You can tell something's a little off with this final entry in the Guardians of the Galaxy series from the first music cue. While the first two films kicked off with the bouncy "Come and Get Your Love" and "Mr. Blue Sky," respectively, this one literally begins on a dour note. A melancholy Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper) shuffles his way through Guardians HQ listening to an acoustic version of Radiohead's "Creep." That bummer tone will carry throughout the most of the movie.
While this entry is longer than its predecessors, it wastes no time getting to the action, as Adam Warlock (Will Poulter) blasts into the Guardians' home, decimating it and severely injuring Rocket in the process. His pals quickly learn the beloved fuzzball has only a short time to live, as his mad scientest creator (Chukwudi Iwuji) has a kill switch embedded inside. Surgery would kill him, but doing nothing guarantees his death, too. Thus mortality hangs over what ads have promised to be a fun blast to start the summer.
To be sure, there is still plenty of fun to be had. A creative heist sequence on a living planet reminds us that Gunn cut his teeth on gross-out films like Slither. The walls are made of pink flesh, and the hole they have to squeeze through oozes yellow pus into space. Inside, the retro décor feels refreshingly real. (As opposed to the ugly green screens that many of the MCU films have shot on lately.) And of course the hand-picked soundtrack rocks, adding more current songs to the mix of '70s and '80s gems.
But just when it starts to feel like a good time with the gang, the film cuts to another disturbing memory of the comatose Rocket. I don't expect animal abuse in Marvel movies. I certainly didn't expect to take up half the film! It gives us extra reason to hate the new bad guy, but besides his amorality, he's a pretty thin character. The scenes with Rocket's fellow prisoners - a walrus, a rabbit and an otter - recall the misfit toys Frankenstein-ed by Sid in Toy Story, only more gruesome. Kids (and their parents) will probably be horrified.
That makes this third volume a mixed bag. Gunn is no stranger to mixing dick jokes with pathos, but it didn't work for me here. I was mostly baffled that he would choose to make a movie so depressing for his big MCU send-off. There's still plenty of good, happy stuff in here, but you may get tonal whiplash before it sticks the landing.