Just like Tony Stark and Steve Rogers were the unofficial leaders of the Avengers, Star-Lord has been pegged as the one leading the Guardians of the Galaxy ever since the team of eccentric heroes made their MCU debut. But this has never been the reigning notion amongst MCU fans and recently James Gunn further underlined it when he admitted that for him, the real protagonist of the Guardians has been Rocket Raccoon all along. And as much as this admission soothes anti-Star-Lord fans, it also paints Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 3 as the savior Phase Five needs to sidestep the pitfalls of Phase Four.
We have all witnessed Phase Four, haven’t we? Yes, there have been some absolute winners but more often than not, the interconnected stories have rested on shoulders that were not crafted the right way to support them — yes, we are not-so-subtly calling out Thor: Love and Thunder and its unnecessarily goofy God of Thunder as well as the majorly disappointing star-studded Eternals.
If truth be told, Star-Lord’s arc hasn’t exactly been pitching him as one of the favorite leaders the MCU has given us. If his goofy antics and self-proclaimed inferiority complex about how good he looks weren’t enough, his messing up all the hard work everyone did in Avengers: Infinity War to stop Thanos did the trick. Had the Guardians only had the likes of Drax, Mantis, and Groot, it would have been easy to accept Peter Quill as the least worst option. But we do have an infinitely better option — Rocket.
We already knew that Vol. 3 is set to focus on Rocket’s history and will bring his story full circle. But despite being the best Guardian out there, his presence has always been overshadowed by Quill, Thor, or by Peter pining for Gamora. So, it was natural to expect that Gunn mapping his whole story would be more of a side arc in the film.
But now that the director has named him as the true hero of the team, it puts the sequel in an altogether different light. Is Gunn planning to give credit where it is due and present Rocket as the reigning protagonist of the film? Because if Rocket is destined to lead the second film of Phase Five, it is already headed in a magnificent direction.
He is the perfect MCU formula of what makes a true leader
Up until Thanos killed his girlfriend (though he did get a replacement the moment he opened his eyes five years later), Peter Quill hasn’t exactly weathered the test of time. Yes, he saw his mother die and was kidnapped, but he never faced any major adversities on his own.
Rocket on the other hand spend a major portion of his early life being subjected to painful and rather abusive experimentations by the High Evolutionary, who induced genetic and cybernetic transformations in him. But nothing could dampen his spirit and he escaped, joining hands with Groot. But even as he became a mercenary and was exponentially governed by his tragic past, his compassion never took a backseat, no matter how much ruthless and heartless he pretended to be.
Even after he joined the Guardians, he was treated as the runt of the team and was called names like vermin, rodent, rat, crabby puppy, and whatnot. But everyone who looked down on him soon changed their perception as he always proves his potential and shatters any lingering doubts.
His origin story — how his persona was shaped by it but his compassion wasn’t governed by it — bears many similarities to Bucky Barnes’ horrifying past and his eventual elevation into a true hero.
“Well, I didn’t ask to get made! I didn’t ask to be torn apart and put back together over and over and turned into some… some little monster!”
– Rocket Raccoon
On the other hand, his proving his naysayers wrong is a stark reminder of how Captain America shut down everyone who dared to think he was just an experiment in a lab.
He was initially regarded as a petty criminal who only looks out for himself, kept everyone at arm’s length, and masked his pain with biting sarcasm — very Tony Stark-like, right? But just like the fallen hero, he has broken his walls, finally accepting that he cares, that he is selfless when needed, and is ready to put himself at risk to protect the ones he cares for. Remember how he aided Thor in getting Stormbreaker and retrieving Mjolnir? He didn’t have to provide the emotional boast the grieving Asgardian needed both times, and yet he still did.
So, even though the entire point might feel like us a love letter for Steve and Tony — because it partially is — it serves to show that Rocket is a perfect amalgamation of characteristics that have made particular MCU superheroes absolute favorites despite their glaring flaws. He is what superhero films have taught us a true hero should be.
We think we are speaking for the entire MCU fandom when we say that if he takes over the Guardians reins in Vol. 3, it would be one exceptionally welcome change, even if it’s only a one-time deal. Even though Thor probably called him the captain and a noble leader in Infinity War in jest, Rocket has proven, time and again, how true it is.
And also, well he is a badass
Let’s face it. After losing his celestial powers, Star-Lord is just a human with a gun prone to commit stupid mistakes. Then we have Drax, Mantis, and Groot, who despite having superpowers aren’t exactly cut out to be leaders. Nebula’s temperament is too mercurial and as for Gamora, her status is currently stuck in no man’s land. But their drawbacks don’t really make a difference because everyone’s beloved Rocket is gloriously badass.
He is strong, very street smart, knows how to make calculative decisions, has exceptional mental and physical skills, is a one-man army when needed — his single-handed attack on the Ravagers is proof enough — and is well aware of any mechanical know-how. In the Guardians’ future fight against the High Evolutionary and Adam Warlock, Rocket, with his exceptional resume, is the kind of leader the team needs.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 could very well be the last time see the Guardians in the MCU — but we are still, hopelessly, holding on to hope this is not goodbye — letting Rocket take over the reins and the spotlight of the storyline is probably the best “going out with a bang” fans expect from Gunn and his motley of eccentric superheroes.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 is all set to hit theaters on May 5, 2023.