Release Date(s)2023 (August 1, 2023)
Studio(s)Marvel Studios (Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment)
- Film/Program Grade: B+
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: A
- Extras Grade: B-
The Guardians of the Galaxy series has become such a cornerstone of the Marvel Cinematic Universe that it’s easy to forget that the supposedly risk-averse Marvel Studios was actually taking a bit of a chance when they released the first film in 2014. Prior to that point, they had largely avoided the cosmic side of the books while generally keeping things earthbound and frankly, a little less weird. Thor had taken some baby steps in terms of introducing mainstream audiences to their broader universe(s), but Guardians made a quantum leap in that regard—especially since it opted to feature the rebooted team from the 2008 run of the comics. There was no guarantee that casual moviegoers were going to accept a group of heroes that prominently featured a talking raccoon and a walking tree. Yet Guardians ended up not just being accepted in popular culture, but actively embraced, thanks in no small part to the way that co-writer/director James Gunn had crafted the interrelationships between an appealing group of characters. (Perfect casting certainly didn’t hurt, either.)
Much has been made of the dysfunctional family dynamic at the core of the Guardians of the Galaxy, but it’s worth pointing out that it’s hardly an unknown element in the rest of the MCU. It’s a major aspect in the Avengers series, as well as in many of the solo films such as Thor and Black Widow. Yet there’s no denying that something feels different about Guardians of the Galaxy, not necessarily due to any specific familial details as much as it’s a simple matter of execution. The Guardians team is clearly near and dear to James Gunn’s heart, and that shows in the finished product. His own love for these characters has proven infectious to audiences far and wide. In many respects, Gunn’s trilogy is driven by the journey of Peter Quill/Star Lord (even though the director feels the deepest personal connection to Rocket). The first film focused on Quill pining for his lost mother while building a new surrogate family around himself. Vol. 2 had him trying to reconnect with his lost father while letting his new family get pulled in different directions (and entirely failing to realize that his real daddy had been right by his side the whole time). Vol. 3 finally lets Quill put his old family behind him while focusing on the needs of his new one—although once he’s taken care of them, he recognizes that he needs to take time for himself to find some personal closure.
Vol. 3 opens where the Disney+ Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special left off, with everyone trying to build a new home on the planetoid of Knowhere. Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), Gamora Vol. 2 (Zoe Saldaña), Drax (Dave Bautista), Rocket (Bradley Cooper), Groot (Vin Diesel), Nebula (Karen Gillian), and Mantis (Pom Klementieff) have been joined by a rag-tag band of followers including Kraglin (Sean Gunn) and the telekinetic dog Cosmo (Maria Bakalova). As an aside, for anyone who thinks that gendered alterations to source material are a sign of the imminent collapse of Western civilization, yes, Cosmo was male in the comic books, but all of the actual dogs in the Soviet space program were female. Gunn simply corrected a historical error on Marvel’s part. Crisis averted.
Anyway, the tenuous peace is shattered by the appearance of a strangely infantile Adam Warlock (Will Poulter), who’s searching for Rocket on behalf of the High Evolutionary (Chukwudi Iwuji). Rocket is mortally wounded in the ensuing mass destruction, but Nebula discovers that he’s got a kill switch inside of him that prevents any life-saving treatment. It turns out that Rocket was created by the High Evolutionary, who wants the not-raccoon back in order to uncover the secrets of creating a better form of life. That means that Quill and the rest of the Guardians will have to keep Rocket out of the High Evolutionary’s clutches while figuring out a way to save his life—a quest that will paradoxically send them right into the heart of the Evolutionary’s domain.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 is refreshingly low-stakes compared to many other entries in the MCU. Instead of reluctantly saving the entire universe, the Guardians are just trying to figure out how to save the life of a single family member. That’s an appropriate way to conclude the saga, although Marvel still has its cake and eats it too by featuring a climactic large-scale faceoff between two planetoids. Yet even this battle fits in thematically, since everyone on Knowhere has realized that the High Evolutionary’s creations deserve to have families of their own. Most importantly, Gunn’s story structure provided a suitable justification to finally delve into Rocket’s backstory via some heartrending flashbacks, and that brings everything full circle back to the events of the first film.
