Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) – The 10th Marvel Cinematic Universe Movie – Directed by James Gunn – Starring Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Bradley Cooper, Vin Diesel, Glenn Close, Lee Pace, Karen Gillan, Michael Rooker, Djimon Hounsou, John C. Reilly, Glenn Close, Benicio del Toro, Josh Brolin, Alex Denisof, Ophelia Lovibond, Peter Serafinowicz, Gregg Henry, Laura Haddock, Alex Denisof, Josh Brolin, Lloyd Kaufman, Nathan Fillion, Rob Zombie, Seth Green, and Stan Lee.
Welcome to a series of specific, character-based reactions to the GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY. You can read the review of the GUARDIANS movie here, and you can read all of my superhero movie reviews (and the specific character reactions to Marvel’s The Avengers) right here.
“I am Groot.” – Groot, to everyone.
In a crowded movie, a straightforward character like Groot (built by CGI, voiced by Vin Diesel) is a necessity, and screenwriters James Gunn and Nicole Perlman demonstrate how to make a character’s supposed shortcoming – the only words Groot can say, in the words of Rocket (Bradley Cooper) are “‘I’ and ‘am’ and ‘Groot.’ Exclusively in that order.” – and turn it into a strength.
First, by limiting Groot’s communication capabilities, it’s one less person fighting to have themselves heard. Groot could, of course, say “I am Groot” as much as he wants to say it (he’s limited in the number of words he can pronounce, not in how many times he can say them), but he’s content to speak when he has something important to say rather than whenever a stray thought pops into his head.
A lot of talk (including from me) has been devoted to Rocket and how he’s the perfect example of how Marvel Studios trusts their characters, but we shouldn’t overlook Groot in this regard, either.
He’s a humanoid tree who says three words over and over again, after all, and such characters are not the usual foundational blocks for cinematic franchises.
The beauty of Groot, however, is not that he’s simple – it’s that he’s initially painted as simple, so it doesn’t take a lot for him to surprise you. It’s rather clever, actually, and allows Groot to get more than his share of memorable moments in the film. He’s used in a variety of ways, too, so before you know it, that “houseplant turned muscle,” as Corpsman Rhomann Dey (John C. Reilly) calls him, is every bit the character the other four members of the Guardians are in the film.
It’s rather easy, of course, to see the parallel between Groot and Chewbacca. Both characters run the risk of being minimized because of their inability to speak proper English, but in neither case does their simplistic (to human ears) speaking skills signify a character that is any less real or complex as anyone else in the film.
Groot may be Rocket’s sidekick, but he is not Rocket’s pet.
In the film’s pre-Kyln sequences, Groot is defined by his relationship with Rocket. They attack Peter Quill on Xandar to collect the bounty Yondu places on his head, and then proceed to get arrested by the Nova Corps alongside Quill and Gamora. When they’re led through booking and then sent into the Kyln, Rocket demands the bulk of the attention because he’s noticeably louder, but Groot is there, too, adding some levity when Quill first becomes aware that “I am Groot” is all he says.
Groot is absent when Quill saves Gamora from Drax, but reappears when Quill, Gamora, and Rocket form their alliance to bust out of the Kyln and sell the orb. “I am Groot,” he grumbles from behind a cell wall, to which Rocket snaps back something like, “Just like you. Absent for the danger, present for the money.”
It’s Groot who gets the escape plan moving, as he pulls the energy battery off the wall that Rocket needs before Rocket is ready for it. It’s a fun scene – director James Gunn positions the camera in front of the table, sitcom-style (Gamora, Quill, and Rocket conveniently leaving the side of the table nearest the camera empty so we get a clear view of all the participants), and over Rocket’s head we see Groot moving to the central watchtower, reaching up to pull the battery free just as Rocket says to get the battery last. We also get a sense that Rocket sometimes underestimates his partner, because Groot is reaching for the battery as Rocket grumbles about how tough it’s going to be to acquire the object from the central tower.
When the fighting does break out, Rocket and Groot work mostly as a team, Rocket perched on his partner’s shoulder, firing a machine gun from that vantage point. Rocket is generally operating solely as an offensive force, while Groot provides offense and defense. It’s nice to see Groot constantly grow and shift branches around for both purposes. Of all the Guardians, Groot demonstrates the biggest variety of superpowers, so while he’s limited in what he says, he’s the most unlimited in what he does during battle.
Rocket is the only one who can understand the meaning behind Groot’s constant “I am Groot” declarations, and I’ve been going back and forth over whether I want Rocket to actually be able to interpret a deeper meaning in Groot’s words or whether Rocket is merely projecting his own thoughts onto Groot.
