3/5 stars

I have a clear history of viciously ripping into the recent installments of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. They tend to leave no lasting impact other than the temporary hatred I feel when I finish the movies. Most of the films become homogeneous, and to believe that actual people direct these films is offensive to anyone who ever tried to take a camera and create an exciting story. And as Phase Four of the MCU becomes as popular as an Lizzo comeback tour, it’s clear that most people are catching on to how lifeless and uninteresting these spectacular superheroes have become. But amid franchise fatigue, James Gunn threw his hat into the ring and threw in “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3,” a somewhat competent story with a few problems. 

After “Avengers: Infinity War” and “Avengers: Endgame,” the Guardians of the Galaxy have become a group on the edge. With a depressed Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), traumatized Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper), and wholly different Gamora (Zoë Saldana), the dynamics that made up the first two “Guardians” movies have now been wiped out and warped the state of this superhero team. That all changes when Adam Warlock (Will Poulter) attacks the Guardian’s base, causing Rocket to get severely injured. With Rocket on the verge of death, the Guardians must find out how to bring their companion back to life, invading the corporation that invented him, OrgoCorp. Through this mission, the Guardians discover the inventor of Rocket, which happens to be the narcissistic and vicious High Evolutionary (Chukwudi Iwuji).

A well-known outlier to the MCU’s homogeneity is none other than the “Guardians of the Galaxy” films. These films look much more colorful than the gray sludge of Marvel’s other work and have more emotionally gripping moments for their characters. And with this third (and possibly final) installment, this is no exception. This third volume is one of the few competently made films from the MCU in a long time, especially after suffering through the schlock of Phase 4.

Throughout the film, we finally get to see the backstory of Rocket Raccoon after writer/director James Gunn teased it in the past movies. In the first film, Rocket briefly mentions how his creator tortured him by disassembling and reassembling his body hundreds of times to do numerous experiments. The second film exposes Rocket’s abrasive personality as a defense mechanism so people don’t try to understand his trauma. And now, we can see the traumatic past that makes Rocket the raccoon he is today. These portions, where we discover Rocket’s animal friends of his past or the psychopathy of the High Evolutionary, make Rocket a much more nuanced character than even other heroes that receive more attention.

But despite the excellent character study of Rocket Raccoon, there is still a lot of stuff in between the backstory that bogs the film down. I must admit that James Gunn’s humor is always hit-or-miss and misses most of the time. Many jokes try so hard to be edgier than most MCU films, but it sometimes gets overbearing and not funny. 

Here, Gunn relies on having the Guardians constantly yelling at each other in tense fights to make up his jokes. But the fighting occurs too often in the film that it goes from being humorous to annoying, as you just want all the characters to stop yelling at each other and work as a team. And many other jokes aren’t memorable to me now, except for Star-Lord saying the first f-word in the entirety of the MCU.

As many have observed, the film lasts two-and-a-half hours. It makes the pacing strange, with portions of the movie that could be shortened or eliminated to improve the story. There is an entire film sequence where they enter a facility to find the information to save Rocket’s life. It goes on for too long, and you see the Guardians constantly yelling at each other for alleged humor; it’s not enjoyable overall. But during the sequence, we discover that the information they were searching for isn’t even in said facility, meaning that the film wasted our time with a pointless mission that adds up to nothing.

The performances serve the story adequately. Chris Pratt seems ready to finish the role of the Star-Lord and move on to other projects. Although that means his performance is alright, it might mean that Pratt will be able to continue to something as interesting as his roles in “Her” or “Moneyball.” 

Zoe Saldana, like her role in “Avatar: The Way of Water,” forces her to have a one-note performance where she spends most of it complaining about everything that occurs in the story. But an outstanding performance is from Chukwudi Iwuji as the High Evolutionary. Portraying a psychotic scientist who attempts to create utopias, Iwuji can go from tender to psychotic at a moment’s notice as he takes advantage of all of his creations and experiments for control and supremacy over other organisms.

But this film’s performance of the hour is Bradley Cooper as Rocket. I’ll just say that Bradley Cooper has always been good. No matter the quality of the movie, Cooper always puts effort into the characters written for him, making him such a memorable part of all of his films. And when voicing Rocket, he wins your heart over as you watch the traumatic events he faces that make a return when the Guardians have to fight the High Evolutionary.

Even if this film is not a future classic or a masterpiece, it looks impressive compared to other modern Marvel movies, as the bar is too low for adequate films to fail.

Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol 3 will be screening on 9/15 at the Hoyt Auditorium. Screenings will be at 6 p.m. and 9 p.m.

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