Bradley Cooper deserves more credit for bringing Rocket Raccoon to life

Rocket in Guardians of the Galaxy 3
(Image credit: Marvel Studios)

Rocket Raccoon should have been a failure. In a team already packed with outliers, Rocket was surely the hardest to sell to casual Marvel audiences: a walking, talking raccoon who exists in a world which, up until that point, had been fairly grounded, being worlds away from Guardians of the Galaxy’s larger-than-life cosmic adventures.

Mild spoilers for Guardians of the Galaxy 3 follow.

The nerves were present from the start: "It's really, really important to me that Rocket Racoon, who is the heart of the movie, is not a cartoon character, it's not Bugs Bunny in the middle of The Avengers, it's a real, little, somewhat mangled beast that's alone," Guardians director James Gunn told HeyUGuys back in 2014. It’s fair to say that, despite Gunn’s best intentions, a giant question mark still hung over the unlikeliest of heroes and its alliterative trash panda.

The rest, as they say, is history. The Guardians of the Galaxy trilogy will likely gross north of $2 billion when all is said and done. The pulsing, beating heart at its centre? Rocket Raccoon – and a certain Bradley Cooper.

Think Marvel leading men and your mind will likely wander to Iron Man actor Robert Downey Jr. or one of multiple Chrises. Messrs Hemsworth, Pratt, and Evans have all been given their due credit by now. Cooper, though, has been a little left behind, yet equally deserving of all the plaudits. 

More than a raccoon 

Rocket in Guardians of the Galaxy 3

(Image credit: Marvel Studios)

For one thing, it’s a performance so good that he completely disappears into it. Acting is tough. Voice acting is perhaps even tougher. There is often very little in the way of visual cues, performances delivered in a void can seem out of place once large on the big screen, and it sometimes can just sound like a big-name actor reading out lines of a script. You only have to look at the sudden snap back to reality audiences received when Groot spoke 'English' – in what is clearly Vin Diesel’s voice – for the first time. But there’s practically no tell which indicates this is Bradley Cooper. Instead, you’re listening to a master of his craft.

Throughout the trilogy, it’s clear that Cooper has perfected an art in a way that so few Hollywood actors have achieved. The broad New Yorker accent he puts on for Rocket hides just enough genuine warmth and loss to squeeze out even more from his tragic upbringing. Looking back at the past decade, it’s been proven again and again that this isn’t just something Cooper has only deployed now the spotlight is firmly on Rocket. Ever since the beginning, he’s been the Guardians’ low-key MVP.

Rocket’s drunken outburst in the first Guardians movie is a great example of how brilliant Cooper’s performance is. "You just want to laugh at me like everyone else," Rocket says after being confronted by Star-Lord. "He thinks I’m some stupid thing."

In lesser hands, it’s a line played for jokes. With Cooper, it’s a small window – one that wouldn’t even be explored for another two movies – into the trauma lurking behind his furry exterior. In truth, the Guardians trilogy is filled with moments like that: Rocket screaming "don’t call me a raccoon" at Peter; attacking Gamora because he can "only afford to lose one friend today"; his panicked fear over Yondu delivering home truths. Take your pick, it’s all gold.

Lest we forget, Bradley Cooper’s Rocket was also afforded a decent portion of Avengers: Endgame to strut his stuff. His Dark World-adjacent scenes with Thor are among the movie’s best, his "only kind of gone" speech to the God of Thunder peppered with the sort of heavy emotion that – again – could’ve been a punchline or inherently ridiculous if Rocket was voiced by an actor that was only there for a piece of stunt casting.

The Guardians MVP

Rocket in Guardians of the Galaxy 3

(Image credit: Marvel Studios)

There’s a galaxy’s worth of reasons, then, why James Gunn handed the baton over to Rocket for the Guardians threequel. This is his movie, but that’s the sort of creative choice that could only be taken when a director has complete faith in his talent. It’s fair to say – after almost a decade with the character – Marvel has full confidence in Bradley Cooper.

Ironically, despite it being one of his finest hours, the value in Cooper’s Rocket performance can be found in how much Guardians of the Galaxy 3 misses him for most of its runtime. 

The wise-cracks and snide remarks are filled elsewhere, sure, but there’s something lost when taking away the world-weariness and snarling attitude of Rocket from the group’s dynamic. In story terms, he’s so often the voice of reason; in quality terms, he’s a necessary spark that can kickstart a flagging scene or provide it with more pathos. It helps, too, that he can bounce off each and every Guardian in a way that, perhaps, only Star-Lord can match.

It would be remiss of me not to mention the unsung heroes behind the unsung hero. Sean Gunn has expertly provided motion capture for Rocket throughout the trilogy, while a team of CGI and VFX artists absolutely deserve credit for their work on also bringing Rocket to life. Everyone notices CGI when it’s bad, so it’s only right they get their flowers when they produce stellar work.

So, yes, Rocket should never have worked. Call him a rabbit, a raccoon, or a trash panda – he’s been one of Marvel’s leading lights for a long time. And Bradley Cooper is a major reason why he’s always delivered. 

Seen Guardians of the Galaxy 3? Dive into more of the key moments and hidden details with our latest explainers:

Bradley Russell

I'm the Senior Entertainment Writer here at GamesRadar+, focusing on news, features, and interviews with some of the biggest names in film and TV. On-site, you'll find me marveling at Marvel and providing analysis and room temperature takes on the newest films, Star Wars and, of course, anime. Outside of GR, I love getting lost in a good 100-hour JRPG, Warzone, and kicking back on the (virtual) field with Football Manager. My work has also been featured in OPM, FourFourTwo, and Game Revolution.