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REVIEW: ‘Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3’ Is One Heck of an Emotional Ride

5/5 rock ballads

The Guardians of the Galaxy walking in Vol. 3

When James Gunn first brought the Guardians of the Galaxy to the big screen, it was a rock-filled comedy with heroes who maybe weren’t the best at what they did, but they were going to protect those who needed them no matter what. Through three standalone movies and a plethora of appearances throughout the Marvel Cinematic Universe, that has remained true, and nothing showcases their dedication to each other and being Guardians more than Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3.

Starting off strong with a perfect song to set the mood, the third installment into the Guardians of the Galaxy franchise has a lot of heart mixed with the comedy we’ve come to know from Gunn’s work. A mix of characters trying to find their own sense of happiness, the time and devotion that Rocket Raccoon deserves, and exploring where the Guardians go from here, Vol. 3 has mastered the art of bringing characters to entirely new places in their stories while still bringing us the same team we know and love.

Out of the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe, the Guardians have consistently had the ability of making us laugh and cry while letting its heroes have fun—not that the MCU as a whole doesn’t have fun, but the Guardians always leaned heavily on their quips to express their emotions to each other, and this movie really does marry actually showing what they’re feeling for one another with that charm we have come to associate with them. That just makes for a stronger movie overall and reminds fans why we love The Guardians of the Galaxy films in the first place.

And at the center of it all is Rocket Raccoon.

Rocket’s story to tell

Rocket Raccoon flying a ship
(Marvel Entertainment)

From the moment I met him, I fell in love with Rocket Raccoon. He has always been, to me, the more interesting of the Guardians, and Gunn provides proof for all the Rocket fans out there that he is the best. Voiced by Bradley Cooper once more, Rocket’s arc throughout Vol. 3 does bring heart to the film and is the reason that it sticks with you.

For most of Rocket’s time in the MCU, we didn’t know how he came to be. We knew what he viewed himself as, that he’d fight everyone who called him a “raccoon,” and that he didn’t know how to have people who cared for him. In Vol. 3, we get a lot more growth from Rocket, both with the Guardians and within himself. But more than that, we get to see how he came to be.

Rocket’s name was, for the most part, the one choice he had in his creation. When he was being crafted to fit someone else’s vision of a “perfect” world, Rocket was forced into his ability to speak, as well as his skillset. But as he was lying in a cage, trapped to help someone else’s goal, he was asked by Lyla (an otter in the same position as Rocket) what he would want his name to be, and he named himself Rocket.

That moment is one of many that make Rocket who he is, and Gunn really does make it clear in this film that while some might not have seen the Guardians of the Galaxy movies as Rocket movies, this has always been his story to tell.

Destruction of what we know

Zoe Saldaña as Gamora in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3
(Jessica Miglio/Marvel Entertainment)

Paired with learning a new past for Rocket Raccoon, the film also gives us a new Gamora (Zoe Saldaña) and shows where she fits in. Other than returning to the modern timeline after the events of Avengers: Endgame, we’ve not seen Gamora with the Guardians since her death in Avengers: Infinity War. It’s something that has weighed heavily on Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) and, even if it is harder to detect with her, Nebula (Karen Gillan) as well. But in Vol. 3, we get to see where she’s been and how that has left her the lone ranger of the Guardians, even though she was one of the most important reasons for the team in the first place. It’s a gentle reminder throughout the movie that the Guardians are not about the specific members but what they stand for.

Gamora is off with the Ravagers, something that weighs on Peter because he is a Ravager, but Gamora has now claimed them as her own. And when she comes back to work with the team as they’re trying to break into a high-security records facility, Peter is met with a constant reminder that the woman he loves does kind of exist in the world, but she doesn’t know a thing about him.

It makes for a fascinating dynamic to unpack between Peter and Gamora and frankly does have some of the best moments between them out of any of the Guardians movies. But we really do get to see how different this timeline’s Gamora is compared to the one who helped start the Guardians in the first place, and Saldaña so beautifully crafts the nuance between the two that you understand that this Gamora isn’t the same as the Gamora we knew before. And she’d like you to stop reminding her of that.

Superheroes in tune with their emotions

Drax and Mantis in Guardians vol 3
(Jessica Miglio/Marvel Entertainment)

As is often the case with the Guardians of the Galaxy movies, each of our heroes is dealing with something bigger that they don’t quite have the words for. They always have the emotions, just not the way to explain them to one another. From the holiday special where Mantis (Pom Klementieff) learned that Peter was her brother, through all of Vol. 3, we’ve seen Mantis just trying to find a way of making herself happy.

But teach of the Guardians follows that thread through Vol. 3, coming to terms with their lives and where they want to see themselves as they continue to protect the Galaxy. It is, as always, an exploration of superheroes and their emotions in a way that makes the Guardians of the Galaxy franchise stand out throughout the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Even when they are fighting or making quips at each other, there is an underlying pain or differing emotion brewing beneath whatever it is they are saying to one another. And that’s where the character growth and exploration of these three movies really does stand out.

A James Gunn masterclass

The guardians all together
(Marvel Entertainment)

From the first Guardians of the Galaxy and beyond, it didn’t feel like we could have even more fun and emotions with our Guardians than we already had, but each new installment to this franchise has felt better than the last. And somehow, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 is the best yet. Again, maybe I’m biased because Rocket Raccoon has always been my favorite and this movie is very much his story.

It, as always is the case with a James Gunn film, has heart and a soul to it that lets you cry while the most outrageous things are happening. It emotionally grips you and will make you want to go and protect whatever animal you have in your life. Frankly? I cannot say enough good things about Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, and I’ll be singing its praise for a long time.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 may seem like a goodbye, but it’s one hell of a ride.

(featured image: Marvel Entertainment)

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Rachel Leishman (She/Her) is an Assistant Editor at the Mary Sue. A writer her whole life but professionally starting back in 2016 who loves all things movies, TV, and classic rock. Resident Spider-Man expert, official Leslie Knope, actually Yelena Belova. Wanda Maximoff has never done anything wrong in her life. Star Wars makes her very happy. New York writer with a passion for all things nerdy. Yes, she has a Pedro Pascal podcast. And also a Harrison Ford one.