Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Cementing itself as one of the greatest action/sci-fi trilogies of all time, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 delivers a stunning spectacle of effects, and dazzling emotionality to boot. James Gunn pulls out all the stops to make sure the Guardians are given a sendoff worthy of celebrating. A particular standout this go round is Rocket Raccoon—the character gets an amount of depth usually reserved for the talking folk in any given Pixar film. Just thinking about the trajectory of Rocket’s storied past as established in Vol. 3 is enough to have tears welling in one’s eyes. For fans of this core cast, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 will be the perfect final track on a journey that began nearly a decade ago.

When the film opens with that flashy new Marvel logo, but it’s all made up of scenes from each of the previous Guardians movies, I just knew we were in for a treat. Rocket Raccoon wanders through the Guardians headquarters at Knowhere, an acoustic version of Radiohead’s “Creep” blasting as he hums along. A flash of caged baby raccoons is quick to emphasize the importance of Rocket’s past. A completely plastered Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) passes out, then gets carried out to our first of many trademark slow-no walks. The opening sets the stage for all the great things we adore in James Wan’s filmmaking, down to the most minute details, as well as how the team is coping post-Gamora (Zoe Saldana). 

A peaceful existence in their new community doesn’t last long. Adam Warlock (Will Poulter) flies straight through a piece of Rocket’s room. Adam seems to have awe-inducing, bone-crunching celestial powers. The Guardians try everything in their power to stop him, but his target within reach, Adam abruptly snaps. The target is actually Rocket Raccoon, experiment 89P13, whose literal DNA is needed at the request of the High Evolutionary (Chukwudi Iwuji). After their encounter with Adam leaves poor Rocket in a dangerous coma, Peter makes it their mission to track down the key to Rocket’s kill switch and rescue him from certain death. They have only 48 hours until it may be too late.

On the flip side, Adam and his mother, Ayesha (Elizabeth Debicki), are tasked with tracking down the Guardians and retrieving experiment 89P13. The High Evolutionary bosses them around, his face plastered over a metal body in a futuristic ode to The Terminator and Robocop. Villains aren’t this film’s strong suit, but all three of these adversaries make worthy opponents. The High Evolutionary definitely does not fall under the upper echelon of Marvel villainy ranks.

Each member of the crew gets their time in the spotlight—every single one of them has majorly fun stuff to do in massive team-centric action scenes. Gunn utilizes all the tools in his toolbox, whether that means focusing on some of Nebula’s flashy new tech, or on Groot’s impressive regenerative and Swiss army knife functionality. Peter’s relationship with new-Gamora is noteworthy, as are his questionable yet adorkable flirtation techniques. Rocket represents the heart of this movie, in particular the flashbacks to his time as a veritable lab experiment. Animal lovers will be smitten with these scenes. When it comes to Rocket’s “chosen family,” these creatures are just about the cutest animals alive. A giant walrus, a childlike bunny that names herself Floor (because she’s sitting on it), and motherly sea lion Lyla with bulky metal arms are so wholesome. To call Rocket’s relationship with Lyla unconventional mothering would be underselling it.

Filling Guardians with quirky side players is practically a requirement at this point. Yondu’s apprentice, Kraglin (Sean Gunn), still has trouble using his whistle-arrow technique, whilst oddball telekinetic superdog Cosmo (Maria Bakalova) channels their psychic powers. Gunn makes time to let Nathan Fillion show up for one of his most ridiculous roles yet in a Gunn production, and even leaves room for a small but vital turn for Gregg Henry. Bonkers situations, such as the group heading to a planet called Counter-Earth that seems to be heavily critiquing eugenics, are par for the course. Some of the best moments here involve the strange, hilarious world of Counter-Earth and its bizarre humanistic animals coexisting. 

If it wasn’t obvious by now, Vol. 3 is spilling over with terrific songs adorning its soundtrack. Destined for replay, Gunn has cherry-picked some truly exceptional needle drops. The change from a cassette to a Zune alters only the musical era, rather than drastically shifting the feel of the music’s use within the narrative. My personal favorite of the newer songs was Florence and the Machine gem, “Dog Days Are Over.” Additionally, fun, exaggerated sets and trippy visuals distinctively stylize the alleged last journey of Peter and his compatriots. An absolutely epic action scene filmed to look like one long take recalls the church segment of Kingsman

There is simply no way to deny that Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 is darker, more complex, and constructed with more passion than its immediate predecessor. The only perfect entry may be 2014’s original Guardians of the Galaxy, a lightning-in-a-bottle success that remains the best movie of the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe, but Vol. 3 closes out the trilogy in a bang. An epilogue and essential post-credits scenes appear to tease the future of what may be to come. Whatever happens from here, James Gunn has capped off his trilogy in an emotionally satisfying high that left me craving more. 

Press play on one last Awesome Mix as Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 bursts into theaters on Friday, May 5th. 

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