Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 3

As the Guardians all settle down in Knowhere, it will take a crisis to pull Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) out of his downward drunken spiral over losing Gamora (Zoe Saldana).  That arrives in the form of the seemingly indestructible, golden Warlock (Will Poulter), who crashes into their world on a mission from The High Evolutionary (Chukwudi Iwuji) to kidnap Rocket (voice of Bradley Cooper) in “Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 3.”

Laura's Review: C+

Cowriter (with the first two's Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning)/director James Gunn goes for a gut punch with a devastating Rocket origin story, fueling our sense of urgency for the Guardians’ present day rescue mission.  Along the way, Gunn sets up the dynamics to reconfigure his original Guardians team, multiple members stepping into new roles, some unexpected.  But Gunn falls into the usual Marvel trap, his climax overblown and overlong in a film whose 2 ½ hour running time could have easily been condensed to better overall effect, and that, along with some brutal animal cruelty, will make this rough sledding for many.

Gunn stuns with his very first image, a group of terrified baby raccoons cowering into the back of a cage as a large hand reaches in to seize a recognizable one in the center.  It’s thrown back into the cage later trembling and in pain, clearly the victim of traumatic brain surgery.  In the next cage, an otter whose forepaws have been replaced with metal rods (voice of Linda Cardellini) comforts SP193, who will grow up thinking The High Evolutionary prizes his intellect until the day he outsmarts him and learns otherwise in the most distressing way imaginable.

Back in Knowhere, once Quill learns his ‘best buddy’ is in danger, he jumps into action, leaving Yondu's former first mate Kraglin (Sean Gunn), still learning to control his Yaka arrow, in charge.  The Star-Lord is able to get through Orgo Corp’s three shields, but is then stymied.  Thankfully Nebula (Karen Gillan) has contracted the Ravagers for assistance, reintroducing Gamora (Zoe Saldana) to their ranks, albeit an altogether more bloodthirsty new version with no memory of her relationship with Quill.

The Orgo Corp sequence provides most of this film’s humor, which is rather lackluster this time around.  Masquerading as Orgo Corp mechanics, the Guardians are caught by Orgo sentry Master Karja (Nathan Fillion) and his team, leading to Quill trading war stories with Karja about their least savvy members (Drax learns some hard truths in this outing, although at least Mantis can make him forget hers) as Quill bluffs his way out of the situation.  Later, Quill will express his feelings for Gamora over the ‘blue channel,’ which he thinks is private until Mantis explains the completely illogical logic of the channels’ color coding.  Their use of Ura (Daniela Melchior) to get back to their ship offers no such rewards.

They’ll catch up with The High Evolutionary on the planet where he’d hoped to achieve his ‘perfect society,’ landing to Faith No More’s ‘We Care a Lot,’ Nebula insisting it’s a trap versus Quill’s determination of a face-off.  It turns out to be both, of course, but the face-off ends up being as illogical as Orgo Corp’s color coded comm channels, the High Evolutionary’s own Vim (Miriam Shor, whose costar Cooper just cast her in his Leonard Bernstein biopic) becoming more of a threat than the Guardians.  And yet there is still so much more movie, a group of kids to be saved (just like in the last “Thor” movie), Rocket endangering his own survival for his own and other earth species (while Quill endangers his for his digital mixtape).

“Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3” is a movie that seems to be in a war with itself, one whose most laudable characters are an abused, vengeful raccoon and empath Mantis (Pom Klementieff) and whose victims include Floor (voice of Mikaela Hoover), a rabbit still cheerful despite having its limbs replaced with metal spider legs and its mouth with a protruding metal box (it's as if "Toy Story's" Sid got hold of the family pet).   We may finally get to hear Groot (voice of Vin Diesel) say something other than ‘I am Groot,’ but did it have to be a line from Diesel’s muscle car franchise?  The film makes little use of Elizabeth Debicki as Warlock’s mom Ayesha, Stallone makes two brief appearances and Maria Bakalova voices Cosmo the Spacedog, engaged throughout trying to get a retraction from Kraglin over a ‘bad dog,’ a ‘joke’ which quickly wears out its welcome.  You might want to think twice about taking the kids to this one.

Marvel Studios releases "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3" in theaters on 5/5/23.