In a dark auditorium on Saturday night, I cried over a computer-generated raccoon played by Bradley Cooper.
Since 2014, the “Guardians of the Galaxy” films have perhaps too quietly represented the strongest emotional storytelling in the Marvel Cinematic Universe — even though one of their central characters is a tree that says three words.
In those years, across five films and a “Holiday Special,” the Guardians have been a colorful and charming corner of the MCU, telling stories of a found family; especially in 2017’s “Vol. 2,” which tackled themes of parenthood and acceptance.
“Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3” was always described as an ending, for the team and for the story that started 10 years ago.
I don’t like endings. I’m scared of the simple fact that everything must eventually conclude.
That’s a big part of the appeal of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, to me — a sprawling franchise that never ends, in which characters’ histories span decades and deaths are rarely permanent. At the end of each of now more than 30 films, the heroes usually ride off into the “forever and beautiful sky,” back for their next cameo appearance or billion-dollar franchise entry in a couple of years.
Knowing that would not be the case this time, I was a little apprehensive going into “Vol. 3,” especially with a much darker story teed up by the marketing. Ultimately, the film entirely subverted my expectations and left me more than satisfied — and a little teary-eyed.
I can’t imagine an ending truer than “Vol. 3.” It wraps up threads and delivers a deeply emotional finale to the team that first gathered in the Kyln a decade ago. It is at times oppressively bleak, but it concludes on a radically exuberant note — it follows themes of individuality, healing, growth and change.
Where previous films have largely put the narrative on the shoulders of Chris Pratt’s Star-Lord, this entry centers on Cooper’s Rocket, a genetically engineered, hyper-intelligent raccoon. The film digs deeply into that characters’ previously unseen backstory — Rocket’s deeply horrible creation at the hands of new villain High Evolutionary — played by Chukwudi Iwuji.
High Evolutionary tries futilely to create a utopia by twisting reality to his whims — unable to match the creativity inherent in individuality. The Guardians uncover his crimes as they look into Rocket’s past.
Flashback sequences throughout the film weave a tale of a young Rocket dreaming of a brighter future with three other creations. These vignettes oscillate between adorable and deeply awful. The violence in this film — especially as directed at animals, children and those with disabilities — is shocking. High Evolutionary, in his disdain for imperfection, is responsible for some truly heinous acts.
Clearly, as a PG-13 film, nothing was found by the Motion Picture Association of America to be crossing certain lines. I’m definitely pretty desensitized to violence, but I was surprised by what I saw.
Throughout, the film hews to its narrative and its vision to be easily one of the most interesting entries in the MCU — objectively among its best — but there were times when I wasn’t sure I would ever want to watch this film again.
I previously mentioned a very happy ending. It was that conclusion to the film — the revelations that come to its characters and the catharsis that came with that growth that made the journey this film took me on worth it.
The only thing that each of the Guardians has in common is a tragic backstory, and in this film we see each of them for the first time confront their own trauma and begin to heal.
Each character — with the exception of Groot — has their own arc in which they reckon with their pasts and find the strength to move forward, even if that means moving apart.
That healing is especially significant for Dave Bautista’s Drax and Karen Gillan’s Nebula, who are both given the space to really shine and develop in what have previously been at times pretty one-note roles. The two really stand out in this entry.
Capitalism probably dictates that another film will someday be released with the title “Guardians of the Galaxy,” and of course threads are left dangling and teases are left for the future of the MCU, especially in the form of new character Adam Warlock, but this story and this team is left with a surprisingly definitive conclusion. Any future entry would be a largely fresh start — and not just because James Gunn won’t be back in the director’s chair.
“Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3” is exactly the ending I feared it might be, and I love it for that. It’s not always an easy watch, but it’s the first movie in a long while that I’ve been desperate to go back and see a second time.
“Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3” will be playing this weekend at Kenai Cinemas, Orca Theater and the Homer Theatre. Check showtimes and get tickets at catheaters.com, orcatheater.com or homertheatre.com.
Reach reporter Jake Dye at email@example.com.