Good: Rocket Raccoon
Since the first Guardians film way back in 2014, Rocket has been one of the best parts of the MCU. But also a mysterious one. He was never the focus character. He stole scenes. He stole entire movies. But we didn’t know as much about him as we knew about Peter Quill, Captain Marvel, Shuri, Thor, etc. It was a similar deal with Black Widow until Natasha had her movie. To finally have an MCU film put the narrative focus on Rocket was not only refreshing but cathartic and smart. Bradley Cooper’s performance was phenomenal. And the payoff of finally having Rocket square up and face off with High Evolutionary felt great. It had all the emotional charge of something built up over multiple movies even though it was almost entirely contained to Vol 3.
The moment Rocket delivered his full name with “Raccoon” was such an earned moment.
Bad: Adam Warlock
You see all the great choices made with Rocket. So it’s puzzling how the same people made all the wrong choices with Adam Warlock. There’s something to be said about an all-powerful being who happens to be emotionally stunted and working through who he wants to be. It’s a fine concept. But our moments with Adam Warlock are:
- Shows up at Knowhere and wreaks havoc.
- Wounded. Back at High Evolutionary’s ship. Extremely infantilized. Described as a “beautiful idiot” and as having something very wrong with him.
- Toasts prisoner and has moral quandary.
- Adopts alien animal and pushes back against his mother.
- Goes to grab Rocket, defeats War Pig.
- Sees planet exploding so flies to his mother. Doesn’t make it in time.
- Saved by Groot.
- Saves Peter from space.
- Group hug.
- Joins Rocket’s Guardians.
The situation with Warlock is the opposite of Rocket. With Rocket, it’s this very cultivated, developed backstory. With Warlock, we’re simply told High Evolutionary woke Adam early and that’s why Adam’s a bit emotionally and intellectually crude. But we don’t know when that happened. We saw Adam’s cocoon in the after credits of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. James Gunn himself said he feels it’s been at least a couple years between Endgame and Vol. 3. Did High Evolutionary wake Adam just for this? Was Adam’s trip to Knowhere his first mission? Or has he been going around for days, weeks, months, or a year or more as Evolutionary’s attack dog?
This lack of backstory makes Adam Warlock’s entire character arc a bit forced. If he’s brand new to this world, then he certainly already has a strong grasp of a lot of concepts. If he’s been active, how long has he been having these moral quandaries? And why now does he suddenly start to change? The only impetus we see is him blasting the prisoner then reacting to the sad animal. Has he had a soft spot for animals? Has he been denied affection? Why didn’t he feel bad on Knowhere when he was hurting so many people?
To go from egotistical, violent brat to happy member of the Guardians with less than 10 minutes of screentime is just a huge disservice to the character.
Good: High Evolutionary
There’s arguably probably too much of an overlap between High Evolutionary in Vol. 3 and Kang in Quantumania. Both are god-figure scientists who lead societies. Both start off calm and controlled but end their movies having lost control and frantic. They each have big moments where they unleash a burst of power at a group of enemies. Similar suits. They have similar gravity powers. It’s not too big of a deal. Just funny when it’s back to back movies just three months apart. Maybe that’s on purpose?
Regardless. Chukwudi Iwuji absolutely crushed it. Brilliant portrayal of going from poised to completely unhinged. When he finally shows up screaming at Rocket—legit chills. I’d say it was the high point of the movie for me.
I like the fatal flaw in the character, too. That with all his knowledge and power, he’s never been able to understand how Rocket, someone he viewed as a lower life form, knew something that he, THE HIGH EVOLUTIONARY, did not. That a raccoon actually solved something that had eluded a “god”. The idea he’s spent years obsessing over Rocket, with that splinter in his psyche, driving him slightly mad, is fantastic. Especially when it comes to fruition with all that rage he throws at Rocket.
Bad: Rosendrax and Mantistern
People might not like this one, but Mantis and Drax can be too much. They’re fun. I love them. But they’re exhausting. Which is kind of part of the story, as Nebula eventually erupts at them. Yet that still doesn’t mean I’m not also worn out by their banter.
In the original Guardians, Drax was the only super weirdo. And it was charming and fun. He and Peter had a nice levity about them that cut through the seriousness of Gamora and Rocket. Mantis’s arrival in the second film added some nice dimensionality and the idea of found family. Her and Nebula joining the Guardians worked. And there was something sweet to Mantis and Drax having one another. They vibed. But they got siloed off in the Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special and it was rough watching them try and problem solve on their own. They were so distracted and wrong and awkward. It’s not as problematic in Vol. 3 since the rest of the group is around. But for long stretches, Gunn kept Drax and Mantis siloed off. And I felt exactly how Nebula did.
