The Pitch: One of the trademarks of writer/director James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy films has been the inclusion of wild characters with minimal explanation as to their backstory. But Vol. 3 puts Rocket (voice of Bradley Cooper) front and center, as his origins are pivotal to this final film in the trilogy.
In fact, it’s Rocket’s creator who’s the big bad here: When a kill switch buried inside Rocket threatens his life, his chosen family rally to track down the technological cure he needs to live. However, this brings them into the direct path of The High Evolutionary (Peacemaker star Chukwudi Iwuji), whose quest to create a perfect society is the source of no shortage of pain and suffering throughout the universe, including Rocket’s own traumatic past.
So it’s the Guardians against an extremely powerful despot with legions of minions under his control. Can Peter (Chris Pratt), Nebula (Karen Gillan), Mantis (Pom Klementieff), Drax (Dave Bautista), and Groot (voice of Vin Diesel) save their friend? Will Peter ever manage to convince the resurrected-via-time-travel-loophole Gamora (Zoe Saldana) that because he and her “parallel future self” were once in love, she should give him a chance? Will there be some excellent needle drops? It’s a Guardians movie, so you know the answer to that last question will definitely be yes.
Call It Christmas in May: First things first — if you did not watch the Disney+ Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special, Gunn has no mercy in his heart for you. While there’s always a bare minimum of interconnectedness to be expected within the MCU, this film features direct references to big revelations and narrative shifts established in the Disney+ special. So if you’re planning to see Vol. 3 anytime soon and haven’t already, carve out 42 minutes for some holiday cheer first.
And then buckle in for a space adventure that is alternately funny and upsetting, featuring a literal menagerie of the strange and unconventional. Between the original Guardians crew, Peter’s old Ravagers friends, and some previously established or teased foes like Elizabeth Debicki’s Ayesha and Will Poulter’s Adam Warlock, there are a lot of players to contend with — and to the film’s credit a pretty decent balance is managed, mixing old favorites with the new for a heartfelt sendoff.
This is Gunn’s last MCU film before he officially begins reigning over DC, and he makes sure to bring his friends along for the ride: Sean Gunn’s role as Kraglin has gotten larger with each installment without necessarily proving unnecessary, and Nathan Fillion (a longtime Gunn associate) gets some actual face time as a security grunt. Iwuji isn’t the only familiar face from Peacemaker or The Suicide Squad to make an appearance, either; Gunn’s loyalty to his people adds a meta layer of enjoyment that’s only occasionally distracting.
The Galaxy Still Needs Its Guardians: At this point, Gunn has mastered the farcical melody created by these specific characters coming together, largely anchored by Drax and Mantis, who remain an all-star comedy pairing on screen. These are familiar rhythms in what is the team’s seventh appearance, but Gunn still finds new dynamics within the group, and the scenes which just feature the core cast interacting are reliably entertaining.