Film Review: “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3” — Payback’s a Bitch
By Michael Marano
Armed with a quarter of a billion dollars from the people who chucked him to the MAGA wolves, director James Gunn has created one of the most mean-spirited and nasty movies to have come down the pike since Straw Dogs.
We’ve all heard them: contract-breaker albums. Records made by great musicians that are awful, written and recorded in a hurry, just so the musical artist can be free of their legal obligations and move on to greener creative pastures. A lot of them are live albums, or Greatest Hits re-recorded and remixed. Iggy Pop’s TV Eye Live comes to mind, which was pulled off of soundboard tapes. In one sitting, Van Morrison improvised 31 songs out of a contractually obligated 36 to escape Ilene Berns’ Bang Records. (Yes, the songs all suck, but my fave might the one he belched out about Ringworm.) When Prince feuded with Warner Brothers and went by that symbol, or “The Artist Formerly Known as Prince,” he gave Warners Chaos and Disorder, a bunch of dusty basement tapes.
James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 is extraordinary, because for the first time, somebody has taken (stolen?) 250 million dollars from a corporate giant to do what Van Morrison did with an out-of-tune acoustic guitar and a couple of hours of studio time. The venom Gunn expresses in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 is astonishing and wonderful to behold as an act of spleen, and horrid to behold as a film.
How many Disney movies can you think of start with adorable critters being vivisected?
A little backstory… in 2018, Disney fired Gunn from Guardians Vol. 3 because a cadre of right-wing pundits, mad at Gunn for taking potshots at Trump, collected Gunn’s old (and frankly, gross) Tweets and drummed up an extra special batch of righteous indignation and outrage. Warner Brothers immediately tapped Gunn for their DC comics adaptation of The Suicide Squad. Then the cast of Guardians Vol 3 threatened to quit unless Gunn was re-hired, which he was, but only after he finished The Suicide Squad and got slated to take over running all of Warner’s DC comics adaptations.
Armed with a quarter of a billion dollars from the people who chucked him to the MAGA wolves, Gunn has created one of the most mean-spirited and nasty movies to have come down the pike since Straw Dogs. It’s a Molotov cocktail tossed over his shoulder into the Disney offices as he heads to run the DC movie mill.
As somebody raised on the Sex Pistols and Anarcho-Punk, I admire Gunn’s pique.
As someone who loves movies and storytelling, I want my two and a half hours back.
Gunn’s ire is uncomfortable, at times. There’s violence in this movie, not comic book action, but the kind that borders on the sadistic. And it stops the movie dead. There are long bouts of exposition and characters psychoanalyzing each other that (I think) are bad on purpose, given how well Gunn handled these kinds of scenes before.
And, in terms of plot, Vol. 3 is a remake of Vol. 2.
In Vol. 2, Star-Lord confronts his Father, who turns out to be a God-like psychopath who created Star-Lord essentially as a bio-weapon to further his ego-maniacal dreams of intergalactic conquest. In Vol. 3, Rocket Raccoon confronts his (metaphorical) Father, who turns out to be a God-like psychopath who created Rocket essentially as a bio-weapon to further his ego-maniacal dreams of intergalactic conquest.
In Vol. 2, this premise was organic, a natural progression of where Star-Lord should head as a character. Here, it’s forced… a reduction of Rocket to a McGuffin for the first three quarters of the movie.
Gunn had previously taken liberties with established Marvel mythology, to the betterment of his plots. Here, he’s taking liberties specifically to make the gas in that aforementioned Molotov more combustible. These liberties seem intended to piss-off the stunted, fanboy man-babies with unresolved mommy issues who are going to bellow and roar online about Gunn’s making the demi-god-like character Adam Warlock into a stunted man-baby with unresolved mommy issues. But like most everything else in the movie, Gunn’s spite is admirable but his storytelling ain’t. Changing Ego the Living Planet into a smooth-talking Kurt Russell served the plot of Vol. 2. Man-babying Adam Warlock deadens Vol. 3. He’s merely a loose cannon, added to instigate plot points and to resolve others, a device through which Gunn can cheat as a storyteller.
And speaking of narrative cheating, the Guardians supposedly abide by a code of not killing people yet they often exterminate, as the plot necessitates it, everybody in a room Dalek-style. It’s head-spinning that, after they’ve killed scores of minions, they spare the main villain, who commits genocide on a whim, because doing so would violate their ethics. (For that matter, it’s disorienting when Gamora yells, “What kind of maniac destroys an entire civilization?!” when her dad, Thanos, did just that, often several times before lunch.)
One of the most famous examples of a musician creating a contract-breaking work was when Frank Zappa, in dispute with Warner Brothers and his manager Herb Cohen, played all four-sides of a test pressing of his album Läther on KROQ FM and encouraged listeners to bootleg it. It was a puckish, rouge-like act of defiance that let his fans in on the joke, and on the (illegal) fun of his joust with Warners. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 is an act of defiance that’s not only aimed at Disney, but Gunn’s fans. In the future, a mini-series about the making of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 might be a hoot, sort of like The Offer, the mini-series about the making of The Godfather. But Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 itself is a slog, too unpleasant to be worth even a fan’s or a non-fan’s time.
Novelist, critic and writing instructor Michael Marano grew up reading about a totally different line-up of the Guardians of the Galaxy team than the one popularized in the movies. In his heart of hearts, that’s the only legit line-up of the team.
Tagged: Chris Pratt, Disney, Guaridans of the Galaxy Vol 3, James Gunn, Maga
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