Drax ending up caring for the kids fits with his character arc, since he was so driven by the loss of his own family. But having Mantis go off to discover herself didn’t really mean much to me. And it’s a bit awkward she’s doing it with three giant monsters. Does she have a ship? A location in mind? A hobby in mind? Anything?
Good: The hallway fight
Guardians movies have always had some stellar teamwork fights. The hallway scene in Vol. 3 is probably the best one. And one of the best action sequences in the entirety of the MCU. Everyone got to do something unique to their character and be cool. It was extended. Dynamic. Orchestral. Gamora with the sword was exactly what I wanted to see. I’m not sure if it tops Daredevil for best hallway fight. But it’s certainly in the conversation.
Kraglin has an arc of learning how to use the Yaka Arrow. At the very beginning of the movie, he struggles with it. At the end, he has a breakthrough. In between that, he’s kind of just a jerk to Cosmo. It makes for a nice running joke that has a happy climax when he finally tells Cosmo she’s a good dog. Overall, though, Kraglin has the same issue as Adam Warlock: not enough backstory or motivation.
Has Kraglin been a great member of the Guardians? Or a liability because of his inability with the Yaka Arrow? Who of the Guardians is he closest to? Does he hang out with the main group all the time? Honestly, we got more Kraglin characterization in the first 15 minutes of Thor: Love and Thunder than in a 2 hour and 30 minute Guardians movie.
I mean. She’s a good dog.
This will probably be a divisive point. For the most part, nothing in this movie mattered. At the very beginning, Adam Warlock shows up to Knowhere and causes a lot of damage to the town. But it doesn’t mean anything. If there was collateral damage, no one talks about it. If the community spent time rebuilding, we don’t see it. Life resumes.
Adam Warlock’s mom, Ayesha, captures the Ravager with the alien pet then Adam incinerates him. This guy was part of Gamora’s Ravager team. A team that’s supposed to be such a family that we’re happy to see Gamora back with them at the end of the movie. So did they not care that one of their people was kidnapped? Killed? Did Gamora know him? Did she care? Did she recognize the pet?
Ayesha was high priestess of the Sovereign. The Sovereign were a big part of Guardians Vol. 2. They have a whole civilization. But in Vol. 3 we don’t get anything about them. Ayesha blows up. She was their leader. What’s that mean for this race of people? And does Adam feel absolutely no connection to them? Did he ever know them? Did he like them? Did they like him? Did he ever struggle with a sense of duty to let them know what happened? We don’t even really see Adam react to his mother’s death. He shows back up on the Guardians’ ship, damaged. But there’s no moment of reflection. No speech. Was his relationship with his mother good? Complicated? Is he sad? Relieved? Motivated?
Drax got beat to a pulp by Adam Warlock, a super super being, then was fine. In the very next sequence, Drax gets hit with two energy blasts and is seemingly hurt. Then is absolutely fine. Groot gets torn apart to the point of just being a head but fully regrows within a couple hours. The super med packs are an absolute narrative cheat code. Rocket is on the brink of death for almost 48 hours but pops right back up and fights at 100%.
A whole planet blows up and no one really dwells on it.
Peter almost freezes in outer space. To the point where his face swells and everyone thinks he died. Only to immediately thaw out and be okay. No cosmetic surgery needed.
You have the larger consequences of Peter returning to Earth, Mantis going off on her own, the defeat of High Evolutionary, the increase of Knowhere’s population, and Rocket leading the next generation of Guardians. So there are big changes between beginning and end. But a lot of the events that get us from A to Z are just blips on the radar. Like Mantis deciding to leave is a choice made in the moment. Not a direct byproduct of things she went through in the film. Same with Peter going back to Earth. There was one conversation that challenged him. But it’s not like Adam Warlock played a key role or High Evolutionary or even Rocket’s backstory. The flashbacks we see seem to be Rocket’s memories. It’s not like the other Guardians see the same things we do.
So you can argue there’s some narrative parallel between Rocket’s animal friends and Peter’s family and the idea that Peter still has someone, his grandpa, he can go back to. So he should take advantage of that. Because you know Rocket would go see his friends if he could. If Peter had experienced those visions, like us, then, yeah, that works. But he didn’t. So there’s a conceptual connection between these plot points but they don’t actually entwine in a cause-and-effect way that makes one the consequence of the other.