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‘Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3’ (review)

We’ve always known that our favorite cybernetically-enhanced and smart-mouthed raccoon had a serious chip on his shoulder from his upbringing.

Audiences will finally have the chance to delve into the tragic circumstances that Rocket has fiercely protected for so long as the final chapter of this iteration of Guardians of the Galaxy moves the focus away from Peter Quill to delve into the backstory of Rocket.

Director and writer James Gunn has made sure that this emotional but lively sendoff keeps the laughs but turns up the heartache as we come to the end of the playlist.

Quill (Chris Pratt) is still reeling from the loss of original Gamora (Zoe Saldana), but his grief is quickly set aside when Adam Warlock (Will Poulter) gravely injures Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper) during an attempted abduction at the bequest of Rocket’s creator, the genius but unhinged High Evolutionary (Chukwudi Iwuji).

As the team races to find a way around Rocket’s internal proprietary hardware and save their rapidly declining friend, each Guardian must assess their place and future in this ragtag chosen family.

A significant amount of the movie is flashbacks to Rocket’s origin story, and the editing can be a bit chaotic. From the moment a disembodied hand reaches into a filthy cage to grab one unlucky raccoon from the terrified litter, we see that Rocket has been through a fair amount of physical and emotional turmoil from Day One. As his enhancements start to increase his intelligence, Rocket also grows emotionally through his friendships with fellow experimentees.

Marvel CGI rarely achieves the endearing warmth of other Disney CGI, instead focusing on charmless but impressive landscapes and fight scenes (which Vol. 3 is still full of).

In a welcome change, however, the renderings of raccoons, dogs, otters, and more are surprisingly delightful.

There is a decent blend of realism and artistic license to make these novel creations rather than hyper-realistic Lion King-style recreations designed to fool the audience. Baby Rocket and his friends are easy to empathize with as they make the best of what they have until the day they reach the “new world” that The High Evolutionary endlessly dangles in front of them as justification for his scientific cruelty. The arc of Rocket’s innocence to his current jaded state is likely missing a few scenes (there are a few plot devices that are mentioned but oddly not followed up on) but is overall satisfying.

Addressing how childhood trauma affects their team dynamics is a throughline for most of the Guardians, so we are staying in a certain realm of familiar territory. Group dynamics necessitate someone to sift through these complicated emotions, and Mantis (Pom Klementieff) has a seriously expanded and upgraded role that allows her to stand up for herself and push everyone further than they would normally be comfortable with. Channeling Deanna Troi with better fighting skills, Klementieff easily flows from touching to funny to frankly badass, stealing more than one shared scene.

The best foil to her highly emotional outbursts will always be the straightforward Drax (Dave Bautista). Bautista has a comic delivery that rarely misses and his quotables are second only to Rocket. Drax is given a bit more range than usual, getting to show a softer side that reminds us of his favorite role outside of Destroyer: family man.

Granted, that softer side comes after some serious brawls but it is there nonetheless. Nebula (Karen Gillan) and alternate Gamora are far thornier than anything else, but it works for them. There are glimpses of Gamora coming around to the idea of what made her other incarnation Quill’s love interest, but it never strays into an all-too-easy rekindled romance trope. Given that he has carried so much of the series, it was refreshing to see supporting characters take such a lead in the wrap-up of this arc, leaving Chris Pratt to do little more than shepherd the story forward while nursing his unrequited love.

As we start closing out teams from the most recent MCU phase, there are several tasks to handle. Setting up future iterations, playing into the next Avengers movie, and tying a nice bow are just a few items that Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 handles thoughtfully. Gunn rarely trades sentimentality for entertainment, instead deftly balancing the two with a care that Marvel will be hard-pressed to duplicate going forward.

The Guardians have always moved to their own quirky beat and this final film sees the whole ensemble expertly owning the floor for their final dance.

*  *  *  *  *
Produced by Kevin Feige
Written and Directed by James Gunn
Based on Guardians of the Galaxy by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning
Starring Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldaña, Dave Bautista, Karen Gillan, Pom Klementieff,
Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Sean Gunn, Chukwudi Iwuji,
Will Poulter, Elizabeth Debicki, Maria Bakalova, Sylvester Stallone


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