Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3

4K ULTRA HD BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Street Date 8/1/23;
Disney/Marvel;
Sci-Fi;
Box Office $358.95 million;
$29.99 DVD, $34.99 Blu-ray, $39.99 UHD BD;
Rated ‘PG-13’ for intense sequences of violence and action, strong language, suggestive/drug references and thematic elements.
Stars Chris Pratt, Zoë Saldaña, Dave Bautista, Karen Gillan, Pom Klementieff, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Sean Gunn, Chukwudi Iwuji, Will Poulter, Maria Bakalova, Linda Cardellini, Nathan Fillion, Sylvester Stallone.

The release of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 represents the end of an era for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. With writer-director James Gunn jumping ship to lead rival DC’s production slate, the MCU loses one of its strongest creative voices, and the results are becoming evident.

As the MCU flounders trying to regain the narrative momentum it had prior to Avengers: Endgame, Gunn’s concluding chapter to his “Guardians” trilogy caps off what is probably Marvel’s last reliable sub-franchise in terms of consistent quality. (Losing a key player off the bench should make Disney all-the-more desperate to secure a deal with Sony for more Tom Holland “Spider-Man” movies, but time will tell).

Picking up after last year’s Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special, Gunn’s latest tale of the ragtag group of offbeat interstellar adventurers delves into the backstory of the wisecracking talking raccoon Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper). Rocket turns out to be the result of the cruel experiments of the High Evolutionary (Chukwudi Iwuji), a megalomaniacal geneticist cursed with delusions of godhood who dreams of creating perfect societies. As Rocket was his only creation to ever develop the gift of technological inventiveness, the Evolutionary wants to study him to learn how to use that spark of insight to create the perfect life form.

However, when Rocket is critically injured by the efforts of the Evolutionary’s minions to capture him, the Guardians’ only hope to save him is to steal the Evolutionary’s proprietary technology, setting up a cataclysmic final battle that could destroy the entire team.

The premise provides not only for some emotional character dynamics, but allows Gunn to indulge his penchants for inventive but unconventional visual designs. The film is equal parts bright and colorful and gooey and grotesque, providing for a splendid 4K experience. And of course there are plenty of opportunities for laughs despite the heavy subject matter.

The “Guardians” movies are also known for their iconic needle-drop soundtracks of classic 1970s rock, and while the third film isn’t as memorable in that regard, it still offers a great array of tunes, this time expanding the selection into the 2000s.

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Gunn in the bonus materials delves into how each film in the trilogy relates to the theme of family. With Chris Pratt’s Star-Lord’s mother and father weighing heavily on the events of the first two films as the Guardians come together to form their own ersatz family unit, the third film deals with each coming to terms with their own sense of self — particularly Rocket, whose story is told in flashbacks as he lies dying on a medical bed.

The highlight of the extras is the full-length commentary with Gunn, who provides a lot of insight into the story and characters, and how much it meant for him to be able to close out a franchise that has defined his life for a decade.

Fans will also be interested in checking out the deleted scenes. There are eight included on the Blu-ray, each running about a minute. They include a number of interesting character interactions, including what might be Kraglin’s funniest line (as delivered by James’ brother Sean Gunn) in the series. Also included is the cameo appearance by Pete Davidson that was ultimately cut for stalling the momentum of the final act (the commentary details how Davidson ended up being given a CGI alien head after his dialogue was cut).

There’s also a fun five-minute gag reel, and two behind-the-scenes featurettes that contextualize the making of the film within the trilogy as a whole. The nine-and-a-half-minute “Creating Rocket Raccoon” looks at the process of bringing the character to life, while the 11-minute “The Imperfect, Perfect Family” focuses on the legacy of all the characters.

All told, the behind-the-scenes footage is a bit sparse considering what was being released online during the film’s theatrical run. And it would have been nice if the studio found a way to include the Holiday Special as part of the package, given how much it sets up this film. But maybe it will find its way onto disc eventually as part of a “Guardians” boxed set, since keeping it relegated to a Disney+ exclusive just accentuates the hole that exists in fans’ physical media collections.

The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special

STREAMING REVIEW:

Disney+;
Sci-Fi Comedy;
Not rated.
Stars Chris Pratt, Dave Bautista, Pom Klementieff, Karen Gillan, Sean Gunn, Kevin Bacon, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Maria Bakalova, Michael Rooker, The Old 97’s.

Checking in on the Guardians of the Galaxy’s adventures within the Marvel Cinematic Universe is usually a fun time, and their new Disney+ holiday special is no exception.

Written and directed by the Guardians guru himself, James Gunn, The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special avoids the cheesy pitfalls of most Christmastime larks, while still managing to inject a dose of sweet sentimentality thanks to Gunn’s offbeat sense of humor and a story that stays true to the characters.

It also serves as a bit of a preview for next year’s Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, as it was made as a side project during production of the film. It quickly gets the audience up to speed on what the Guardians have been up to since their last appearance in Thor: Love and Thunder, as well as introduces Maria Bakalova as the voice of Cosmo the Spacedog, heretofore a background character but sure to be an audience favorite.

