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.