Still reeling from the loss of Gamora, Peter Quill rallies his team to defend the universe and one of their own – a mission that could mean the end of the Guardians if not successful.

Chuck says:

Though darker than its predecessors, James Gunn’s “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3” is a more than satisfactory conclusion to the outlier trilogy on the Marvel Films Universe. When first introduced into the company’s connective cinematic collection, this mini-franchise was seen as a misstep, a “what-are-they-thinking” enterprise that lacked the pop culture largess of their other characters.  Turns out, under producer Kevin Feige and Gunn’s sure hands, Star Lord, Groot, Rocket and their brethren became fan favorites, their adventures coming off as more light-hearted responses to the other Marvel entries when they became a bit too weighty.

What with Phase Four of the Marvel Film Universe being less than satisfactory – inconsistent at best, a disaster at worst – and Phase Five stumbling out of the gate with the third “Ant-Man” feature, there’s a bit more riding on the success of “Guardians 3.” To be sure, some will object to the scenes revolving around animal experimentation conducted by the film’s nemesis the High Evolutionary (Chukwudi Iwuhji). These complaints are not without merit, yet their inclusion is necessary to raise the stakes in what would be an otherwise rote exercise, providing the sort of dramatic heft necessary for the film’s effectively poignant conclusion.

More than anything, this is Rocket’s (voice by Bradley Cooper) story as we finally become privy to just how he came to be. Through flashbacks, we see that he was nothing but another in a long line of experiments undertaken by the High Evolutionary in his quest to create the perfect species for the perfect society. Rocket’s creation proves to be far more successful than anticipated, his mind being as great as his creator’s. Discovering he and his other misbegotten friends – chief among them, an armless otter named Lylla, sweetly voiced by Linda Cardellini – are going to be exterminated, our ursine hero plans to save them all with a daring escape.  However, it all goes awry, Rocket being the only survivor.

All of this is related as Rocket is on his deathbed, memories cascading his mind as he tries to recover from an errant attack by the misguided hero Adam Warlock (Will Pouter). While attempting to stabilize him, Nebula (Karen Gillan) discovers he has been, in effect manufactured, and there is a device preventing them from operating on him.  Seeking information as to how to override this, she, Quill (Chris Pratt), Drax (Dave Bautista), Mantis (Pom Klementieff), Groot (voice by Vin Diesel) and a Gamora (Zoe Saldana) from a different timeline, sans the memories of her predecessor, set out to infiltrate the lab where Rocket was made, hoping to gather information that might save him.

The plot is paper thin, the film ostensibly nothing more than a chase movie, the Guardians careening from one locale to the next, continually thwarted in their efforts to get the information they seek. Of course, much mayhem ensues along the way, most of it unnecessary. One extended single-take scene that has our heroes wiping out a horde of enemies in a long tube, is an egregious example of Gunn’s showboating, a look-at-me sequence that takes the viewer out of the story. Still and all, somehow the film proves engaging throughout, its two and a half hour running time unspooling at a pace that never lags.

Our engagement throughout is thanks to Gunn and his cast’s ability to make us care for this bevy of buffoons. More than any of the Marvel characters, Quill and his crew have always come off as the most human, their faults and foibles the most relatable. This entry revolves around the fact that all of them have been living in denial and they have finally come to an impasse where they each must come to terms with their pasts and who they really are. Rocket, of course, is the most obvious example as he not only has to grapple with his guilt but also finally accept that his unique nature is one to embrace rather than run from. An incident from Quill’s past is revealed that needs to be rectified, Drax’s need for vengeance over his slain family is channeled towards something much more fulfilling and life-affirming, while Mantis and Nebula are free to find their own happiness as well. As for Gamora, she is a blank slate, her freedom all the more precious after all she’s endured.

Though there are hints that we might encounter some of these characters again, if this happened to be the last appearance of the Guardians, you’d be hard-pressed to come up with a more fitting or poignant conclusion than what Gunn provides here. Each sporting their fair share of scars, these characters are each given well-earned endings that prove cathartic. Hopefully, Gunn will continue to give us movies that are as well-made and relatable now that he has taken on the formidable task of reconstructing Warner Brothers’ tattered universe of DC Comics heroes.

3 1/2 Stars

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