor-level cosmic anti-hero that naturally lends himself to a lot of fast, destructive action scenes. Likewise, while Ayesha is reduced to an underling in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, at least the Guardians’ enduring rivalry with the Sovereign isn’t brought to a totally unrewarding conclusion here, even if it also deserved a lot more impact in the storytelling, considering Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2’s narrative promises.


When it comes to villains, how can one top a fanatical Accuser and a Living Planet? Well, you do it with a god, or at least, a metaphorical one. Enter the High Evolutionary.

Played by Chukwudi Iwuji, reuniting with James Gunn after their previous collaboration in Peacemaker, the High Evolutionary is a high-level Marvel villain who serves as the master of a man-made paradise called Counter-Earth. Obsessed with perfection, and revered as a bona fide deity in many corners of the galaxy, the High Evolutionary turns out to be the one responsible for Rocket’s creation, a fact that Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3’s marketing has more or less spelled out already. Everything that the High Evolutionary touches appears to be perfect throughout the galaxy’s cosmic circles as well, sporting a glossy, almost oversaturated sheen that practically assaults viewers with its own perceived flawlessness, to the point where that itself becomes a flaw in the appeal.

This clever irony ties into why the High Evolutionary is ultimately depicted as an especially complex, ruthless new villain for the MCU; He deems anything with less than perfect potential to be expendable. This makes the High Evolutionary a natural and appropriate choice as a climactic villain for the Guardians of the Galaxy trilogy as a whole, considering that this entire trilogy is built around the idea of found families and embracing weirdness. Those timeless core themes are no doubt why this franchise has struck such a chord with people from all walks of life, despite the IP it’s based on originally being very obscure, and largely unknown outside of the Marvel Comics fandom before 2014.

“Nonetheless, at his core, Iwuji’s High Evolutionary is an emotionally stunted man-child who refuses to accept that anything in the universe could ever be bigger than him or his ideas.”

Iwuji’s High Evolutionary performance is also another highlight throughout Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, since Iwuji doesn’t play the character flat or emotionally sterile, as you might initially expect him to. Instead, the MCU’s High Evolutionary is another character that’s presented in an amusingly childish manner, being prone to tantrums and spiteful displays of arrogance that further emphasize what the High Evolutionary actually is at his core; A covert narcissist who fools the uninitiated with his curated displays of cosmic and personal perfection, Nonetheless, at his core, Iwuji’s High Evolutionary is an emotionally stunted man-child who refuses to accept that anything in the universe could ever be bigger than him or his ideas.

That’s not to say that the High Evolutionary isn’t dangerous. His almost supernatural cosmic technology, his seemingly limitless manpower and his horrific cyborg animal goons still make him more than a worthy threat to the Guardians, or any MCU hero for that matter. It’s through this movie’s examination of false maturity, narcissism and toxic personalities however that the Guardians face an enemy that expertly allows them to complete their personal journeys in the MCU. The High Evolutionary is not just an all-powerful villain with a near-unstoppable amount of resources, after all, but also the ultimate reflection of everything that the Guardians struggle to cast off and overcome as a band of struggling, broken misfits, thus allowing them to complete their evolutions as independent heroes, and not just a found family.


Surprisingly, one of the biggest gambles that Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 makes, even considering its extensive changes to the franchise’s lead characters and narrative style, is swapping out its composer. After scoring the soundtrack for the first two Guardians of the Galaxy movies, Tyler Bates is out for Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, instead being replaced by James Gunn’s familiar The Suicide Squad composer, John Murphy. That’s a very ambitious shift, considering that so much of the MCU’s Guardians of the Galaxy franchise has been built around its music.

Murphy’s composition style immediately stands out from Bates’ soundtracks as well, though this may be a point of contention for people that especially enjoyed the soundtracks from the first two Guardians of the Galaxy movies. There is, of course, another ‘Awesome Mix’ of licensed songs that punctuate key scenes throughout Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, though it feels like a bit more of a mixed bag this time around, with less fun, catchy songs, and more gloomy, introspective songs, albeit still not without a few bangers during the action scenes especially.

As for the rest of this movie’s score, it’s quite a different beast, as expected. Even Bates’ original Guardians of the Galaxy theme only makes a small handful of appearances within the music of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, with most of this threequel’s soundtrack instead forging its own direction, through a bit of a darker tone. Again, that won’t be to every fan’s tastes, and where Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3’s soundtrack will land for you is probably going to be a matter of significant debate among Marvel fans that enjoy music. For better or worse, this altered soundtrack styling is nonetheless true to a trilogy capper that injects more darkness and discomfort into a climactic spacefaring adventure, though it is a little tough not to miss the especially ‘poppy’ feel of the first two Guardians of the Galaxy movies’ soundtracks.


