James Gunn Returned For Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 3 All Because Of Rocket Raccoon

Since taking on "Guardians of the Galaxy" in 2014, writer-director James Gunn has repeatedly expressed his deep ardor for each of these oddball characters who come together to form both a team and a family. They're misfits, and they look out for each other because the world plays rough with people of their offbeat ilk.

This is something Gunn knows firsthand. He cut his teeth as a screenwriter on Lloyd Kaufman's ultra-low-budget horror riff on the Bard, "Tromeo & Juliet," and found a small cult following thanks to his script for Craig Mazin's superhero comedy "The Specials." He stumbled commercially with his 2006 directorial debut, "Slither," and failed to find a wide-enough audience for his pitch-black superhero action comedy "Super." Though he had a solid reputation as a studio writer-for-hire via Raja Gosnell's "Scooby-Doo" movies and Zack Snyder's "Dawn of the Dead" remake, he was considered an acquired taste as a director of his own work. He was weird, transgressive, and committed to his tonally skewed visions.

He was, in short, just the guy Marvel Studios needed to tackle their biggest post-"Avengers" gamble.

The risk was more than worth it. Both "Guardians of the Galaxy" films were box-office smashes. After a brief interregnum caused by internet trolls, Gunn is back in the saddle for his third and final go-round at the helm of this franchise. Now the co-CEO of DC Studios, Gunn reveals that he couldn't leave the Guardians' third adventure in the hands of another director because he had unfinished business with one character in particular.

Rocket's last ride

In an interview with Deadline prior to the January 30 announcement of the multi-year DC slate he's planned with producer Peter Safran, Gunn says he had to personally close out Rocket Raccoon's journey:

"The reason why I needed to finish this is because I love the character of Rocket more than any character I've ever dealt with before, and I needed to finish his story and that is what Volume 3 is about. I absolutely needed to do it, and I think we've done it in a spectacular way that I can't wait for people to see."

Rocket is the emotionally unstable core of the Guardians. He lashes out at his friends in sometimes humorous, other times hurtful ways. Like many emotionally volatile people, he also bruises easily. As they say, hurt people hurt people.

While Rocket is voiced by Bradley Cooper, he is played on set by the filmmaker's brother, Sean Gunn. As the director told me prior to the release of the first movie, "[Sean] co-created that character with me. A lot of times we used Sean's facial expressions in the animation. There's a lot of Sean in that character." With so much of the Gunn family DNA in Rocket, it would've been a betrayal of the gun-toting mammal to let anyone else usher him out of the MCU.

How final will Rocket's exit be?

But while we know "Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 3" will be the end of the run for Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoe SaldaƱa), Drax the Destroyer (David Bautista) and Groot (Vin Diesel), you can't help but wonder how final will their exit will be.

All we know right now is that some of the team will die. As for who, all Gunn can say four months out film's release is this: "It's not ever going to be the same group of characters for a lot of different reasons. Who knows what will happen with the Guardians franchise in regards to future characters, but in terms of this group of characters, this is the end of their story."

The MCU is, of course, not afraid to kill off a fan favorite or two, but could Gunn really put his beloved Rocket in the grave? All we know is that the filmmaker has a history of doing the unexpected. May 5, 2023 feels like a long, long way off.