CGI so good, it’ll make you cry–“Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 3”

In 2014, Marvel and Disney introduced film audiences to Peter Quill, an earth man who calls himself Star Lord. Played by Chris Pratt, this Walkman-wearing, dancing fool is a thief on an alien world. The film’s success was due primarily to Pratt’s performance—a combination of sincerity, humor and ego, and the film had a great soundtrack of classic rock hits. “Guardians of the Galaxy” featured a rag tag bag of misfits played or voiced by some famous actors you wouldn’t imagine working together: Bradley Cooper voicing a raccoon, Lee Pace having fun as the villain, a tree voiced by Vin Diesel, and a colorful sister duo played by Karen Gillan and Zoe Saldana.

Directed and co-written by James Gunn, the film was a surprise hit. The band of criminals had a wonderful on-screen chemistry and that unusual blend of talent, humor and loveable odd characters returned in a sequel. Delving deeper into Star Lord’s back story, we learn that Peter Quill was born of an Earth mother and an aptly named Celestial, Ego, played by Kurt Russell. The story of the Guardians family issues wasn’t as fun or interesting as the original film but earned a bigger box office due to the popularity of the first film.

The final Guardians of the Galaxy film directed by James Gunn is “Vol. 3” now playing in theaters. It feels like Gunn tried to pack all his ideas about future Guardian stories into this one film. There are multiple worlds, lots of characters–some returning from previous films plus interesting new additions, and a soundtrack jam-packed with classic and contemporary rock hits. With a 2 ½ hour run time, you can sense that there was even more left on the cutting room floor.

It took 10 visual effects houses a year and a half to create all the various characters and worlds. With so many of the characters CGI, it’s amazing the depth of emotion that’s engendered by the actor’s performances and translated on screen. More than once, I found myself wiping away a tear. There are so many creatures in this movie and if you’re an animal lover, you’ll be both horrified at their treatment and relieved when they’re rescued.

Chukwudi Iwuji as the High Evolutionary, “Vol. 3”

This time the Guardians are fighting to save the life of Rocket (Bradley Cooper). This often-disgruntled raccoon has an endearing gruffness and acts as both warrior and pilot for the group. Now we learn his tragic backstory; Rocket was created in a lab. The High Evolutionary (Chukwudi Iwuji) is obsessed with producing the perfect species to populate the universe. Iwuji exudes menace. His performance has a gravitas that tells you he means business; he’s akin to a Shakespearan baddie. When his large hand grabs Rocket’s tiny head, he’s cradling the brain he admires. He doesn’t care a wit about the creature that the brain is operating in.

What sets the film apart from other superhero/sci-fi stories is the connections between the characters. The theme of family is strong throughout the series. The Guardians have traveled the universe together and risked life and limb for each other. They see each other’s faults and foibles but also the inherent good. They’re no longer individual thiefs or servants of evil. They’ve become superheros and each other’s family.

Karen Gillan (Nebula), Pam Klementieff (Mantis), Dave Bautiste (Drax), “Guardians of the Galaxy” courtesy of Empire Magazine

This is especially true of Dave Bautiste’s character, Drax and Pam Klementieff’s Mantis. When Nebula angrily decrees the stupidity of Drax and Mantis’ limited skills, Mantis defends Drax by saying that he IS dumb but he’s the only one who makes her laugh and he’s kind and she loves him. The story takes the time to show the Guardians appreciating and understanding each other even as they bicker and fight.

Young Rocket with his friends, “Vol. 3”, courtesy of Marvel Studios

The film is full of battles and explosions and different worlds but there are also poignant moments of grief and connection. Watching four science experiments that were once a bunny, a walrus, an otter and a raccoon, discover that they can name themselves; that glee that they feel is touching. It’s only later that you’ll realize that the CGI is so brilliant, you’ve forgetten that Rocket’s sorrowful eyes aren’t real. You care about his survival and his friends. You’ve become invested in his journey.

As with so many superhero films, there are additional scenes in the credits. The first one is worth staying for, it shows the new Guardian team at work protecting citizens of another world. The second is a hint that Star Lord might return. Chris Pratt’s character is eating cereal with his grandpa on earth and there’s a brief conversation, though not much of substance.

You’ll enjoy “Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 3” more if you’ve seen the other two and you do need to be a fan of Chris Pratt. He’s central to the film and it’s his childlike emotional journey the story is most invested in. I found it suspenseful, emotional and gratifying. There are some gory scenes but it looks fake enough to not make audiences uncomfortable. Go enjoy this big-budget flashy Marvel movie. “Vol, 3” is an exhilarating ride and features some emotional scenes with a great cast, many of whom won’t be returning for another Guardians film.

Drinks with Films rating: 3 Intergalactic beers (out of 5)

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