"Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3" feels like the last project of the old era of the Marvel Cinematic Universe; the last proper epilogue to "Avengers: Endgame." For one, it is the rare Marvel movie to actually offer a conclusion to its characters and story, rather than back out to tease a sequel. It is also a funny movie that reinterprets one of the coolest Marvel characters in hilariously inventive ways, and finally admits that the true leader, protagonist, and heart of the "Guardians of the Galaxy" movies is Rocket -- the reason James Gunn came back to direct the third installment in the trilogy.
"Vol. 3" finally explores Rocket Raccoon's backstory, one that Gunn worked out even before he wrote the first "Guardians of the Galaxy." That backstory, and the friends that Rocket met along the way, are the key to the entire film, and the story of the raccoon's genetic engineering and eventual escape from a sadistic lab is the real reason to watch the movie, as it also serves as James Gunn realizing his dream of making a "We3" adaptation.
A Heartbreaking Backstory
Rocket spends most of his time in "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3" comatose and on the verge of death, with a series of flashbacks showing how he was experimented on as a baby raccoon and turned into a highly intelligent being that could walk upright and even talk. Inside the High Evolutionary's laboratory, he meets other experiments: a rabbit, a walrus, and an otter who name themselves Floor, Teefs, and Lylla, respectively. The four friends are adorable, but they are also more than a little messed up — too much in some ways, as the animal abuse can be hard to stomach.
The story of Rocket Raccoon in "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3" is an encapsulation of James Gunn's abilities to create gruesome imagery, yet also combine it with a lot of heart. The animals are kind of scary, their surroundings harrowing, and their "enhancements" visibly painful. Gunn has long incorporated his love of animals in his movies, often having beasts kill the bad guys. "Vol. 3" is vehemently anti-animal testing; the main villain is a scientist obsessed with creating the perfect society of mutated animals, while cruelly experimenting on them and outright telling them that he's going to execute them when he's done with them. And yet, Gunn infuses these sequences with tenderness and emotion. Seeing the four animals bond and become friends, playing tag despite being in two separate cells, and eventually choosing names for themselves, is as heartwarming as it is heartbreaking.
Also: Their design, the storyline, and Rocket's eventual violent escape are the closest we'll probably get to a live-action adaptation of "We3," and that rules.
'Me And My Friends Are Gonna Go Flying Together'
"We3" is a 2004 graphic novel by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely, about three mutated animal experiments encased in robotic armor who escape their confinement after learning that they'll be disposed of and replaced with newer models. Morrison's story is one of the best in the medium: a comic that is full of gruesome action, and lots of heart, with a gnarly and rather bleak story that is nevertheless adorable and highly emotional.
What makes "We3" stand out is the juxtaposition between the gnarly actions of the three animals and their innocent animal thought patterns. They don't realize what they're doing or how strong their cybernetic exoskeletons are. They care about abstract ideas like home and even have rudimentary speech, like those of the experiments in "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3."
James Gunn has said in the past he wanted to make "We3" into a movie, and with the backstory of Rocket, he finally has. At the very least, it's a great proof of concept that he could now expand into a full feature adaptation. After all, "We3" is a Vertigo comic under the DC umbrella, and Gunn is in charge of the DC Universe now...
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