'Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 3' shows Rocket's backstory
James Gunn delivers what is designed to be the final film in his "Guardians of the Galaxy" trilogy. But is Marvel willing to end a successful part of its franchise?
James Gunn brought a great sense of irreverence and a B-movie energy to the Marvel Cinematic Universe with the first "Guardians of the Galaxy" film in 2014. The ragtag crew of intergalactic criminals that bonded into a family we grew to love, was the exact right mix of humor, action, sentiment, and crazy fun. It was a film that you looked forward to watching again and again because you just loved hanging out with Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper), Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), and Drax (Dave Bautista).
"Volume 2" was not quite as fun or well-put together a package but we did get to enjoy welcoming Nebula (Karen Gillan) and Mantis (Pom Klementieff) into the fold, and hanging out with our friends again.
Now "Volume 3" arrives to close out the saga and it does help if you watched the Guardians Christmas special. I was surprised by how sad, emotional, and dark this third film was. And most of those feelings were not about how the film ended but rather about the backstory we get about Rocket. Earlier films hinted at how he had been experimented and operated on. But now we get to see what he went through.
Since Rocket is paws down my favorite Marvel screen character. With an angry personality that reminds me on my late dog, whom I called my Adorable Evil. I have to confess I was reduced to tears on more than one occasion as we saw the torment Rocket went through at the hands of The High Evolutionary (Chukwudi Iwuji giving us a villain we truly love to hate). Baby Rocket bonding with the other cruelly experimented on animals adds genuine heartbreak that I wasn't quite prepared for. And Gunn milks those sad animal eyes for every drop of pathos he can.
Rocket and his lab cell mates prove how effective CGI can be in creating characters that we wholly believe in and care for. Rocket along with the recent "Planet of the Apes" films show how CGI characters can be done right.
The film, also scripted by Gunn, brings the trilogy to a mostly satisfying end. Characters have evolved and have found some nice closure. I think I have most enjoyed Nebula's arc and here she gets to show some unexpected compassion and emotion. I guess I just like the angriest characters the best.
But I dislike how so many of these comic book superhero films end with so much destruction and CGI that we lose sight of the characters we love. Do planets and civilizations always have to be destroyed? Do characters need to have such excessive powers that every encounters results in near death? I love the CGI that gives us Rocket but I am far less enamored with the CGI that exists only for spectacle. It just grows tiresome when the amount of destruction is so enormous that we can no longer care.
I like Gunn as a writer-director. He came up through the ranks of Troma Entertainment and often gives its founder Lloyd Kaufman a cameo in his films (including "Volume 3"). But working his way up from there I think gave his a certain irreverence and rebel spirit that serves him well here. He also gave me two of my favorite DC projects, "The Suicide Squad" from 2021 and the "Peacemaker" series. Both gave DC the humor it so desperately needed. This will be Gunn's last "Guardians" since he has moved over to DC. I still think the first "Guardians" is the best of the three in part because it just felt so fresh.
"Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 3" reminds me of how I felt at the end of "Empire Strikes Back." I felt like my friends are no longer together in the way they were earlier and it doesn't feel entirely resolved. I liked "Volume 3" but I'm not sure I will revisit it the way I eagerly sit down to watch "Volume 1." I'm still kind of hoping for the Rocket and Thor film though.