After focusing on Star Lord’s family back story for the first two movies, writer/director James Gunn turns his attention to a far less likely subject for his final chapter: Rocket Raccoon. Yes, everyone’s favorite scrappy CG critter grabs the spotlight in this moving tale about his origin, revealing the details of his tragic past as well as his resilience as he fights for his future. His heartbreaking story, as well as the ever-present knowledge that this film marks the end of the road for this Guardians incarnation, make for an emotional rollercoaster that thankfully pays off in wholly satisfying fashion.
When Rocket is nearly killed in action, the Guardians band together to seek out a cure that can only be found in the computer code that was originally used to enhance his abilities. This puts the team on a collision course with a new baddie, the High Evolutionary (Chukwudi Iwuji), the man who experimented on Rocket and continues his mad pursuit of the creation of idealized beings.
Gunn’s story about Rocket’s dark past getting upgraded against his will at an animal testing facility brings to mind The Secret of Nimh, certainly not an inspiration I ever expected to see in a Marvel movie. His time in the lab introduces viewers to multiple other animals caught in the same predicament, particularly an otter named Lylla (Linda Cardellini) who becomes his closest friend. Gunn weaves Rocket’s origin story into the present-day plot, flashing back and forth to reveal the details of Rocket’s creation as well as his quest to use his enhancements to save the universe. He also keeps his team completely isolated from the rest of the MCU, as if it got snapped out of existence and only his characters survived.
The returning cast members inhabit their roles like well-worn gloves, although Zoe Saldana gets to add some new dimensions to the Gamora character due to the story machinations that find her playing an alternate version with no memory of her Guardians past. She’s perhaps a touch too fiery, so standoffish that she never fully integrates into the group or the story. Chris Pratt continues his long string of bland characterizations, having long ago excised all traces of the idiotic humor that made him famous in favor of chiseled nonchalance as a leading man. Dave Bautista and Pom Klementieff continue trying to out-dope each other as the perpetually infantile Drax and Mantis, this time picking up a new dummy with the arrival of Will Poulter’s severely underutilized Adam Warlock. Really, taken on their own, none of the human actors are particularly likable here, but somehow the alchemy of their combined talents with their CG co-stars is pure magic, a truly dysfunctional family functioning at the top of their game.
Like its predecessors, the movie suffers a bit from green screen overkill, with so many of the senses-shattering visuals constructed in post production that it can’t shake its artificial feeling. Aside from Star Lord’s inconsequential stingers in the credits, the only time the cast ventures outside of the soundstage is for a brief exterior sojourn in a nondescript suburb acting as a stand-in for The High Evolutionary’s idealized recreation of our planet, Counter-Earth. However, in spite of the sterile studio environments, Gunn’s focus on the emotional core of his tale keeps its heart beating through the artifice.
The 4K digital presentation is exceptional, especially thanks to the HDR that Gunn maximizes with super color-saturated hues. 4K purchase unlocks HDR at both Dolby Vision and HDR10 versions depending on retailer and your TV specs. Sound is also available up to Dolby Atmos level, providing a highly detailed and immersive soundscape. Digital bonus features include the requisite trailer, deleted scenes, and bloopers, as well as in-depth looks at the creation of Rocket and the Guardians phenomenon over the course of the cinematic franchise.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 is now available for digital purchase at all digital retailers, in advance of its release on physical media and Disney+ in August.