Rocket, the baby raccoon (voice of Bradley Cooper), is experimented on by the High Evolutionary (Chukwudi Iwuji) as part of creating a Counter-Earth with anthropomorphic animals. He becomes friendly with the walrus Teefs (Asim Chaudry), the otter Lylla (Linda Cardellini) , and the rabbit Floor (Mikaela Hoover), but Rocket shows intelligence and aptitude beyond all the other animals, and discovers a fault in the anthropomorphic process, angering the High Evolutionary. They are all rejected for the Counter-Earth and Lylla, Teefs, and Floor are killed. Rocket is enraged, mauls the High Evolutionary, and escapes.

Years later, the Guardians of the Galaxy have built headquarters on the planet Knowhere, where they are attacked by Adam Warlock (Will Poulter), a superpower created out of revenge by the Empress of the Sovereign, Ayesha (Elizabeth Debicki), still angry because the Guardians robbed her. They are ordered to bring Rocket to the High Evolutionary. There is a fight and Rocket is seriously injured. There is a kill switch in him, sadly, which makes them unable to treat him. They decide to travel to the Orgoscope, headquarters of the High Evolutionary Company, where they may find the override code.

They are helped by Star-Lord Peter Quill’s (Chris Pratt) old gang, the Ravagers, and by 2014 Gamora (Zoe Saldana), a variation of the original Gamora, daughter of Thanos. She was Quill’s on again, off again lover. Now, she is off again and barely knows him. The Guardians infiltrate Orgosphere and retrieve Rocket’s file. They escape the guards, but they need a code that may be in the mind of Evolutionary scientist Theel (Nico Santos). Against Gamora’s advice, they visit Counter-Earth, with Ayesha and Adam after them.

A family of bat-like humans help them. Quill, Nebula (Karen Gillan), and Groot (Vin Diesel), now a tall tree, trace Theel to the High Evolutionary’s ship, while Drax (Dave Bautista) and Mantis (Pom Klementieff) remain behind with Gamora and Rocket. Quill and Groot board the ship, leaving Nebula behind. Mantis accompanies Drax onto the ship and it launches with them, Quill, and Groot on board. The High Evolutionary destroys Counter-Earth.

Gamora stays with Rocket but is attacked by a pig warrior (Judy Greer) sent by the High Evolutionary. She is killed when Adam arrives, looking for Rocket. Gamora overpowers Adam and launches the Guardians’ ship. Quill and Groot manage to defeat the Evolutionary forces and kill Theel, retrieving his memory. Nebula, Mantis, and Drax think  Quill and Groot are still on the Evolutionary ship and board it to rescue them. Adam senses that his mother is in danger, but it is too late to save her from the explosions. On the Guardians’ ship, Rocket flatlines and has a near-death experience, meeting Lylla, Teefs, and Floor, who tell him it is not yet time to die. Quill implements the override code and revives him.

Mantis, Nebula, and Drax find hordes of children imprisoned on board the Evolutionary ship and are captured themselves and imprisoned with multi-dimensional Abilisks. Mantis convinces the Abilitsks to help and they escape, join up with the Guardians, and overpower the Evolutionary army. Kraglin (Sean Gunn) and Cosmo (Maria Bakalova), a psionic sapient dog once launched into space by the Russians, arrive in Knowhere. Cosmo frees the captive children.

Rocket discovers baby raccoons and other animals also imprisoned but is attacked by a maddened High Evolutionary until the Guardians rescue him. The High Evolutionary is left to perish on his ship. Quill nearly freezes in space and is rescued by Adam. The Guardians decide to break up. Quill makes Rocket the Captain and leaves for Earth. Mantis stays with the Abilisks, Gamora with the Ravagers, and Nebula and Drax staying to help the orphan children. The new Guardians appear in a mid-credits scene, and Quill finds his grandfather (Gregg Henry). The mid-credit scenes listed in Wikipedia and a bit different from what I saw in the movie.

The film was written and directed by James Gunn for Marvel and Disney. He was fired in July of 2018 because he had written some now-unacceptable posts on Twitter ages ago, but he was brought back because of his successful work on Suicide Squad and a series called Peacemaker in 2022, which made a lot of money. Taika Waititi had been suggested to replace him but he refused, saying it was Gunn’s movie. Dave Bautista said he would demand to be released from his contract, all the other actors protested, and 300,000 fans demanded that Gunn be put back in charge. This is the third time a trilogy of Marvel movies was helmed by one director, following John Watt’s trilogy of Spider-Man films (2017-2021) and Peyton Reed’s trilogy of Antman and Wasp movies (2015-2023).

The story takes place after Avengers Infinity War and Avengers Endgame, and the three Guardian movies are a continuous story. There was publicity at the 2022 San-Diego ComicCon, and a trailer was aired at the 2023 Super-Bowl. The film has an approval rating of 81% on Rotten Tomatoes. It was generally praised by critics, though some criticized the whole animal-torture theme. There is another mixtape from Star-Lord, but this one is not limited to music from the Seventies. The production created 23,000 prosthetics for over a thousand actors. Much of the story was inspired by H.G. Wells’ The Island of Doctor Moreau.

It’s hard to make the third movie in a trilogy anywhere near as good as the first, but this at least has what we look for: Drax saying dumb and loveable things, Quill’s music and patter, Groot finally grown up into an impressive warrior tree, Gamora kicking ass, Nebula and Mantis displaying amazing powers. But the whole thing is basically Rocket Raccoon’s back-story and that’s where the emotions come from. I love Rocket and I fell for it. The only thing that irritated me is that the Guardians spend a lot of time arguing with each other, and that got a bit tedious, particularly at movie-theater volume, though that sets up the camaraderie at the end. All Marvel films are about friendship.

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