An Exciting Marvel Space Action Comedy About Animal Torture

‘Guardians of the Galaxy 3’ is authentically weird

A rollicking space action comedy that also happens to be a treatise on the ethics of experimenting on animals, Guardians of the Galaxy 3 is probably more fun than it should be given the grim underpinnings of its central plot. Director and writer James Gunn manages to provide a half dozen characters with satisfying plot arcs, introduces a half-dozen more, and mostly avoids the mystical blather that has weakened the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s reputation of late, while still including plenty of scenes of spaceships crashing into each other.

GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY 3  ★★★ (3/5 stars)
Directed by: James Gunn
Written by: James Gunn
Starring: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Pom Klementieff, Chukwudi Iwjui, Bradley Cooper, Vin Diesel, Karen Gillan
Running time: 149 min

But the gruesome creation of Rocket Raccoon sits at the heart of the story. Rocket was, apparently, an ordinary baby Earth raccoon who an insane interstellar Dr. Moreau experimented on, creating a mutant scientific genius who at first is innocent, but after some tragedies develops a taste for violence, gunplay, and launching ships into the great beyond forever. It’s a weird myth that happens in flashbacks after Rocket suffers a grevious injury at the hands of Adam Warlock, an ultra-powerful flying golden man-baby who shoots fire from his wrists. And in the flashbacks, Rocket has friends that include a bunny in an iron mask, a talking walrus in a wheelchair, and an otter with garden tools for arms. The movie spends a considerable amount of time with these poor tortured mutant animals in a horrific dungeon. A quiet afternoon at the indie cinema, this is not.

Meanwhile, Star-Lord, played by the eternally snarky Chris Pratt, continues to pine for his green-skinned love Gamora, who can’t remember that they once hooked up because she is actually from an alternate timeline. Various sub-dramas play out among the other Guardians as well, including one involving a 1960s space dog who speaks in a Russian accent and has massive telepathic powers. Gunn’s background in the Troma Films factory, which created low-budget, gruesome, excessively bizarre creature features, gets a lot of mainstream mileage in Guardians 3. Although Gunn doesn’t show much explicit animal surgery, there is plenty of moaning and screaming and weird appendages emerging, and more blobs and goo than is normal, even for a movie like this. A side character called “War Pig” is exactly that, an eight-foot armored pig man with massive guns for arms (and, no kidding, a voice by Judy Greer). But he’s no match for the golden man-baby and the green-skinned demigod.

If this movie sounds kind of weird, well, it is. It’s kind of weird. And also silly. Maybe a bit scary in places. It’s also overlong, and, like the other Guardians movies, over-relies on slow-motion walking scenes to transition between action beats. Nothing even comes close to the dance scene to “Come and Get Your Love” over the opening credits of the first movie, and the music choices aren’t as fun overall in Guardians 3. “No Sleep Till Brooklyn” makes no sense, and I don’t want to come out of the theater humming overplayed songs from Radiohead and Florence and the Machine. Also, some of the action beats seem to repeat themselves, and though the banter among the Guardians is often funny, and even sweet, it feels like at times they’re just saying the same lines over and over again.

But for a movie featuring a walrus in a wheelchair, there are surprisingly few false notes or performances. Chukwudi Iwjui is both creepy and kind of pathetic as the movie’s villain, “The High Evolutionary.” Dave Bautista and Pom Klementieff are amusing as Drax the Destroyer and Mantis. I definitely liked Will Poulter’s turn as Adam Warlock, though he does kind of vanish in the second half. And Karen Gillan is also entertaining as Nebula. This is a movie whose cast goes so deep that Sylvester Stallone gets 15th billing.

Gunn fills two and a half hours with wisecracks and incredibly weird creature design. In a Marvel Cinematic World that has gotten increasingly corporate, impersonal, and overstuffed with plot, Guardians of the Galaxy 3 is relatively linear, its world already basically built and guided by an actual person’s creative vision. You don’t have to have seen much Marvel content to enjoy it, though it would probably help if you’d seen the Guardians Christmas Special on Disney+. I hope no animals were harmed in the making of this picture, but, fair warning, this is a picture that contains a lot of animal harm. If that sort of thing bothers you, stay away. And if it doesn’t, you might find yourself feeling the urge to donate to PETA when it’s all done.

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Neal Pollack

Book and Film Globe Editor in Chief Neal Pollack is the author of 12 semi-bestselling books of fiction and nonfiction, including the memoirs Alternadad and Stretch, the novels Repeat and Downward-Facing Death, and the cult classic The Neal Pollack Anthology of American Literature. A Rotten Tomatoes certified reviewer for both film and television, Neal has written articles and humor for every English-language publication except The New Yorker. Neal lives in Austin, Texas, and is a three-time Jeopardy! champion.

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