Rocket’s origin story elevates emotions of exhilarating ‘Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3’

Marvel’s latest funny, big-hearted adventure of Star-Lord and his crew toggles between a mission to rescue Rocket and flashbacks to his dark past.

SHARE Rocket’s origin story elevates emotions of exhilarating ‘Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3’
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Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper) is questioning his place in the universe in “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3.”

Marvel Studios

What a bunch of weirdos.

What a collection of emotionally stunted, deeply troubled, psychologically haunted misfits, outcasts, goofballs and geeks.

We’re speaking of the Guardians of the Galaxy, and we’re saying this with peace and love, peace and love. I want to hug each and every one of them as we bid them farewell and wish them all the best.

‘Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3’

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Marvel Studios presents a film written and directed by James Gunn. Rated PG-13 (for intense sequences of violence and action, strong language, suggestive/drug references and thematic elements). Running time: 149 minutes. Opens Thursday at local theaters.

Though a bit bloated and overstuffed with explosion-laden, standard-issue action sequences we’ve seen in dozens of superhero movies, “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3” is also an exhilarating, consistently funny, big-hearted adventure that packs a surprising emotional wallop. I’m not saying I wiped away a tear or two while learning about Rocket’s origin story, but — ah, hell, I AM saying I wiped away a tear or two while learning about Rocket’s origin story. That little dude has been through a LOT; no wonder he’s such a hardass.

This is writer-director James Gunn’s final contribution to the Marvel Cinematic Universe before he takes his talents to the DC Extended Universe, and the conclusion of the “Guardians” trilogy is filled with needle drops, callbacks, snappy banter, wildly inventive sets, costumes and makeup — and, of course, lots of PG-13 action and violence.

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Nebula (Karen Gillan, from left), Star-Lord (Chris Pratt) and Drax (Dave Bautista) race to rescue Rocket.

Marvel Studios

“Vol. 3” kicks off in the Guardians’ floating city of Knowhere, with an acoustic version of Radiohead’s “Creep” literally setting the tone as we catch up with the Guardians, including Rocket, who still isn’t sure about his place in the universe (“I don’t belong here …”) and Peter Quill/Starlord (Chris Pratt), who has been on a bender after his beloved Gamora (Zoe Saldaña) was killed by Thanos. (A humbled Peter makes for a more grounded and likable Pratt, who has sometimes crossed over into smug action-hero mugging in the “Guardians” and “Jurassic” movies.)

Everyone else seems to be enjoying a hiatus from intergalactic conflict—and that’s when all hell breaks loose in the form of an attack from the powerful, gold-plated Adam Warlock (Will Poulter), who tears up Knowhere, throws the Guardians around as if they were second-tier opponents in a WWE match and leaves Rocket clinging to his life before he is finally turned away.

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Adam Warlock (Will Poulter, left, with Elizabeth Debicki) attacks the Guardians’ floating city of Knowhere.

Marvel Studios

With Rocket on life support, the Guardians spring into action on a mission to save his life—and we toggle between that “present-day” adventure and Rocket’s origin story. Turns out he was just a cute little baby raccoon when he was turned into a scientific experiment by the Dr. Moreau-like megalomaniac known as the High Evolutionary (Chukwudi Iwuji, in pure Shakespeare mode), who is another one of those superhero movie villains who thinks he’s actually the hero of the story. He’s not trying to destroy the galaxy; he only aims to make it a better place.

The High Evolutionary keeps experimenting with different species in an effort to create a superior race, and things keep going sideways, sometimes in ways that will remind you of “The Fly.” Rocket turns out to be something special, which is why the High Evolutionary is trying to recapture him, even as the Guardians attempt to infiltrate the High Evolutionary’s command center and gain control of this special thingee that will save Rocket’s life. Something like that.

All the usual Guardians are here for the ride. Karen Gillan’s Nebula remains the humorless grownup of the group, whjle Dave Bautista’s Drax continues to believe he’s smart when he’s not, and Pom Klementieff’s Mantis, who sounds exactly like Leslie Mann in a rom-com if you close your eyes, can still flex her empathic powers when she’s not engaging in buddy-movie dialogue with Drax. Groot (Vin Diesel) says nothing but “I am Groot,” but if you listen closely, he’s actually saying much more than that. Also along for the adventure is Zoe Saldaña’s Gamora—but this is an alternate, younger, mercenary Gamora who works as a Ravager and has no memories of being with Peter because she wasn’t with Peter; that was the other Gamora. THIS Gamora can’t imagine being with someone like this guy.

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Chukwudi Iwuji plays the High Evolutionary, whose demented experiments on a baby raccoon created Rocket.

Marvel Studios

Sylvester Stallone has about two minutes of screen time as Gamora’s Ravager supervisor, while Nathan Fillion is hilarious as a security chief on a 1960s-looking organic space station who comports himself as if he’s on a network TV cop show. The fantabulous Elizabeth Debicki, dipped in gold as if she stepped off the set of an old James Bond movie, is criminally underutilized as Ayesha, who is Warlock’s creator/mommy.

The story careens this way and that, with those frequent flashbacks about Rocket’s past growing ever more dramatic and, in some cases, heartbreaking, until we arrive at Counter-Earth, which looks exactly like Peter’s home planet, except the inhabitants are “humananimals”—normal-acting but disturbing-looking creatures that look like people from behind, but have the faces of, well, animals. (Welcome to “The Twilight Zone.”) Counter-Earth is the home of the High Evolutionary’s grandest experiment of all, but now he’s ready to blow it all up and try again, in his never-ending, Mengele-esque quest to create some sort of master race. Thank the Galaxy we have the Guardians to once again save the day!

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