Take the scene in aboard Yondu’s ship, where Quill is trying to rally the group to go after Ronan. Rocket demands to know how much of a plan Quill actually has, and when Peter says it’s about 12% of a plan, Groot contributes an “I am Groot” to the conversation. Rocket instantly snaps at him, “What does that mean? Its better than 11%?”
Is Groot actually expressing the thought that “12% is better than 11%” or is he merely offering some kind of support for Peter’s position that Rocket interprets, fusing Groot’s meaning with his own subconscious thoughts? Given Groot’s facial expressions, postures, and vocal stylings, it’s not hard to figure out Groot’s general opinion, even if he uses the same three words over and over.
Groot also develops a friendship with Drax over the course of the movie. After Drax gets his ass kicked by Ronan and tossed into a tub of yellowish goo, it’s Groot who saves his life by creating a sharp branch that he uses to puncture Drax’s lungs. Groot also defends Drax when Rocket chastises the warrior to get over his wife and son’s murder by reacting in a way that tells his partner that he went too far. Rocket doesn’t apologize, but he does clarify his message to point out that everyone has lost someone and that it’s not alright to get everyone else killed in the process of dealing with one’s grief/revenge.
During the “everyone gets prepped for the big fight while ‘Cherry Bomb’ plays” montage, Groot picks a small bud out of the side of his head. I was certain of two things when I saw this: Groot was going to die during the battle, and Groot was going to come back to life thanks to that bud.
I was right about the first and wrong about the second. Groot does die during the battle with Ronan, creating a cocoon out of his body to protect the Guardians as they fall to Xandar’s surface inside the Dark Aster. This is Groot’s big hero moment in the film, and Rocket understands what his friend is doing – sacrificing his own life to save theirs. Rocket is beside himself, but Groot is not going to waver from his decision. “We are Groot,” he says as Rocket is near tears.
It’s a huge moment in the film, wonderfully built to over the course of however many “I am Groot”s he lays on us. This small change, altering “I” to “We” is the Guardians’ most symbolic moment. The whole team has gone from “I” to “we” over the course of this movie, finding a new family in one another.
Groot’s sacrifice and declaration of family is a tremendously emotional moment, and I think this is perhaps the moment that comic book fans can point to if they ever need to explain why we love the medium so much. I think most people can understand the attraction to the Batmans and Spider-Mans of the world, but there’s an old comic book adage that every character is someone’s favorite. The line gets trotted out whenever a character is killed in the comics, but there’s a flip side to that sentiment, and that is how fans can become attached to the lower lights of the comic book universes.
Everyone who reads comics has an “oddball” favorite, some character that makes infrequent appearances that connects with us on a greater level than perhaps is warranted by their lack of use. For me, it was characters like Taskmaster. Beta Ray Bill. Brono. Woodgod. Man-Wolf/Stargod. Kilowog. Characters that would pop in and out, but rarely ever get a shot at their own title.
Groot dies in the crash, but then comes back after Rocket picks up some of his twigs and puts one in a pot. We get a Baby Groot emerging from the supposedly dead twig, and in one of the film’s ultimate feel good moments, we get an extended mid-credits scene with Baby Groot dancing to Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back.”
It’s the perfect ending to Groot’s journey in this movie; the character that seemed to be without personality or emotion at the start of the film is now nearly pure emotion, dancing along joyously to a 45-year old Terran song. All along the way, Groot has been the character most in touch with his emotions and most unafraid to show an emotional state other than anger or annoyance. His ability to create lighted spores to allow the group to see in the dark, and to grow a flower to give a poor girl on Knowhere are two of the movie’s quieter moments but also among the most touching.
There is real heart to GUARDIANS, and that heart’s biggest component is Groot.
The Complete Box of GUARDIANS Reactions
1. GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY: Ain’t No Thing Like Me Except Me
2. GOTG: The YONDU Reaction
3. GOTG: The NEBULA Reaction
4. GOTG: The KORATH Reaction
5. GOTG: The GROOT Reaction
6. GOTG: The CORPSMAN DEY Reaction
7. GOTG: The NOVA PRIME Reaction
8. GOTG: The RONAN Reaction
9. GOTG: The DRAX Reaction
10. GOTG: The COLLECTOR Reaction
11. GOTG: The GAMORA Reaction
12. GOTG: The STAR-LORD Reaction
13. GOTG: The ROCKET Reaction