In a post-release promotion interview for Guardians of the Galaxy 3, director James Gunn stated that the three movies of the franchise had a theme of coming to terms with personal relations that linked up to constitute an interconnected whole. The first movie in the franchise dealt with Peter Quill’s relationship with his mother, while the second dealt with issues with his father. Similarly, the third installment revolves around coming to terms with one’s self, which is shown through almost all the “Guardians” team members, but none more poignantly than through the journey of the most important one, Rocket Racoon. Actor Bradley Cooper has returned to reprise his voice acting role as Rocket, and Sean Gunn has provided the mo-cap, and both of them have done a tremendous job in bringing the emotionally wrecking performance to life. The movie, which is more of an origin tale of Rocket than a conventional team-up story, sheds light on the harrowing past of the trigger-happy, tough-talking Procyon, which is something not intended for the faint of heart. We will take a closer look at how the experience he endured in his early life shaped Rocket’s worldview and how he triumphed over his circumstances eventually and emerged as the strongest Guardian.
Right off the bat, the movie introduces us to a baby Rocket, huddling along with other racoon kits inside of a cage, as the litter awaits a cruel fate of being experimented upon by the deranged, megalomaniac scientist High Evolutionary, who finds his purpose in ‘perfecting’ life forms across the universe by mutilating them, replacing their body parts with cybernetics, and making them sentient. The image of a trembling baby Rocket, fearing the hand of the unseen person that continuously tortured him, and the first words Rocket utters after gaining sentience “it hurts” are definitely going to haunt viewers, especially those with a kinder perspective on the voiceless.
As a test subject, Rocket was designated as subject 89P13, which was shown in the first “Guardians” movie as well. Rocket’s condition in the hands of Evolutionary and his lackeys mimics the plight of creatures imprisoned worldwide who have been forced to relinquish their individuality. However, even in such a nightmarish existence, Rocket found some solace in the presence of a few friends: an otter, a walrus, and a rabbit. Despite being brutalized and forced to live in pathetic conditions, the quartet dreamed of living in a free, better world and named themselves in the hope of a better tomorrow. While his friends chose conventional names—Lylla the Otter, Teefs the Walrus, and Floor the Rabbit—the racoon named himself Rocket, a craft the skilled genius wanted to create to fly away together with his friends. Being exceptionally intelligent, Rocket was of great assistance to the High Evolutionary in solving a fundamental error in his calculation to create his version of a “perfect’ anthropomorphic being, both sentient and, at the same time, docile. From his frequent visits to the maker, Rocket had learned about a new world named ‘Counter-Earth” that will be populated by the “humanimals” whom Rocket helped to create, and naturally, the quartet had thought they would be given a place in this new world at long last.
However, despite gaining sentience, Rocket hadn’t started to think like exploitative, manipulative humans just yet; therefore, he hadn’t counted on the ingratitude, disloyalty, and abominable cruelty human beings are capable of. The news of High Evolutionary not only barring them from a place in his new world but also planning to incinerate Rocket’s friends and extract his brain comes as a great shock to him, and he sets in motion an escape plan. Unfortunately for Rocket, his best friend, Lylla, dies right in front of his eyes for his ‘transgression’ of an attempt to escape as High Evolutionary guns her down. An aggrieved Rocket mangles the sadistic despot’s face viciously and dispatches his lackeys too, only to discover that Teefs and Floor have left this world too. Devastated beyond measure, Rocket flees, but the survivor’s guilt and the trauma never leave him.
Facing His Demons: Did Rocket Find Out His Purpose At The End?
The experience Rocket had gone through during the initial phase of his life constructed a cocoon around him, guarding him from any emotional hurt—that is, until he met Groot. It is understandable why Rocket chose to trust a non-human-looking creature first, and they shared a string of bonds of friendship. Later in his life, Rocket and Groot met the rest of the Guardians, and after initial disagreements and bickering, they formed a familial relationship. After the prime Groot’s death, Rocket became a parental figure to the new Groot, and it seemed he was content with this new life in the team. But something he felt himself lacking was a sense of purpose. Needless to say, the survivor’s guilt and the pain were so heavy that he didn’t even open up about that life to the people he was most close to, and in order to truly overcome the hurt, he needed to face his demons.
The attack by Adam in the Knowhere, who sought to retrieve Rocket on behalf of High Evolutionary, although it resulted in the tragic outcome of Rocket being fatally injured, set in motion a chain of events that were necessary from a larger perspective. The team learns about the barbaric brutality Rocket and his friends were subjected to, something so severe that even Nebula, who had shared the same fate of being experimented on in her early life, gets horrified to see it. A dying Rocket sees his friends in the afterlife and gets elated, considering it’s his time to join them, but fate has other plans for him, as Lylla reminds him that he has a greater purpose to serve still. Rocket comes back to life and holds his found family close to him as he embraces Groot and Peter.
After getting revived, Rocket prepares to ‘meet his maker’, quite literally this time as he and the Guardians’ fleet attack Arête, the spaceship of the High Evolutionary, to free the captured Guardians. Rocket goes to visit the hellscape of holding cells, where he met his friends for the last time. Rocket is hit with a sense of déjà vu when he sees numerous creatures held captive, waiting for a cruel fate in a similar manner to how he and his friends did. The emotional note of the movie reaches its crescendo as Rocket releases a bunch of racoons and holds them close like a protective mother; he has transformed into someone whom he has needed all his life, a Guardian to the hapless. Seeing the marker on their holding cells that denotes their birthplace (Earth), Rocket recognizes his own identity too, and by freeing the creatures from Evolution’s hold, he finds his purpose. Later, as the maniacal despot lies wounded, with his true face exposed—both literally and figuratively—Rocket chooses to leave him to his fate by refusing to kill him, despite the lifelong trauma his actions have caused him. The racoon has made peace with his past and will seek to define the course of his life by taking hold of the present.
Rocket is not only the best-written character of the Guardians, but also the representative of the oppressed, brutalized creatures who have been denied even their right to live since time immemorial. Often, non-human life forms show the best examples of humanity, and Rocket is one of the prime examples of that. There is even a brief allusion to Rocket representing the condition of the trans experience. When he states that High Evolutionary hates things the way they are, he essentially challenges the rigidity purported by social hierarchy that condemns differences and doesn’t allow the uniqueness of life to shape its course in its quest to create a ‘perfect’ society. Quite deservingly, by the end of the movie, Rocket is made the leader of a new team of Guardians (he was the better leader even while Peter was in the team anyway), where he will continue to serve his purpose by looking out for the less fortunate ones across the galaxy, irrespective of the differences.