‘Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3’ Might Make You An Emotional Wreck

To be perfectly honest, I didn’t expect to feels so sad so many times while watching Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3. To be clear, this is by design. This movie, at times, wants you to feel very sad. To the point I had to internally scold myself, “Dude, you cannot start crying in public about a CGI raccoon. You know people here. Don’t be one of these people who cry during Marvel movies. It’s embarrassing.”

So, I’m going to be upfront right off the bat, I think James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 is incredibly well done, but if the torture and mutilation of animals at all disturbs you, and I’m assuming it will, there are a couple of pretty rough scenes in this movie concerning Rocket’s backstory. It’s not flippant and they drive the entire plot of the film. The movie knows these are rough scenes, but they will cause some pretty intense emotions that at least I’ve certainly not felt during a Marvel movie. To put it bluntly: this movie fucked me up a bit. (Speaking of, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 also gives us our first MCU F-bomb.)

Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) is in rough shape. The Guardians are living on a floating space colony called Knowhere and Peter, still devastated by the loss of Gamora (Zoe Saldaña), and the return of a Gamaora who doesn’t know him, passes the time getting black-out drunk. One night, a mysterious and powerful visitor rampages Knowhere looking for Rocket (Bradley Cooper). This visitor is Adam Warlock (Will Poulter, having quite a great time) and he’s been sent by the High Evolutionary (Chukwudi Iwuji, who isn’t just chewing scenery, but more rolling up the scenery into a pipe and smoking it) to retrieve Rocket for extremely sinister reasons. Adam Warlock’s mission fails, but it leaves Rocket mortally wounded. Nebula (Karen Gillan, who takes on a much larger role this time around) discovers any attempt to operate on Rocket will trigger a fail-safe device inside of him that would be immediately fatal. So the rest of the Guardians mount a mission to retrieve the code to turn off the fail-safe device in an effort to save Rocket. And to do this they will need Gamora’s help, who is currently hanging out with the Ravagers, led by Sylvester Stallone. (I’m just going to pretend Stallone is playing himself.)

As Rocket fights for his life, he has flashbacks to his time with the High Evolutionary and the experiments that were run on him and his friends, as the High Evolutionary tries to make the perfect being in an effort to create a new Earth filled only with perfection. This is pretty rough stuff that involves animal abuse and mutilation. It’s certainly effective. Again, it’s never flippant or done for laughs. It knows this is pretty grim stuff. I’ve never felt this emotionally involved in a villain getting his comeuppance before. To prepare you, at one point we watch the High Evolutionary literally shoot and kill a cute animal. It’s an emotionally devastating scene that informs the entire movie. But the one complaint I have here is, right after this scene, we cut to Drax (Dave Bautista) clotheslining a guy riding a motorcycle. Yeah, I just watched an animal get brutally murdered. I’m not sure I’m ready for some laughs quite yet.

James Gunn bets big that you love each and every one of these Guardians. It’s a movie about friendship and the love these characters have for each other and risking everything to help the people you love. Without that bond to these characters, this movie doesn’t work. It’s still a funny movie with some cool action scenes and a lot of nonsense going on, all glued together by this really powerful emotional core. There is a scene that sticks out, after Drax ignores an order that gets the team into some hot water. Nebula unloads on Drax, but Mantis (Pom Klementieff) comes to his defense, telling Nebula she can’t say these things to Drax because at the end of the day he loves us and we love him. It’s such a dumb simple thing, but gosh it works.

In an era of superhero fatigue, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 still feels fresh because this isn’t a superhero movie. These are sci-fi action-adventure movies. It’s always weird when they crossover into other movies involving superheroes. It’s like if Thor teamed up with Marty McFly. “Wait, why is Marty McFly here again?” And, mercifully, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 is a self-contained story that has nothing to do with the greater Marvel Cinematic Universe. It’s a movie about the friendship and love between the members of this team, not a movie that wonders what Sub-Mariner or Shang-Chi are up to these days. The closest Guardians 3 strays to this is the introduction of Adam Warlock. This movie could exist without him. But he was teased way back in Guardians 2 (which was, somehow, six years ago now) and Will Poulter is having so much goofy fun playing Warlock as a kind of an imbecile nitwit, yeah it all works.

This is the end of the road for this version of The Guardians of the Galaxy. James Gunn is, famously, now running the show at DC. A few members of the cast have made it clear this is it for them. But, we will no doubt see other members of the team in future projects. But we won’t see this team again, which gives the whole proceedings a melancholy feel. And knowing this was it, it’s a bold move to make Rocket the central figure of the film. And it’s even bolder to make it this emotional and devastating. (I often get asked, hey, can I take my kids to this? Look, I saw Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom in a theater when I was nine. A guy gets his heart ripped out of his chest and is then burned alive. I usually come down on the side of “your precious kid will be fine.” I’ll admit, this one gives me pause.) But you leave this movie feeling the bond between these characters and what makes them all so special. This is not “a superhero movie.” This is a movie about characters we love and that we will miss.

Again, I didn’t expect to feel so sad while watching this movie.

‘Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3’ opens in theaters on May 5th. You can contact Mike Ryan directly on Twitter.