Guardians of the Galaxy became Marvel’s surprise hit of 2014, capturing the audience with its charm, wit, and intergalactic adventure, in addition to its pulse-pounding classic rock soundtrack. A ragtag band pulled together from the “dregs” of the cosmos, the Milano’s crew introduced the world to the alien-human hybrid Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), an assassin-turned-hero in Gamora (Zoe Saldana), a socially-awkward revenge-machine named Drax (Dave Bautista), wise-cracking space raccoon Rocket (Bradley Cooper), and of course, the chipper tree-monster, Groot (Vin Diesel).
The feisty flora and his catchphrase (well, only phrase) “I am Groot” skyrocketed to popularity, cropping up in merchandise, solo comics, and launching a thousand memes. His introductory role, however, ended in tragedy, when he made the ultimate sacrifice at the film’s conclusion to save the lives of his teammates (uttering the heart-wrenching line, “We are Groot”). Fortunately, Rocket managed to collect a clipping of the hero, and from it sprouted the ridiculously cute Baby Groot. Although not quite the same character fans grew to love, at least Groot will return to action in Guardians of the Galaxy 2.
Apparently, there might be more of the flora colossi in the works, as Vin Diesel recently hinted at a possible Groot standalone movie. Beloved as he is, though, the space tree isn’t exactly the most verbose superhero, and would be hard-pressed to carry an entire film. A Groot movie could work, though, and would be a heck of a lot of fun.
A Deciduously Rich History
With so much action and plot to attend to, there was very little time in GOTG for exploring Groot and his origins. Depending upon the source material, the tree-creature goes back a long way in the Marvel Universe. Hailing from Planet X, Groot was first dreamt up as a fearsome fiend by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, and Dick Ayers in Tales to Astonish #13 (1960). The less-helpful version came to Earth to collect people for his people’s human terrarium of sorts. He even battled the Hulk at one point – something Vin Diesel wants to reenact in Avengers: Infinity War. Despite being destroyed on several occasions, Groot always came back, eventually getting nabbed by everyone’s favorite cosmic Elder, the Collector.
After a sporadic run through Marvel’s 60s and 70s horror comics, Groot virtually disappeared, only to reemerge in 2006 as a good guy, serving along with the Howling Commandos and eventually joining the Guardians of the Galaxy. He has at least two similar if somewhat varied origin stories, including one which suggests he’s nobility from Planet X and that the tree-creature was exiled from his home planet for saving (or being too kind to) humans and other non-flora colossi entities.
The real trick is: how to fill an hour and a half with a star who – thanks to his hardened larynx – can’t fashion his highly-complex thoughts into anything more than a few syllables?
A Movie in Three Words?
The best way to proceed when it comes to a potential Groot standalone is to look at what’s worked in past. Clearly, the Guardians of the Galaxy film and its upcoming sequel use him and his miniaturized version to excellent effect, utilizing Vin Diesel’s broad range of “I am Groots.” The real challenge comes with removing the Guardians from the equation, since they offer an emotive canvas for the tree-creature’s trademark line. Nevertheless, there are several different ways to run with a would-be Groot flick.
The easiest path to a standalone movie would be a buddy pic, with his motor-mouthed comrade Rocket Raccoon reprising his role as comedic foil. Not only would it give Marvel’s writers a dynamic duo to work with, which is usually a great starting point (see Hulk and Thor in Thor: Ragnarok, hopefully), that also gives the giant tree a translator. The pair already work well together in the first film and the comics, thanks to their fantastic dynamic of Groot’s gentle optimism playing off Rocket’s sarcastic, trash-talking persona.
Creating a pure Groot solo picture, however, is certainly possible, even if a touch on the challenging side. One possible option is to include a string of minor characters, who, much like the Guardians, can reflect Groot’s one-liner, even if they aren’t able to understand him. With an evocative enough supporting cast, the tree-creature could, theoretically, carry his own spinoff.
Another possibility is use dubbing or subtitles to track the tree-thing’s thoughts or speech. The trouble with either option is readily apparent: subtitles and overdubbing would negate the charms of his unique mode of speech, the very aspect which made him so memorable in the first place. With the right timing, though, a voice over could give the solo pic a bad Kung Fu-movie vibe. On the other hand, subtitles might be less-disruptive of his speech patterns, but it’s difficult to imagine Disney greenlighting an space action-adventure popcorn flick consisting primarily of subtitles.
Once the House of Ideas figures out how to facilitate Groot’s unique voice for a full-length movie, all that’s left is to find the right story.
What Do Groots Do?
Fortunately, the “what” isn’t as tricky as the “how.” Over the years, Groot has accumulated a wealth of source material from in his solo comic, his shared book with Rocket Raccoon, and naturally, and his time with the Guardians. One of the best places to start would be his backstory, as Vin Diesel himself has suggested. The Marvel Cinematic Universe is certainly overrun with origin stories, including Iron Man, Captain America: The First Avenger, and of course Doctor Strange, among others, but if Marvel does head back to Planet X, it might be interesting to flip the talking tree’s villainous past on its head.
Perhaps Groot from the 60s is preparing for a secret mission for his people and discovers truth behind it after stumbling across a human woman being poked and prodded by his people – similar to one origin story. Because he springs her from captivity, he’s expelled from his home, and, unable to properly communicate, thrown in a galactic jail with a certain mouthy raccoon. Even if the House of Ideas is wary of dropping yet another origin into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, there are other interesting avenues, including a recent story from Brian Michael Bendis and artist Valerio Schiti.
The very poetic tale unfurls in pages of Guardians of the Galaxy #16 (2017). Stranded on Earth, Groot tries to keep a low profile but is compelled by his kind disposition to step in and help the cops stop a rampaging super-villain. His intervention, though, causes fear and panic – with the cops instead setting their sights on the gentle giant, until a little boy steps in to defend him, swaying the crowd in Groot’s favor. Whether or not the tale is too cutesy compared to other Guardians fare, setting the tale on Earth could attract moviegoers who are only loosely familiar with the space tree and the franchise.
In the long run, the easiest path to a solo Groot picture would be including the pre-established cosmic cast, similar to the “Grounded” story arc from the post-Civil War II Guardians comic. Groot (with or without Rocket) could begin his adventure in the company of the Milano crew, later becoming separated from his team and venturing off on his own. Marvel could either start out the movie with that premise, or use one of their famous post-credit buttons to set the story up.
No matter what the House of Ideas comes up with, a Groot spinoff has a lot of potential. If seasoned with the proper blend of whimsy, humor, cosmic adventure, and an evocative, mo-cap Vin Diesel, Groot Expectations (or not) could easily become a heartwarming and off-beat addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. In the long run, Disney should meet the challenge of making a spinoff with three words: “I am Groot!”