Crying over a talking raccoon.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 is nothing short of a moviemaking miracle, a genuinely unique, refreshing, and original experience that reminds us all of the power of movies and what they can accomplish. When the Guardians of the Galaxy made their big-screen debut in 2014, many fans were understandably side-eyeing the whole project. How can a movie about a space scavenger, a couple of bounty hunters, and a talking tree and raccoon win over our hearts? Nearly 10 years later, they’ve done just that, and the best part is they didn’t need to be high-flying superheroes or super soldiers to do so. All they had to do was be themselves.
By the time they suit up together for Vol. 3, the Guardians of the Galaxy have already been through a lot. Peter Quill’s (Chris Pratt) true love Gamora (Zoe Saldana) was killed, Nebula (Karen Gillan) saw her whole family disintegrate and brought back to life in the span of five years, and Kraglin (Sean Gunn) is still trying to master the arrow after his mentor and father figure Yondu (Michael Rooker) died. Groot (Vin Diesel) is now fully regrown and still saying “I am Groot” over and over again. Oh, and there’s a telepathic space dog named Cosmo (Maria Bakalova) somehow in the mix too, and she is a VERY good dog.
As the Guardians still try to figure out what their place is in the galaxy after saving it from the likes of Thanos in Avengers: Endgame, a figure from the Guardians’ past emerges: the High Evolutionary (Chukwudi Iwuji), a cruel and psychotic scientist who engineered Rocket (Bradley Cooper) from when he was a baby raccoon. With the High Evolutionary desperate to reclaim his former experiment, the Guardians must team up for one last ride across the galaxy to defend one of their own.
Written and directed by James Gunn, who directed the previous Guardians of the Galaxy movies as well as The Suicide Squad, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 is the living embodiment of the Guardians — a wholly unique, wacky, oddball, and heartfelt movie that perfectly captures who they are and why they matter so much to each other. This is a movie that works on every level, from the action to the drama to the comedy all the way down to the soundtrack. So much happens all at once so perfectly that I barely even know where to start.
I’ll start with the heart of this movie: Rocket. Like all of the Guardians movies, Rocket is the emotional center of this movie, a quippy, snarky, and prickly little cretin who portrays a rough and tough exterior on the outside, but on the inside is quite vulnerable, sensitive, traumatized, and broken. This is the first of the Guardians movies to delve into Rocket’s origins, and they are… horrifying.
I saw this movie with my mom and my wife, and all three of us were crying consistently at every one of Rocket’s flashback sequences. That’s because they deal with a real-world issue, which is animal cruelty. In the first scene where Rocket is dropped into the pen with the rest of the High Evolutionary’s experiments, they quietly comfort him, reassure him, and ask him to say something. “It hurts” are the first words he speaks, quivering and shaking in his corner of the cage. And for most of the movie, that’s the Rocket we see: not the confident, cocky, trigger-happy, gun-loving lunatic, but the lost, scared, and afraid little animal who doesn’t know where he is and wants to be free from the cruel world he’s living in.
Many families will understandably be put off by this film’s darker tone and subject matter, especially in a Guardians Of The Galaxy movie. I for one love it because it shows how it’s relevant to all of us. We all feel like experiments in a broken world, desperately clinging to the small things we can control and finding happiness in the little moments that bring us joy. That’s exactly the spot where Rocket finds himself in this movie, and it humanizes him so, so effectively. The previous two Guardians movies told us what happened to Rocket, but we never really understood what that felt like. Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 3 puts everything into perspective, and its impact is more powerful than an Infinity Stone.
But just because this is a darker, more serious Guardians movie doesn’t mean it doesn’t have the traditional blockbuster fun that the franchise is known for. When we’re not following Rocket’s journey through trauma and recovery, we’re following the Guardians on their quest to protect him, and they’re as infectious and lovable as they’ve always been. Their banter and dialogue with each other is hilarious, the one-liners are clever and quick-witted, and their performances are the most passionate and emotional as they’ve ever been. I love how my favorite moments in this movie aren’t fast-paced CGI action scenes, but rather smaller character-building moments where the Guardians share their emotions, experiences, and fears and help each other work through them together. In one scene in particular, a furious Gamora yells at Nebula during an argument, telling her that they’re family. “So are they,” Nebula responds definitively.
Speaking of performances, I need to give special praise to Chukwudi Iwuji, who portrays the High Evolutionary with Shakespearean-level commitment. Generally speaking, Marvel villains can be a mixed bag. When done right, they can be as compelling and intimidating as Thanos or Killmonger. When done poorly, they’re run-of-the-mill bad guys whose only purpose is to fight our heroes like Ant-Man’s Yellowjacket or The Eternals’ Deviants. The High Evolutionary is neither of those. He is a downright despicable character, a twisted and sadistic madman who takes great pleasure in inflicting pain and torture upon his poor creations. The fact that he feels justified in his actions makes him a bigger monster than anyone else in the movie, and Chukwudi plays him with such conviction that it makes it hard to see him as anything but a vile, sinister, wicked, wretched, unhinged megalomaniac. I’m not quite sure if Marvel has put out a better villain than Chukwudi. The closest I can think of is Willem Dafoe’s Green Goblin, and even then, I’m not quite sure that counts.
There are several other fantastic elements in this movie that are not to be ignored. Kraglin has an excellent arc that brings honor to his relationship with Yondu. Cosmo the space dog is one of the most lovable support characters out of the whole MCU and brings an adorable quality we haven’t seen since Dug in Pixar’s Up. And Will Poulter gives an excellent performance as a new character named Adam Warlock, who is the closest thing to a traditional superhero we get in this movie. His part is small, but he too has a wonderful arc and serves a vital purpose in the story, just like all of the characters do.
When it comes to great superhero movies, the biggest challenge many filmmakers face is making sure their film does justice to the characters’ legacies, whether you’re talking about Iron Man, Hulk, Captain America, Black Panther, or Spider-Man. But James Gunn’s accomplishment with The Guardians Of The Galaxy stands apart. Many years ago, he introduced a whole crew of galactic misfits that nobody expected anything from. Yet, his biggest accomplishment isn’t bringing a talking raccoon and his ragtag group of friends to the big screen — it’s how much we end up caring about all of them.
Or, to put it another way, “We are Groot.”