The usual minor spoilers ahead.
Bradley Cooper’s Rocket Racoon spends a decent bit of Guardians of the Galaxy 3 in the medical bay. To the cinema aficionados, the diagnosis for the Marvel Cinematic Universe is looking equally grim. Does the old crew of Guardians resuscitate the brand? Or is coming back to Marvel like Zoe Saldaña’s Gamora meeting Chris Pratt’s Star Lord: an awkward reunion with an ex we’d forgotten?
The eugenicist High Evolutionary wants his old pet, Rocket, back. Rocket’s got injured by Adam Warlock as part of the scramble. Instead of bothering the intergalactic RSPCA, the Guardians go on another tune-filled, entertaining journey to save their furry friend.
I think part of the reason why this iteration of the Guardians of the Galaxy is ending is because Marvel are running out of animals to use as joke names for Rocket. “Trash Panda?” “No, we’ve used that one.” “Rabbit?” “Thor did it.” “Squirrel?” “Excellent.” Tony Stark wins it with “Build-a-Bear”, if you ask me.
Pom Klementieff and Dave Bautista absolutely smash it as Mantis and Drax. Charisma. Humour. Emotion. Chukwudi Iwuji does a great job as the High Evolutionary, although I doubt he’ll make it into the pantheon of legendary Marvel villains simply because he’s so pure evil you can’t see his point of view (compare and contrast Thanos and Killmonger, 20 marks). On the plus side, for the first time in a while, he’s a villain who’s got an actual reason for listening to classical music. Reasons other than being a psychopathic villain exist, I’m told.
Even at two and a half hours, it’s more crowded than a Marvel writer’s room. The character relationships are as ever spot on, Drax and Mantis being by far the funniest, but if you stop and think too long on the walk back from the cinema you’ll realise a few too many of the others were talking, sometimes-walking plot functions. Will Poulter’s Adam Warlock in particular is very funny, very well-written, very nicely-acted, but ultimately ends up a big, sparkly, gold deus ex machina.
Make sure you bring tissues with you, because with ample flashbacks to Rocket Raccoon’s caged friends, Gunn throws not so much the kitchen sink as a zoo of mangled animals at you. Waymond from Everything Everywhere All at Once seems to have visited and stuck a series of big, cute eyes all over this film. The entire Guardians philosophy is dowsing you with a disorientating mixture of cuteness and horror, and watching you smile back as if it’s your own child. It’s a fitting way to end a trilogy that earned its stripes compelling you to care about a tree who makes even my essays seem verbose.
Pack your glasses with the tissues: there’s a lot of spinning. It’s a film you could watch a surprising amount of while in a handstand. I was almost disappointed when Dead or Alive’s ‘You Spin Me Right Round’ didn’t get used in the soundtrack given the amount of camera action that’s been fit in. Having said this, Fast X is about to come out, so I’m sure in a week’s time Guardians will look positively sedentary.
The use of setting is, as usual for Guardians films, clever. Each location is just as colourful on the screen as the comparable Ant Man and The Wasp: Quantumania, but feels more thought-out. The use of “Counter-Earth” is particularly underrated, I think: just when you’re expecting a big space battle, Gunn lands the spaceship somewhere that looks just down your road. Watch out for the classical music villains lurking behind the bins.
In the music department, ‘Since You Been Gone’ is probably the standout track in the line-up, and with the state of Marvel at the moment you suspect it’s what the Disney executives might be singing through James Gunn’s window in a few months. Gunn has the skill of writing and directing, regardless of what you think of the details of the film, funny, emotional and coherent stories that balance a sense of blockbuster and intimacy.
If you’ve been sitting at home with your cork board and red string, becoming the next Hercule Poirot trying to work out how on earth the MCU fits together nowadays, give this intergalactic film a try. It’s refreshingly unconnected. If you think Rocket Racoon is an odd-sounding sandwich, it might not be for you. Perhaps in a franchise about a group of misfits, facing a villain who wants absolute perfection, the beauty yet the flaws of Guardians of the Galaxy 3 make it a fitting end to the trilogy.