Rodent star: Rocket Raccoon is the star of ‘Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 3’.
GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL 3 ***1/2 (150 minutes) M
Bitter experience over the past 15 years or so has taught us to treat the phrase “Marvel sequel” with suspicion.
There have been expections, of course, but by-and-large sequels from the studio have adhered to the law of diminishing returns, delivering bland adventures that were largely forgotten by the time you hit the exit.
Oddly, thankfully, the Guardians of the Galaxy sub-franchise has somehow managed to avoid the syndrome, with the latest installment proving as engaging and action-packed as its predecessors.
There might not be as many laughs this time around but writer/director James Gunn again delivers a rollicking, robust space fantasy adventure that also chimes in as the most pro-raccoon movie ever made. (And Disney has form in this regard, with its under-valued 1969 classic Rascal .)
The central figure of this adventure is Rocket, the beloved, marvellously animated gun-toting raccoon (voiced by Bradley Cooper) who is severely wounded in the opening reel during a none-too-subtle kidnap attempt by a gent called Adam Warlock (Will Paulter).
So what’s Warlock’s game? He’s in the employ of another modestly named chap called The High Evolutionary (Chukwudi Iwuji) who created Rocket and is eager to re-acquire him now that he realizes how valuable the genetic codes embedded in Rocket’s DNA is.
With this data he then plans to create perfect new beings with which he plans to repopulate planets (sounds a bit like a Bond villain, what?). That High didn’t realize any of this beforehand leads to the unflattering suggestion that his galaxy-conquering ambitions and high rank are inversely related to his IQ, which seems to be a sci-fi tradition of late.
Saving Rocket’s life serves as the catalyst for the colourful interplanetary mission Star-Lord (Chris Pratt) and his crew – Drax (Dave Bautista); Mantis (Pom Klementieff ); Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel), etc – embark upon, their quest being to locate and retrieve the passkey that will unlock the device preventing them from administering aid to Rocket. Who said Hoillywood lacked originality?
Still, one can only speculate whether such a zany plotline – which includes due mention of IP ownership – was conceived over months of hard work or spontaneously written on the back of an envelope in the elevator on the way to a pitch meeting.
Whatever the case, it serves as a good enough reason for lots of action set-pieces involving some wonderfully splashy visual effects, the highlight being a masterful action sequence in which the camera weaves and bobs through an intricate close-quarters battle, stylistically similar to the one we saw in Kingsman: The Secret Service. Of course, the sequence is composed of a myriad VFX, but the impression of a continuous camera shot is vivid, however physically impossible it may be.
All the mandatory eye candy aside (still love that term), what sets Vol 3 well above the mire of mediocrity in which most sequels dwell is the backstory we get about Rocket and Quill (Star-Lord).
As the stricken Rocket awaits aid we learn through a series of extended flashbacks of how he was part of a cloning experiment with other raccoons.
It’s a surprisingly touching story thread that will make you feel the kind of tenderness towards raccoons that Bambi made you feel towards deer. Kudos to writer/director James Gunn for imbuing a third episode with such emotion – and about a rodent*, no less.
While there aren’t as many laughs as the previous two films, this installment fills its typically generous running time better than most of the Marvel sequels we’ve had to sit through.
And it delivers an unusually potent ending as Quill faces his mortality. It makes for a very strong and touching finale, especially for a Marvel movie sequel.
Putting its sizeable entertainment value aside for a moment, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 also stands as a significant marker in the accelerating downslide of Cancel Culture and WokeThink.
Having delivered the first two GOTG films in 2014 and 2017, writer/director James Gunn was working away on the third installment when a raft of old tweets were brought to light by right-wing conspiracy theorist Mike Cernovich, an adversary of Gunn’s.
The tweets were disgusting, offensive and unfunny, making jokes about pedophilia and rape. Gunn acknowledged all this, had apologized for them and apologized again. Nonetheless, Disney fired him for the “indefensible” nature of the tweets.
The backlash that followed included support from high-level industry figures, entertainers and, significantly, from the cast. There was also an online petition with more than 400,000 signatures.
In 2019 Gunn was reinstated after a lengthy meeting with Alan Horn, the Walt Disney Studios chairman who had fired him.
The release of Vol 3 has not been met with campaigns to boycott the film or to stage protests outside cinemas. There has been no hue and cry over Gunn’s reinstatement. The film is expected to do very well.
So, with James Gunn we have the latest high-profile entertainment industry figure to survive the gauntlet of Cancel Culture. Others include Dave Chappelle, Ricky Gervais, Louis CK, JK Rowling, Kevin Hart, John Lasseter and Johnny Depp.
The broad point here is that the era of trying to destroy a career for sins that are deemed unforgivable is rapidly waning.
Some sins are unforgiveable, as the cases of Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby and Rolf Harris attest. Their deeds occupy the far end of criminality and the punishments received are fitting.
What the Gunn case demonstrates is how the notion that people can move on from old mistakes they have fully recognized and apologized for is regaining the validity it deserves.
Some sins, even awful ones uttered online, can indeed be forgiven once sincere contrition is shown and context is clarified.
So, it’s heartening to see with Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 3 that such a notion continues to gain traction as the potency of Cancel Culture continues to wilt.
That people can grow, evolve and improve beyond their errors is a humane value, one that runs counter to the idea of defining people solely by their errors.
That practice is receding thanks to the forces of common sense and decency.
* Biological Note: Debate persists over whether raccoons are considered rodents. Technically they’re not part of the rodent family, only the nuisance they cause scavenging in suburban areas rummaging through supermarket dumpsters and household garbage bins prompts people to consider them rodent vermin akin to rats and mice.