Guardians Of The Galaxy 3’s James Gunn Explains How Rocket Is The ‘Secret Protagonist’ Of The Franchise

Rocket in Guardians 3
(Image credit: Marvel Studios)

MCU is a behemoth property, but a few franchises stand out as fan favorites. James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy is definitely in that category, and his upcoming blockbuster Vol. 3 is one of the most highly anticipated upcoming Marvel movies coming down the line. Gunn recently explained that Rocket is the “secret protagonist” of the franchise, and how that’ll pay off in the highly anticipated theequel

While the lead character of the Guardians of the Galaxy franchise is arguably Chris Pratt’s Star-Lord, they are truly ensemble projects. Bradley Cooper’s Rocket Raccoon is a consistent scene-stealer, survived Thanos’ snap, and is even the the last character we see in Vol. 2. James Gunn recently spoke to EW about the third movie, and how Rocket influenced his decision to return after his temporary firing by the studio. In his words,

One of the reasons why I came back to [make] this movie was because I felt like I needed to tell Rocket's story. I would've been very sad not to complete the trilogy for many reasons, but I just feel very connected to Rocket. I feel like nobody would be able to tell his full story if it wasn't me.

Some points were made. While the Guardians are definitely beloved figures in the MCU, their stories are far from completed. We still haven’t really been privy to Rocket’s backstory, and the experiments that made him the hero we know today. And from the looks of Guardians 3’s trailer, that’s exactly what we’re getting in the mysterious sequel.

James Gunn has made his love for Rocket clear over the years, and smart money says that’s going to pay off in a big way for Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3. Later in that same interview, he explained the way he’s always thought of the importance of Bradley Cooper’s Marvel hero. In his words,

To me, Rocket has always been the secret protagonist of the Guardians movies. From the beginning, it has been rooted in who he is as a character. I think he exemplifies a lot of the traits of all the Guardians. They've had all these traumas, and it brings them together. I just think that his is more extreme than others.

Indeed, part of what unites the Guardians of the Galaxy is how much childhood pain they endured. While we’ve seen glimpses at Rocket’s scars on the big screen, it looks like James Gunn’s threequel will finally reveal exactly what happens to him. I don’t know about you, but I’m bringing my tissues.

The idea that Rocket’s trauma is “more extreme” than his teammates is definitely saying something, especially considering the backstory of characters like Nebula. She was constantly tortured and mechanically enhanced by Thanos, all because her sister Gamora constantly bested her in battle. But somehow Rocket’s backstory is even worse. James Gunn explained more, saying:

He was just fine being an animal, and he was transformed into something else he didn't want to be. I think that transformation itself was extremely painful, but I also think it made him feel incredibly alienated from everyone else. In Vol. 3, we learn a lot about his past — where he came from, who he is, and what he's been through. It's been a difficult road for the little animal.

I’m not crying, you’re crying. We still don’t actually know anything about the contents of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, but it’s clear that the movie is going to be firing on all cylinders. Both Gunn and the cast have been teasing how emotional the movie is, and the first trailer definitely highlighted that, with mysterious scenes were both Peter and Mantis are crying hysterically. As a reminder, you can check out the first footage below:

While the wait for Guardians 3 has been extended, James Gunn and the cast have definitely been helping to keep excitement high. The team had a brief but fun role in Thor: Love and Thunder, and The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special perfectly set the stage for the upcoming threequel. Then there was the I Am Groot animated shorts, for anyone who needs a hit of Marvel cuteness.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 is currently expected to arrive in theaters on May 5th, 2023. In the meantime, check out the 2023 movie release dates to plan your trips to the theater in the New Year. We’ll just have to see which characters survive the movie, and if any of them return to the MCU in a future project. Fingers crossed for Rocket.

Corey Chichizola
Movies Editor

Corey was born and raised in New Jersey. Graduated with degrees theater and literature from Ramapo College of New Jersey. After working in administrative theater for a year in New York, he started as the Weekend Editor at CinemaBlend. He's since been able to work himself up to reviews, phoners, and press junkets-- and is now able to appear on camera with some of his favorite actors... just not as he would have predicted as a kid. He's particularly proud of covering horror franchises like Scream and Halloween, as well as movie musicals like West Side Story. Favorite interviews include Steven Spielberg, Spike Lee, Jamie Lee Curtis, and more.