If you think that you would never in a million years be moved by the plight of a digital effect that is a talking raccoon, then I have news for you: bring a handkerchief with you when you go to see Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, because this Marvel Comics adaptation has a surprisingly strong emotional core.
The main focus of this wild science fiction extravaganza is the genetically engineered raccoon bounty hunter named Rocket (voice of Bradley Cooper). In the film's opening, Rocket is severely injured during an attack on the Guardian's headquarters by Sovereign warrior Adam Warlock (Will Poulter). Human Peter Quill/Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), and the other Guardians - Drax (Dave Bautista), Nebula (Karen Gillan), Mantis (Pom Klementieff), and Groot (voice of Vin Diesel) - will stop at nothing to save Rocket's life. Because part of Rocket's engineering involves a killswitch embedded inside of him, his friends must travel to the headquarters of the company that created it. Adding tension for Quill is the return of his love, Gamora (Zoe Saldana), who reluctantly helps the Guardians on their quest.
Rocket is unconscious throughout the majority of the movie, but we get flashbacks of how he came to be genetically altered. These passages are emotionally devastating, like something out of The Plague Dogs. Children and animal lovers may have a hard time with these gut-wrenching scenes. I know I did. However, they needed to be there, because they make Rocket's story all the more stirring.
Vol. 3 boasts a great villain in The High Evolutionary (Chukwudi Iwuji), a mad scientist with a God complex. Iwuji's effectively unhinged performance really makes this character come off as a serious threat.
This third go around for the Guardians feels as fresh as ever. The characters are still fun and make sense in their relationships with one another, the humorous bickering is still hilarious, and the production design is just as eye-popping as it was in the first film.
I have the same complaints here that I have with lots of Marvel films - it goes on too long and has too many effects shots of destruction - but writer-director James Gunn delivers a good, inventive story with well-written characters. In the end, the Guardians of the Galaxy trilogy is all about friendship and love, and, yeah, there's a lot of cool action and space battles in between.