Just because the Guardians are the stars doesn’t mean the special isn’t packed with Christmas cheer. The focus is primarily on Mantis and Drax (Pom Klementieff and Dave Bautista), who decide that their leader, Peter “Star-Lord” Quill (Chris Pratt) needs some cheering up, as he is overwhelmed with work since the Guardians took over administration of Knowhere, the space colony inside a giant alien head as seen in the first “GOTG” film. Their plan is to travel to Earth to kidnap Kevin Bacon, one of Quill’s childhood idols, whom they believe is a true hero and not just a movie actor. Drax and Mantis are a good pairing within the group, and their misadventures on Earth as they search for Kevin Bacon (who plays himself) are hysterical.

Gunn has delivered one of the MCU’s better forays into television, complete with a hilarious new Christmas song (imagine the holiday as interpreted by weird aliens), and a soundtrack infused with solid holiday tunes.

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The Suicide Squad

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Street Date 10/26/21;
Warner;
Action;
Box Office $55.8 million;
$34.98 DVD, $39.98 Blu-ray, $49.98 UHD BD;
Rated ‘R’ for strong violence and gore, language throughout, some sexual references, drug use and brief graphic nudity.
Stars Idris Elba, Margot Robbie, John Cena, Daniela Melchior, David Dastmalchian, Joel Kinnaman, Viola Davis, Alice Braga, Peter Capaldi, Taika Waititi, Jai Courtney, Nathan Fillion, Flula Borg, Pete Davidson, Sean Gunn, Michael Rooker, Jennifer Holland, Sylvester Stallone, Dee Bradley Baker.

Writer-director James Gunn’s subversive follow-up to 2016’s Suicide Squad resets the franchise by embracing the absurdity inherent in comic book movies.

Like its predecessor, The Suicide Squad is based on the DC Comics series about a team of supervillains who are blackmailed into conducting black ops for the American government through the threat of an explosive chip in their head. The 2016 edition, while a financial success, was panned by critics and audiences after it was infamously re-edited by a trailer company into essentially a series of vignettes set to popular music, trying to capture some of the magic that made Guardians of the Galaxy work so well.

So, for the sequel, DC just brought in Gunn, writer-director of Marvel’s “Guardians of the Galaxy” movies. The hire came shortly after Gunn was fired by Marvel over some questionable tweets in his past, only to be re-hired for Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, which he’s working on now.

The Suicide Squad is just another example of why he’s such a good fit for these kinds of movies: a keen understanding of the source material, and a willingness to poke fun at it without undermining the credibility of the story. Here, Gunn assembles a team of some of the silliest comic book concepts ever created, gives their characters emotional depth, and makes it all work.

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This is one of the bloodiest comic book movies ever made, but also one of the funniest, with Gunn expertly finding the balance between the two extremes, beginning with an absolutely insane opening sequence that will leave audiences without a clue of what to expect from this movie.

The story involves the team heading to a tropical island to dispose of a top secret project before the new military dictatorship can expose U.S. involvement in its development. Idris Elba grounds the mission as Bloodsport, a weapons expert. He has a bit of a rivalry with the team’s other weapons expert, Peacemaker (John Cena), as they try to outdo each other running up the movie’s body count. With his earnest penchant for killing anything that stands in his way to achieve “peace,” Peacemaker would seem to be Gunn’s metaphor for American foreign policy (though Gunn found the character appealing enough to write an eight-episode TV spinoff about him, set to debut on HBO Max in 2022).

Other standouts on the team include King Shark, literally a walking, talking man-eating shark voiced by Sylvester Stallone; Ratcatcher II (Daniela Melchior), who uses her deceased father’s technology to control the minds of rats; Polka-Dot Man (David Dastmalchian), who was experimented on by his mother with an interdimensional virus that gives him the power to expel dots of deadly energy; and Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), one of the few holdovers from the first movie, along with team commander Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman), and Amanda Waller (Viola Davis), the government agent who will detonate their heads if they disobey her.

Like the first movie, the sequel has plenty of songs, but thanks to Gunn, they are well integrated into the structure of the film, rather than seemingly played at random.

The Suicide Squad is fun, vibrant and visually distinctive like a graphic novel come to life, though its hard-‘R’ sensibilities may not appeal to everybody.

The Blu-ray edition of The Suicide Squad comes loaded with hours of insightful bonus material about the making of the film, including a good solo commentary with Gunn.

There are also about 17 minutes of deleted scenes that don’t amount to much, so it’s easy to see why they were cut.

Also included are three fun retro trailers done in the style of 1960s war movies, 1970s horror movies and 1980s buddy cop movies.

The regular Blu-ray Disc of the film contains all the extras. The 4K disc includes just the commentary and one featurette, a seven-minute breakdown of Harley Quinn’s violent escape sequence.

Originally published as a streaming review Aug. 9, 2021.