Guardians of the Galaxy 3 Makes a Frustrating Rocket Raccoon Mistake
To call the film’s treatment of Rocket uneven would be an understatement.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 may be all about Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper), but that doesn’t mean the irritable superhero gets all that much to do in the film. The sci-fi epic does, to its credit, mostly follow through on the promises made by its trailers, which teased that Vol. 3 would finally explore Rocket’s tragic origin story. The film, which is writer-director James Gunn’s third and final big-screen Marvel Cinematic Universe adventure, does just that.
However, while Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 goes out of its way to depict all of the traumatic moments that Rocket experienced at the hands of his cruel creator, the High Evolutionary (Chukwudi Iwuji), it does so while also sidelining the fan-favorite MCU hero for much of its runtime. The film doesn’t go so far as to turn Rocket into a literal MacGuffin, but it does come frustratingly close.
In the opening act of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, Rocket suffers a near-fatal injury at the golden-skinned, himbo hands of Adam Warlock (Will Poulter). Their encounter leaves Rocket unconscious and on the brink of death for most of Vol. 3’s story, which follows the rest of the film’s heroes as they all try desperately to save his life by stealing some key information from the High Evolutionary. It’s only at the start of Vol. 3’s third act that Rocket finally recovers from his injury and becomes an active part of the Guardians again.
During his prolonged bout of unconsciousness, Vol. 3 frequently jumps back in time to Rocket’s past and it’s through these flashbacks that viewers learn exactly what happened between him and the High Evolutionary. As emotionally effective as Vol. 3’s flashbacks are, though, they also come at the cost of any present-day agency for Rocket, whose active presence helped lift up both of the previous Guardians of the Galaxy films. In Vol. 3, Rocket’s absence is not only deeply felt at all times, but it also ends up lessening the weight of his character arc in the film.
There were plenty of other ways that Vol. 3 could have brought Rocket and the High Evolutionary back together. But by choosing to sideline Rocket for much of its story, the film misses out on the chance of letting the character actually wrestle with the prospect of his and the High Evolutionary’s inevitable reunion. Not only would that have made the present-day events of Vol. 3 more impactful, but juxtaposing Rocket’s current struggles with his past traumas could have allowed the film’s flashback sequences to carry even more weight, too.
On the one hand, there is something to be said about how Rocket Raccoon’s life-threatening injury in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 allows the film to highlight just how much he means to his friends. On the other hand, the film’s decision to sideline the character ultimately robs it of the kind of emotional material that could have lifted up both its strongest and weakest moments and made it all feel a bit more cohesive.
As it is, Rocket Raccoon’s storyline in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 contains moments of sheer, inarguable brilliance. It’s the near-perfect aspect of the character’s story that makes Vol. 3’s treatment of him so frustrating, though. It’s hard, after all, to believe the film’s claims that its story belongs to Rocket when it puts him out of commission for the majority of its runtime. There’s an unevenness there that is truly disappointing.