Written and Directed by James Gunn
Starring Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldaña, Dave Bautista, Karen Gillian, Pom Klementieff, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Sean Gunn, Chukwudi Iwuji, Will Poulter, Elizabeth Debicki, Maria Bakalova, Sylvester Stallone, Linda Cardellini

The Guardians of the Galaxy series is a gift that keeps on giving to the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). There are moments of sentiment, complimented by sarcastic and whip smart characters who we have grown to love through four movies now. In the third proper Guardians film, we find the origins of Rocket (Cooper) the hard way and discover new characters good and not so good.

The story starts out in the floating head space city of Knowhere, where Adam Warlock (Poulter) attempts to capture Rocket. He does not succeed, and in the process Rocket is seriously injured. In an effort to save him, the Guardians, which now include Nebula (Gillian) recruit the help of Gamora (Saldaña), who is still not at all enamored with Starlord (Pratt). The effort brings them to a corporation responsible for creating Rocket.

Meanwhile, we see Rocket’s internal journey, from a tiny baby raccoon that was part of numerous experiments of The High Evolutionary (Iwuji). What happens in this backstory will be left for the viewer to discover. The process is an incredibly emotional one that sees Rocket with an anthropomorphic river otter who is caged along with other experiments, looking much like the Frankensteined toys in the original Toy Story.

Gunn has the unique ability to develop several characters at one time through myriad storylines. The result is a story that never ceases to entertain, even if we kind of get the feeling that we know how things will turn out. There are several characters brought into the fold for a team that seems to be ever growing.

The combination of Nebula, Drax (Bautista) and Mantis (Klementieff) have the best arc of the story. We see three seemingly limited characters turn from punchlines to multi-dimensional heroes and it all flows naturally. Pratt’s Peter Quill / Starlord has his emotional range tested in this series unlike any role he’s chosen to be in outside of the MCU. Fortunately there are no easy answers for any of the characters as they are tested routinely throughout.

Rocket and Groot (Diesel) have fewer scenes together in Vol. 3, than one might prefer, particularly because most of the former’s scenes are in his past before he met his friend. Even so, Groot has been given enough scenes as to make fans of his innocent barabaric slaughter delightful as usual. There is one small complaint about a line of dialogue that is as groan inducing as “she was never alone..” in Avenger’s Endgame. My daughter enjoyed the line, but guaranteed it will not age well.

The path that Adam Warlock takes is predictable, and it seems he is a lot less powerful than he is in the comics. They give a reason for this which works in the way of most movie plot points. His character is probably given the least development of any, but when we’re working with over a dozen fleshed out characters, it’s not a huge disappointment.

The team that Gunn has assembled is as wonderful as any cast of characters this viewer has seen in a film. That he has kept them together and growing this long is remarkable. The menace of the High Evolutionary is the best villain of the trio of Guardians films, even if there is no way he can possibly succeed. The speculation on who survives will be obvious to figure quite early in the film. The devastation in this film is as horrible as anything we’ve seen in the first two stories. Ultimately, its still a positive experience. It’s impossible to feel sad as the credits roll to an incredible trio of songs, including I Will Dare by the Replacements, Badlands by Bruce Springsteen and one that will have a comfortably familiar ring.

(****1/2 out of *****)

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