“It was your story all along.”
Not long after the Guardians of the Galaxy acquire Knowhere from The Collector to set up as a headquarters, Adam Warlock (Will Poulter) appears out of the black to attack Rocket (voice of Bradley Cooper). Rocket is mortally wounded but can’t be healed due to a fail-safe placed there by The High Evolutionary (Chukwudi Iwuji), an unstable intergalactic geneticist who imagines himself a god. Not quite over the return of an alternative Gamora (Zoe Saldaña) who never experienced their prior relationship, Star-Lord (Chris Pratt) leads the Guardians on a desperate mission to save their friend or die trying. Barely hanging onto life, Rocket relives memories of his torture and the events leading up to his escape, and what the angry little inventor has endured in his lifetime is far worse than any of his friends could imagine.
Writer/director James Gunn completes his Guardians trilogy (following his long-sought “Holiday Special” on Disney +) with the story he’s wanted to tell from the beginning: the saga of Rocket Raccoon. The seeds were being dropped all along, from the prison scene in Guardians Vol. 1 when Rocket’s shame over his implants is noticed by Star-Lord to bonding with Yondu (Michael Rooker) in Guardians Vol. 2 over self-destructive tendencies. Other threads to resolve besides Star-Lord pining for Gamora include Drax (Dave Bautista) being overprotective of Mantis (Pom Klementieff), Kraglin (Sean Gunn) still learning to control Yondu’s arrow, and Adam Warlock being less of an ultimate Sovereign weapon than his mother Ayesha (Elizabeth Debicki) would have liked. There’s no doubt the Guardians will once again save the galaxy, but can they also save themselves?
While the zany bickering and mandatory adventuring are ever-present, Guardians 3 is the darkest of the trilogy, unafraid to wander into the middle ground between The Island of Doctor Moreau and the Holocaust. The MCU has introduced megalomaniac villains before, but The High Evolutionary is instantly unlikable, irredeemable, and needs putting down; viewers won’t get much in a way of a backstory and will be perfectly fine with that. There are almost two complete films here, expertly stitched together to keep the Guardians on their toes and audiences entertained enough from looking away. Gunn is committed to viewers understanding the horrors of being unmade and remade, inflicting a level of emotion and empathy few Marvel movies have achieved and earning every bit of crass humor as necessary moments to catch your breath.
There’s a level of authenticity in Guardians 3 readily apparent, specifically in terms of practical sets and makeup. Viewers of the “Holiday Special” will recognize the commons of Knowhere, from the high balconies to the street-level vendors. Over twenty thousand practical appliances were reportedly used on a thousand actors (including a few old favorite characters), unlike too many parts of Quantumania where almost everything seemed to be VFX. In spite of the House of Mouse machinery cranked to eleven and maximizing marketing on all cylinders, the humanizing moments of these characters are what has always worked for Guardians, whether its a grunt between sisters, leaning into dormant parental instincts, or one human’s love of music.
An early May start means Guardians 3 won’t have an open run of cinemas to build its box-office take the way The Super Mario Bros. Movie has, and the marketplace is about to get overrun with hopeful blockbusters looking for their share of audience dollars. While Gunn is done for now with the MCU — famously accepting to co-run the DCEU for Warner Bros. with Peter Safran — several actors have chosen to move on as well. Fortunately, mid and end-credit scenes suggest what fans can expect going forward: the galaxy will always need its Guardians.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, strong language, suggestive/drug references, thematic elements, and taking exception to being called a bad dog.
Four skull recommendation out of four