'Guardians of the Galaxy 3' review: Chris Pratt leads a great finale – USA TODAY

Watching Marvel’s “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3” is like listening to your favorite band on their final tour: all killer, no filler (OK, maybe a little), the greatest hits mixed with new stuff that reminds you why they’re awesome in the first place, and a desire for the last song to never end.
Writer/director James Gunn’s last mission in the superhero galaxy that made him famous – before he flies off to make the next Superman movie and honchos the DC universe – is a hilarious, heartbreaking, touching and rather wonderful close to an enjoyable trilogy. Gunn’s first “Guardians” in 2014 is one of the best Marvel projects ever, and “Vol. 3” (★★★½ out of four; rated PG-13; in theaters now) soars pretty close to its own high mark with a final outing with this lovably scrappy bunch of space misfits.
The Guardians are still led by rogue-ish Peter Quill, aka Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), though he’s spending most of his days drunk and depressed at their home base on Knowhere (which happens to be the severed head of a giant alien). He misses his love, Gamora (Zoe Saldaña), who died during “Avengers: Infinity War,” but also pines for the very alive Gamora from another timeline who never fell in love with him and actually finds Peter off-putting.
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If only a broken heart were the worst thing the Guardians had to deal with this time around. Rather than focusing on Star-Lord, “Vol. 3” is actually centered on the feisty raccoon Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper). The High Evolutionary (Chukwudi Iwuji), a formidable baddie who thinks he’s a god, has long experimented on organic beings and matter to create the perfect species, and Rocket is one of his subjects he obsessively wants back. He sends gold-skinned, superpowered man-child Adam Warlock (Will Poulter) to retrieve Rocket, the furry warrior is wounded in the attack, and the Guardians go on a quest to save him.
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Alongside Star-Lord, original Guardians Drax (Dave Bautista) and Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel), former villainess Nebula (Karen Gillan), “Vol. 2” newcomer Mantis (Pom Klementieff) and (reluctantly) Gamora 2.0 all chip in, as does supporting player Kraglin (Sean Gunn) and new space dog Cosmo (voiced by Maria Bakalova), and each actor gets some great character moments. “Vol. 3” has two stories that run on parallel tracks: the main story in the present but also Rocket’s origins from when he was just a little guy and the strong friendship he formed with an otter named Lylla (voiced by Linda Cardellini) and other fellow animal experiments. 
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Gunn’s penchant for the enjoyably bizarre is on full display, especially as he plays off the relationship and workplace dynamics in just the weirdest alien environments imaginable, including a planet that’s seemingly one large body organ. He’s also able to dip back into successful aspects from past “Guardians” movies, like Peter and Gamora awkwardly getting to know each other in the first film, and replay them in new and different ways without feeling stale.
Of course the soundtrack’s rockin’, featuring everyone from Rainbow to Florence + the Machine, as Gunn has a knack for letting tunes help tell his story. And all sorts of bit characters and payoffs from previous films are interspersed throughout “Vol. 3.” Gunn has crammed a lot into his franchise finisher, though when the ending arrives, you’ll want to spend just a little bit longer with these oddballs. It’s the beauty of the strong and relatable personalities that Gunn has fostered over the course of a decade – that being said, it’s also why certain lines and moments will emotionally wreck you in the best of ways.
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Looking at the massive popularity of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it doesn’t happen without that first “Guardians.” It was a huge swing but worked, making a space raccoon and a tree who speaks only three words into the biggest things in pop culture, turning Pratt into an A-lister and showing pro wrestler Bautista as a gifted thespian. Without it, there would probably be no “Doctor Strange” movies or “Moon Knight” TV show – Marvel likely would have gone a safer route, like rolling out a bunch of “Iron Man” movies with Robert Downey Jr. until the armor fell off.
“Vol. 3” is a reminder of everything groovy that the original did so well, with the sort of goodbye that’ll leave you satisfied, giddy and glad you took the trip.
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