(NOTE: The ‘spoiler’ section, when clicked, discusses whether Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 has any post-credits scenes, whether it features any additional Marvel characters of note, and whether it sets up any future projects in the MCU.)

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 contains a mid-credits scene and a post-credits scene, though surprisingly, neither of them foreshadow a specific MCU project that’s currently known to be in development. The mid-credits scene teases a potential future direction for the MCU’s Guardians of the Galaxy at least, with Rocket assuming leadership of a new Guardians team, one that includes Adam Warlock, Cosmo the Spacedog, Kraglin, Groot, new pet character, Blurp, and Phyla, one of the alien children rescued from the High Evolutionary. This would seem to indicate that the Guardians will continue to have a background presence in the MCU, but for now, where or if they may show up again is currently unknown.

The post-credits scene meanwhile depicts Star-Lord, now simply living on Earth as Peter Quill, reuniting with his grandfather. The two discuss mowing the lawn over a newspaper that contains a story about Kevin Bacon recounting being kidnapped by aliens, a cute reference to the recent Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special. Beyond a few jokes though, there’s nothing else of note depicted in this scene, though it does end with a text prompt that confirms Star-Lord will return in the MCU at some point. It would appear for now then that Peter/Star-Lord will simply live a quiet life on Earth for the time being, though of all the current Guardians characters, he’s also the only one that’s explicitly confirmed to return in a future MCU project, despite the surprising twist that none of the Guardians or their friends were ultimately killed off during Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, heavily playing against audience expectations!

As for whether the High Evolutionary’s major Marvel Comics connection to the X-Men is teased in any way within Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, well, I’ll be blunt; It isn’t. Anyone expecting even a whisper of a reference to Marvel’s iconic mutant team, or mutants in general, will be disappointed. There’s some potential for the MCU to explore this connection in the future however, as the High Evolutionary is not explicitly shown to have died in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, despite the Guardians abandoning him in his exploding ship during the climax. Even so, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 maintains the same narrative stance as its two predecessors, and doesn’t really feature any direct tie-ins to the wider MCU canon, outside of referencing the Blip, and the original Gamora’s death during the events of 2018’s Avengers: Infinity War.


Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 may feel a little too raw and twisted for some, as it pretty much intentionally peels back the mischievous vibrancy of its two predecessors. Writer-director, James Gunn even channels just a smidge of his Troma-era origins through some of the shocking displays of animal cruelty and mass destruction on display in this trilogy capper, sending off his fan-favourite MCU franchise with a more bittersweet flavour than one would probably expect. Anyone considering bringing young children should definitely be wary of that, as Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3’s uncompromising violence and hard-hitting story beats make it a production that’s ill-suited to most children, and feels made specifically for emotionally mature adults, despite maintaining the MCU’s usual PG-13 rating.

If you can negotiate that noticeable change in tone however, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 nonetheless succeeds as both a strong conclusion to the MCU’s Guardians of the Galaxy trilogy, and a triumphant rounding off of the trilogy’s themes surrounding found families and reluctant heroism. Gunn’s real-world defection to DC Studios only makes this emotional ending feel all the more impactful, as Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 presents a firmly definitive resolution for all of its lead characters’ arcs, as well as the end of an era for the MCU’s cosmic storylines, which Gunn’s creativity almost single-handedly got off the ground.

It’s anyone’s guess as to where, or even if what remains of the Guardians of the Galaxy will show up again during the MCU’s future, but even if this movie was the last we see of this franchise’s characters, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 feels like a fitting, if slightly hair-raising ending that ties everything up in a satisfying way. The MCU’s cosmic arm certainly won’t rest for long regardless, considering that this November’s The Marvels is already taking us back to space for a new cosmic conflict, not to mention next month’s Disney+ miniseries, Secret Invasion will bring its own new alien threat to the MCU even sooner. Still, while there’s always a new extra-terrestrial danger lurking in the MCU’s cosmos, we can always pour one out for the original squad of spacefaring eccentrics that showed us the way to the stars.

Thanks for the memories, James.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 Review
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 can be surprisingly brutal at times, especially for children and animal lovers, but it's nonetheless an emotional, satisfying send-off for one of the MCU's best dark horse trilogies.
Reader Rating0 Votes
The Good Stuff
Satisfying, conclusive storyline that resolves the heroes' arcs effectively
Maintains humour and fun, despite the darker tone
Iwuji's High Evolutionary is a brutal, memorable villain
The Not-so-good Stuff
Animal cruelty and violence may be hard to stomach, especially for children
Adam Warlock is underutilized