The Guardians of the Galaxy were the goofballs of the Marvel Cinematic Universe before “everyone” wanted to be the goofballs of the MCU. The first film from 2014 pulled off the unlikely feat of introducing five new, disparate, uniquely funny heroes and making fans care about all of them. The original lineup was human Peter “Star-Lord” Quill (Chris Pratt), the anthropomorphic Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper), living tree Groot (Vin Diesel), green assassin Gamora (Zoe Saldaña), and blue powerhouse Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista). Since then, the team has taken on Quill’s half-sister Mantis (Pom Klementieff), Gamora’s adoptive sister Nebula (Karen Gillen), displaced pirate Kraglin (Sean Gunn), and even Soviet space dog Cosmo (Maria Bakalova). They also lost Gamora at the hands of her own adoptive father Thanos, but a past version of the character traveled through time, so she’s still around, but doesn’t remember being part of the team, nor does she want to be.
The new adventure kicks off when Rocket is attacked by Adam Warlock (Will Poulter), the newly-created “son” of the vindictive High Priestess Ayesha (Elizabeth Debicki) of the Sovereign race, who wants revenge on Rocket for stealing from her back in “Vol. 2.” And Adam just goes right on the attack, driving the small target through a wall at first sight. It’s a nice change of pace from recent MCU outings where the villain tries to introduce themselves dramatically and the hero makes fun of them (looking at you, M.O.D.A.K.). Rocket can’t be healed without information about his artificial biology, so Star-Lord leads a mission to his furry friend’s planet of origin to steal his records. Gamora, now a space pirate, comes along, but only because she’s promised a fee. Star-Lord knows the mission is about helping Rocket, but he can’t help but get distracted by the possibility that spending time with Gamora will make her fall in love with him again. She’s not receptive to the idea.
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Rocket, meanwhile, is forced to confront his traumatic past through a series of coma dreams. He started off as a normal, non-talking raccoon, but was given a series of painful technological upgrades by the High Evolutionary (Chukwudi Iwuji) as part of an effort to create a sort of master race. He was best friends with his fellow tortured test subjects, otter Lylla (Linda Cardellini), walrus Teefs (Asim Chaudhry), and rabbit Floor (Michaela Hoover). The team made a pact to stay together, and we haven’t seen these other characters before, so… don’t get too attached to them in these flashbacks. Ah, but how can you not? That High Evolutionary is as sick and cruel as he is megalomaniacal. He’s the kind of heel I want to see kept alive in the MCU just so he can be punished more down the line.
The Rocket scenes and later ones with the High Evolutionary’s exploits are true tear-jerkers, but the tone, as always, is mostly humorous. I got some good laughs out of Mantis expressing shock at how long humans live, Star-Lord failing to sweet-talk a receptionist, and Drax negotiating the number of people he can kill on the mission. It all adds up to a highly entertaining first two-thirds. Then I started feeling the length of the movie: the jokes got less funny, the characters and their individual storylines got too crowded and confusing, and the movie certainly wasn’t retaining its appeal with its visually-mushy, commonplace-for-MCU action scenes. After a string of disappointments, the MCU has given us a decent outing with “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3,” but I’m still waiting for that special movie that reminds me of why it’s the biggest franchise in the (known) galaxy.
“Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3” is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, strong language (including the MCU’s first unbleeped F-bomb, which I think is wasted here), suggestive/drug references and thematic elements. Its running time is 150 minutes.
Robert R. Garver is a graduate of the Cinema Studies program at New York University. His weekly movie reviews have been published since 2006.