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Marvel's final 'Guardians of the Galaxy' movie tells Rocket's origin story

SACHA PFEIFFER, HOST:

It's been almost three months since the latest "Ant-Man" film arrived in theaters, so critic Bob Mondello had a feeling it was time for another Marvel movie. And sure enough, it opens tonight - "Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 3."

BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: We begin at Guardians headquarters, a deep space critter-littered compound that feels like a junkyard shopping mall. The whole gang is there but not wisecracking. Star-Lord Peter Quill's mooning over the green goddess who was once his girlfriend. Rocket, who you call a raccoon at your peril, is staring vacantly out a portal. Then something hurtles in and slams him against a wall. Gold-skinned Adam Warlock is here to kidnap Rocket but only manages to mortally wound him before he's sent packing by Drax, Gamora and others.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 3")

VIN DIESEL: (As Groot) I am Groot.

MONDELLO: Rocket being left on life support lights a fire under our heroes, who have to dig deep into his past as a medical experiment to save him when they're not distracted by their own concerns...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 3")

CHRIS PRATT: (As Peter Quill) Maybe if you open yourself up to it.

ZOE SALDANA: (As Gamora) I don't think so, Quinn.

PRATT: (As Peter Quill) Quill.

SALDANA: (As Gamora) Quill.

MONDELLO: ...And distracted from the distractions.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 3")

PRATT: (As Peter Quill) Well, what I'm trying to say...

POM KLEMENTIEFF: (As Mantis) Peter, you know this is an open line, right?

PRATT: (As Peter Quill) What?

KLEMENTIEFF: (As Mantis) We're listening to everything you're saying.

DAVE BAUTISTA: (As Drax) And it is painful.

PRATT: (As Peter Quill) And you're just telling me now.

KAREN GILLAN: (As Nebula) We were hoping it would stop on its own.

PRATT: (As Peter Quill) But I switched it over to private.

KLEMENTIEFF: (As Mantis) What color button did you push?

PRATT: (As Peter Quill) Blue for the blue suit.

BAUTISTA: (As Drax) Oh, no.

GILLAN: (As Nebula) Blue is the open line for everyone.

KLEMENTIEFF: (As Mantis) Orange is for blue.

PRATT: (As Peter Quill) What?

KLEMENTIEFF: (As Mantis) Black is for orange. Yellow is for green. Green is for red.

MONDELLO: Director James Gunn can keep this sort of thing going indefinitely, which partly explains the film's 2 1/2 hour running time. But in fairness, there's a lot going on - a mad scientist...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 3")

CHUKWUDI IWUJI: (As High Evolutionary) My sacred mission is to create the perfect society.

MONDELLO: ...Our heroes zipping off to multiple planets...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 3")

PRATT: (As Peter Quill) We come in peace.

MONDELLO: ...Pursuing multiple storylines, encountering a slew of new characters, all of whom need explaining. And with Rocket sidelined in a coma, we also get flashbacks to him as a cub. This is Rocket's origin story, actually.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 3")

SEAN GUNN: (As Rocket) Someday I'm going to make great machines that fly, and me and my friends are going to go flying together into the forever and beautiful sky.

MONDELLO: The plot is insane enough in a comics-inspired way that characters need to spout exposition every few lines.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 3")

PRATT: (As Peter Quinn) She was my girlfriend, only she doesn't remember it because it wasn't her because her dad threw her off a magic cliff and she died. And then I lost my temper and nearly destroyed half the universe. And she came back out of the past. There she is. Everyone else who died in the past stayed dead, not her. Why? Was it the magic cliff? I don't know. I'm not some freaking infinity stone scientist.

GILLAN: (As Nebula) You left out some important information, but that is the gist of it.

MONDELLO: As you'll have gathered in the six years since the second "Guardians" movie, a lot has happened. Actors have grown into their roles. Doofus hero Chris Pratt, who used to crank up his Walkman and now sports an iPod, has matured from a wisecracking series of punchlines to an actual character. Cyborg Nebula's learning to tame her anger. Drax is showing a softer side, though not always.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 3")

BAUTISTA: (As Drax) Kill anyone who gets in our way.

PRATT: (As Peter Quill) No - not kill anyone.

BAUTISTA: (As Drax) Kill a few people.

PRATT: (As Peter Quill) Kill no people.

BAUTISTA: (As Drax) Kill one guy, one stupid guy who no one loves.

PRATT: (As Peter Quill) Now you're just making it sad.

MONDELLO: The director has grown, too. James Gunn was dismissed from the "Guardians" series over inappropriate tweets in 2018. A year later, he'd earned back the studio's respect, which might be why there are real-world concerns being referenced this time, from the ethics of experimenting on animals to intellectual property issues. Outside the theater, we worry about whether AI chatbots will start thinking for themselves. The film worries about who will own an artificial intelligence that is thinking for itself - the AI, its creator? And what about its feelings? - questions, no doubt, to fuel the next "Guardians" trilogy. I'm Bob Mondello.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "IN THE MEANTIME")

SPACEHOG: (Singing) We love the all, the all of you where lands are green and skies are blue. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Bob Mondello, who jokes that he was a jinx at the beginning of his critical career — hired to write for every small paper that ever folded in Washington, just as it was about to collapse — saw that jinx broken in 1984 when he came to NPR.