Marvel Comics’ fierce but cuddly protectors of the universe returned one more time to theaters for another live-action blockbuster directed and written again by James Gunn.
The action-packed and emotionally draining adventure now translates over to the 4K disc realm in Guardians of the Galaxy, Volume 3: Cinematic Universe Edition (Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, rated PG-13, 2.39:1 and 1.90:1 aspect ratio, 149 minutes, $39.99)
As we check in on the Guardians stationed on the space station Knowhere, Peter Quill aka Star-Lord (Chris Pratt) sits crushingly depressed by the loss of his true love, Gamora, now a member of the criminal syndicate the Ravagers and unable as well as unwilling to remember their previous life.
After an attack by the immature but powerful being Adam Warlock (Will Poulter) that leaves Rocket (Bradley Cooper) mortally wounded, Quill and team members Drax (Dave Bautista), Nebula (Karen Gillan), Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel), and Mantis (Pom Klementieff) must go on a desperate mission to save their highly intelligent, raccoon friend.
They enlist the help of the Ravagers that includes Gamora who temporarily rejoins the group as they look for a cure for Rocket and take on a master geneticist named the High Evolutionary (Chukwudi Iwuji) as they infiltrate his Orgocorp headquarters.
The nasty, power-hungry villain is not only hell-bent on retrieving experiment 89P13 (Rocket) but continues his ultimate mission to reshape and often anthropomorphize species around the galaxy in the most demented Doctor Moreau ways possible.
Throughout, viewers also get the heartbreaking origin story of Rocket that highlights the extreme cruelty of animal experimentation as he and his new friends, referred to as Batch 89 including an otter, rabbit and walrus, suffer from the High Evolutionary’s actions.
That crushing narrative makes it hard to appreciate the Guardians’ humor, often misplaced and sometimes forced. The extreme action also tries to overwhelm the Rocket plot, which often devolves into a video gamer shooter with massive space ships and planets’ fiery destruction exploding into a migraine for viewers.
Although it can be too much, one must not forget the Guardians films were built on those high-level action sequences and odd humor.
One sequence that viewers won’t forget in Volume 3 has the team in a visceral killing field in the corridor of the High Evolutionary’s ship.
It will cause jaws to drop as the Guardians, slice, dice and laser carve through minions in the most brutally violent ways possible as The Beastie Boys’ “No Sleep Till Brooklyn” blasts out of speakers. It might be the most brutal scene ever delivered for the trilogy.
Also worth noting is the celebration of popular culture as witnessed by comic book legends Cosmo the Spacedog and Howard the Duck making appearances in the film as well as actors Nathan Fillion (Capt. Malcolm Reynolds in “Firefly”) as a security leader at Orgocorp; Linda Cardellini (Velma Dinkley in “Scooby-Doo”) as the otter Lylla; and Michael Rosenbaum (Lex Luthor of “Smallville”) and Sylvester Stallone (Rocky and King Shark) as high-ranking Ravagers.
“Guardians of the Galaxy: Volume 3” offers plenty of closure to the franchise, will keep the fans happy with its excessive action and will really tug at the heart-strings of viewers invested in Rocket’s plight and his team’s evolution.
4K in action: With an ultra-high definition presentation culled from a 4K digital intermediate format (originally sourced from 8K cameras), the film crisply explodes on home theater screens with color and detail greatly benefitting from the occasional mix of an IMAX-sized, screen-filling aspect ratio during some of it more epic moments.
Exploring from a distance such locations as the urban cluttered Knowhere (actually the massive, severed head of a techno-organic Celestial) or watching the team floating through the tentacled, biomechanical, tubular structure of Orgocorp and landing on its pink, gelatinous fleshy surface are ripe with minutiae and rich hues.
The visual effects hold up as well for the easily scrutinized characters especially the computer-generated Rocket and his other engineered friends.
They are so incredibly well-crafted and meticulous down to whiskers, shaded hair follicles, matted fur, glistening eyeballs and stretched skin connected to metal and with such lifelike expressions that their fates will deliver a flood of tears from viewers.
And do not get me started on the overtly cute factor artistically applied to a group of cuddly baby raccoons.
Best extras: As I require for any Cinematic Universe Edition release, viewers can listen to Mr. Gunn in a nonstop, solo commentary track on the included Blu-ray disc.
The writer and director mentions upfront that he is talking while watching the completed film for one of the first times and before it arrived in theaters.
His narration, often commenting on the action on the screen, covers the third film but also riffs on the other two films offering plenty of information on story origins, character motivations and history of the franchise.
Mr. Gunn remarks the movie had the biggest sets of any Marvel film and that the first film was about the mother, the second the father and third about the self.
He touches on minutiae such as referencing his video game Lollipop Chainsaw, his love of writing Gamora‘s fiery character, the Guardians’ space costumes based on “2001 Space Odyssey,” Mr. Pratt and his wife helped Mr. Gunn get his future wife wedding ring, using the Nano handheld camera rig for an intimate feel and that he created a humanimals language spoken on Counter-Earth.
Next, find on the Blu-ray, an 11-minute retrospective of the Guardian’s movie franchise focused on the stories with cast and crew reflecting on their places in the series and supplemented with plenty of behind-the-scenes from the past films.
Also, a nine-minute featurette that looks at the character of Rocket and bringing him to life on the set including Sean Gunn playing the motion-capture version of the raccoon and Mr. Bradley‘s voice-over work along with Mr. Gunn explaining its importance throughout.