Young Rocket had already been a part of a surrogate family, only to have it viciously torn away from him by a genuinely bad father. That’s why he’s been so reluctant to become a part of Quill’s family; those who have been hurt often run away from the chance to be hurt again. It’s also the one thing that he shares in common with Quill: they’ve both had serious daddy issues, and it affects the way that they interact with everyone else. Once Rocket has truly accepted his place in this new family, and Quill has realized that he’s become something of a surrogate father as well, the whole clan can finally move forward. Like all families, things change, and everyone will have new roles from now on. Rocket finally comes to accept who (and what) he really is. In Quill’s case, he realizes that there comes a time when you finally have to let go, give the car keys to your kids, and step back to have some time for yourself.
Cinematographer Henry Braham captured Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 digitally in Redcode RAW format at 6K resolution using Red Komodo cameras with Leitz and Angénieux Optimo lenses. IMAX sequences were captured at 8K resolution using Red Monstro IMAX, Red Ranger Monstro IMAX, and Red V Raptor IMAX cameras with Leitz and Angénieux Optimo lenses. Post-production work was completed as a 4K Digital Intermediate, with different framing depending on the venue. Digital IMAX presentations maintained a constant 1.90:1 aspect ratio, while most standard theatres played it at constant 2.39:1. A few others switched back and forth between 1.85:1 for the IMAX scenes and letterboxed 2.39:1 for everything else, and it’s this variable framing that’s being offered here. Disney has generally reserved the full IMAX framing of Marvel titles for their Disney+ streaming service, and while that’s technically true in this case, it’s the first time that they’ve offered variable framing for the IMAX scenes on one of their physical media releases. (On the other hand, Dolby Vision is still missing in action here, which will be an even bigger bone of contention for some viewers.)
With all of that out of the way, this is a beautiful presentation of the film on a somewhat unambitious disc. It’s a tight encode on a BD-66, so the bitrate runs consistently low. Fortunately, there’s no film grain or added noise to challenge the algorithms, since Braham wasn’t trying to mimic the look of film, and the lack of a Dolby Vision layer helps from a real estate perspective. The image is still razor sharp and nicely detailed, even during the most CGI-intensive sequences. Marvel is well-known for pushing visual effects houses beyond their limits during post-production, but in this case the effects generally look smooth and polished. Rocket Raccoon in particular looks better than he has in any of the previous installments, which is quite appropriate given his centrality to the narrative.
The HDR10 grade really shines here, even without the dynamic tone mapping that Dolby Vision would have provided—although the impact of it may vary depending on the display being used. Viewed on a JVC projector with their excellent quality frame-by-fame tone mapping, the results are gorgeous. The Guardians of the Galaxy franchise has always been one of the most colorful corners of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and Gunn seems to have pulled out all the stops for his finale. That’s especially true of the infiltration of OrgoCorp, where the (poorly) color-coded suits worn by the Guardians are but a taste of the riotous hues on display once they get inside—even the shockingly pure whites in the background are striking. The image may be a bit darker overall compared to Blu-ray, but that’s to leave room for the full range of the highlights. Robust encode or not, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 looks spectacular in this rendition.
Primary audio is offered in an English Dolby Atmos mix (7.1 Dolby TrueHD compatible) that doesn’t suffer from any of the issues that have frequently plagued Disney disc releases in the past—in fact, it’s arguably their best Atmos track in ages. The overhead channels announce their presence right away, when Rocket’s voice comes directly out of the right front height speaker (you’ll have to watch the film for yourself to discover why). It’s a rare case of a single overhead channel being used to call attention to itself, and that’s just for starters. As with any Guardians of the Galaxy mix, this one is loud and in-your-face for most of the film, and few of the available channels get a chance to rest for very long. There’s also some potent low end, as well as plenty of dynamic impact during the action scenes. Even the overall volume level is improved compared to previous Disney Marvel releases, and while you’ll still need to nudge it up a bit, it’s not enough to take away from those dynamics.
