Whoa! That’s a lot of movie, and a lot to unpack. While James Gunn’s MCU swan song Guardians of the Galaxy vol.3 works well as an allegory of the Third Reich, exploring the atrocities of that nightmarish ideology and movement, the superhero movie is greatly lacking in entertainment value.
Still reeling from the loss of Gamora, Peter Quill must rally his team to defend the universe and protect one of their own. If the mission is not completely successful, it could possibly lead to the end of the Guardians as we know them.
The story is emotionally manipulative and many scenes and dialogue are inappropriate for young audiences. (As a reminder, kids are NOT little adults; kids are lacking in critical thinking skills). Furthermore, the movie suffers from squeezing too much plot into a single movie–the film overstays its welcome by about 30–45-minutes.
Clearly, James Gunn loves theses characters, and I can tell that he is a writer that genuinely cares (a trait I spotlight in my screenwriting classes), but I feel he forgot that a large segment of his MCU audience is comprised of kids, whether he accepts or likes that fact or not, and should have considered that dynamic when crafting this story. A storytelling element that is common amongst the MCU, especially within the Guardians of the Galaxy previous two movies, is levity. There is too little levity to counterbalance the dark elements of the movie. As such, the movie is incredibly heavy and sucks all the joy out of going to the cinema to attend a superhero movie. The movie is not completely without redeeming qualities or uplifting moments, but they are vastly outweighed by the somber tone of the movie as a whole.
Even though the film’s incredibly dark visual elements and themes are tastefully handled for older teen and adult audiences, as whole, this MCU installment is not appropriate for kids. If the movie’s marketing made it a point that this Guardians of the Galaxy movie was not for kids, I wouldn’t have a big a problem with content of the movie, but it’s the fact that kids were not dissuaded in any way from attending this, insofar as I am aware. When Deadpool first released, there was an entire tongue in cheek campaign to remind parents and siblings that this Marvel movie was not for kids–tastefully handled. Perhaps the studio dropped the f-bomb and increased the crass language and violence as a means to warm kids up to Deadpool 3, but that is a completely unhealthy approach as is disrespectful of what it means to be a child and young.
Looking to another franchise with which a whole generation of kids grew up, the Harry Potter movies became more mature as the seminole audience grew. Which is important, as life IS complicated and success, grief, loss, death, and disappointment are part of the human experience. However, the movies never became overly violent, increased crass language, or went to too dark a place (without counterbalancing it with levity and more lighthearted moments). Guardians of the Galaxy vol.3 is representative of the direction Marvel and Disney are going, and it’s not good nor healthy. If the MCU wants to create more movies that are adult in nature, then do that–but don’t take what has appealed to kids and decide to increase the more mature content. As I understand it, there is a whole universe of Marvel characters, and I am confident that a sub-franchise can be started that is geared towards mature audiences from the onset. And when kids get older, they can choose to eventually experience the Marvel movies that were, at one time, inappropriate for them.
What I found most fascinating about the movie is the commentary on the Third Reich (and for those that don’t remember, that is the ideology turned movement that was manifested by the Nazi party). Without going into great detail, one of the common practices at Nazi-controlled concentration camps was to further medical science by experimenting on the prisoners. Unfortunately, some of what we know today, some of the advancements that we use for healing today, came out of those nightmarish compounds. The idea was to learn from the experiments in order to increase the life experience of the master race perfect–correct that which was flawed. Moreover, the idea of a master society was carried into the idea of creating a utopia (something the Nazis had in common with the Soviets). But of course, utopia is an impossibility, and the pursuit of it often comes at the cost of life, individuality, and freedom.
The big bad villain in this movie known as the High Evolutionary is representation of and analogous with Hitler. At the core of the High Evolutionary’s goals and ambitions is the same ideology that drove and inspired Hitler. Furthermore, his speeches that feel they could have been written for a modern day Hitler. I appreciate what James Gunn did here, because it is monstrously challenging to craft a story around such heavy subject matter. Analogy and extended metaphor are outstanding tools to use in storytelling to provide commentary on a topic without talking about it. The ideology that inspired Hitler didn’t go away with him and his party, but it’s still out there, and must be kept at bay. Fictional storytelling can be used as a means to explore an observation of reality that may otherwise be uncomfortable.
If only as much thought had been put into the sets and effects of the movie. Like the perennial house guest that has worn out their welcome but continues to return anyway, prolific CGI continues to be employed instead of showcasing the craftsmanship of practical effects, real sets, and models. I’ve said it before, and I will say it again, CGI can never replace the way real light bounces off real objects into the camera lens. When I look at a monstrous creation of CGI, I am never left with the feeling that I witnessed the hand of an artist—brilliant engineer, yes–artist, no. Furthermore, not only is the CGI screaming in your face, but the movie’s music and sound effects mixes are also deafening. The kid seated next to me had his hands over his ears for a good portion of the movie. There is nothing subtle or nuanced about this movie.
Guardians of the Galaxy vol.3 represents James Gunn’s MCU swan song as he is now working on DCEU (or whatever it’s going to be called) movies. And he certainly left an indelible mark upon the MCU because few other directors (if any) could have worked the magic he did with the Guardians, a one-time obscure Marvel comic series. While I have many reservations of taking your kids to see this movie, it is one that should inspire thoughtful conversations about the parallels the villain(s) shares with the Third Reich.
Guardians of the Galaxy review | Guardians of the Galaxy vol.2 review
Ryan teaches Film Studies and Screenwriting at the University of Tampa and is a member of the Critics Association of Central Florida and Indie Film Critics of America. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog! Interested in Ryan making a guest appearance on your podcast or contributing to your website? Send him a DM on Twitter. If you’re ever in Tampa or Orlando, feel free to catch a movie with him.