Additional audio options include English Descriptive Audio, French 5.1 Dolby Digital, and both Spanish & Japanese 7.1 Dolby Digital Plus. Subtitle options include English SDH, French, and Spanish.
Disney’s 4K Ultra HD release of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 is a two-disc set that includes a Blu-ray with a 1080p copy of the film, as well as a Digital code on a paper insert tucked inside the case. They’ve once again branded it as a Cinematic Universe Edition (don’t get me started on that one) and have included a slipcover that duplicates the artwork on the insert. Despite the timid encode, there are no extras on the UHD, not even the commentary track. All of the extras are available on the Blu-ray only, in HD:
- Audio Commentary by James Gunn
- The Imperfect Perfect Family (11:08)
- Creating Rocket Raccoon (9:25)
- Gag Reel (5:59)
- Deleted Scenes:
- A Bit Much (:45)
- A Lending Hand (:23)
- Drax’s Analogies and Metaphors (1:47)
- The Perfect Society (1:14)
- The Search for 89P13 (:27)
- Annoyed Peter (:44)
- A Burning Escape (1:19)
- Knowhere After the Battle (1:16)
Gunn is certainly voluble, so his commentary tracks are usually energetic and dense with detail. This one is no exception, delving deeply into his thoughts about the story and the characters, as well as giving plenty of behind-the-scenes information. He says that he’s always had the most affinity for Rocket, so he’s been driving to the point of telling this particular story ever since the first film. To him, the culmination of the entire trilogy is the moment that Rocket confronts his past during the climax. Gunn clarifies that the young Groot in Vol. 2 and Vol. 3 definitely isn’t a reincarnation of the Groot from the first film, which has long been a debated point among fans, and explains that the characters who understand what he’s saying can only do so due to having a telepathic connection with those who really know him—which explains a moment that happens near the end of the film. Gunn also identifies all of the actors in roles both large and small, including the voice actors for various digital characters, and points out some Easter eggs (as well as a few things that aren’t Easter eggs). He closes by saying that it’s not easy to talk for that long while sitting by yourself, but he definitely makes it sound easy.
The Imperfect Perfect Family is a basic overview of the Guardians team and the (high) evolution of the series, featuring interviews with Chris Pratt, Karen Gillian, Dave Bautista, Zoe Saldaña, Pom Klementieff, Sean Gunn, James Gunn, and Kevin Feige. James Gunn offers his own thoughts about structure of the trilogy, asserting that the first story is about mother, the second about father, and the third about the self. He’s grateful that Marvel trusted him to be himself with these films. Creating Rocket Raccoon features many of the same interviewees, talking about Rocket’s arc and the importance of Sean Gunn’s physical performance on set as the character. (James Gunn reaffirms that Rocket is really his own proxy, so that makes his brother’s presence even more interesting.) The Gag Reel is a pretty standard collection of people cracking up and mugging for the camera, which is neither as cute nor as funny as everyone seems to think that it is. Finally, the Deleted Scenes are a mix of brief omissions and extensions, most of them inessential. There’s an alternate version of Quill’s escape near the end of the film and a very different resolution for The High Evolutionary, but the best moment is a line from Mantis that played at a very inopportune moment. (It would have undercut the flow of the scene, so it’s understandable why it was cut, but at least it’s preserved here.)
Like Vol. 2 before it, Vol. 3 is a bit overstuffed, with too much going on for its own good. It would have benefitted from some tighter story construction and editing, but on the other hand, Gunn clearly needed to take some time of his own in order to be able to let go of his extended family, and most audiences will probably agree. Regardless of any excesses, it’s ultimately an emotionally satisfying conclusion for all of the characters, giving everyone the closure that they deserve. That’s not bad for a film featuring a talking raccoon and a walking tree.
- Stephen Bjork