Polygon has already published its review of the Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, and while we went over what works and what doesn’t in detail, something was missing.
A no holds barred review of the “newest” teammate, Baby Groot.
[Warning: The following contains spoilers for Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2]
If you’ve seen any of the trailers or marketing material for Baby Groot, you know who he is. The infant version of Groot from the first Guardians of the Galaxy, Baby Groot is attempting to relearn everything again following the events of the first film. Star-Lord, Gamora, Drax and Rocket Raccoon act as Baby Groot’s pseudo-parents, giving the “twig,” as he’s lovingly referred to, a chance to reacquaint himself with his oddball family.
But how does Baby Groot hold up on his own? When he’s left to his own devices and there isn’t anyone to support his character, is Baby Groot a good addition to the movie? Is he a distraction that takes away from the story Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is trying to tell? What purpose does Baby Groot serve?
The surprising answer is that Baby Groot does quite a bit for Guardians. He’s a crucial team member when it comes to combat, stars in one of the funniest scenes and provides the cute factor sorely missing from the first movie.
A couple of months ago, we published a piece asking whether or not Baby Groot was en route to becoming the next Minion (the annoying, bumbling yellow creatures in the Despicable Me movies). I can, without hesitation, confirm that he is not.
Baby Groot is the vulnerable one
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is a movie about egos. Star-Lord, Gamora, Drax and Rocket Raccoon are constantly at each other’s throats, trying to one up the other. Nebula wants to defeat Gamora once and for all to prove she’s the stronger sister. Yondu fights with the Ravagers as a way to battle over dominance. The movie literally has a villain who goes by the name Ego.
Focusing a movie on a bunch of hot-headed smart alecks who want to constantly best the other can get tiring — fast. This is where Baby Groot comes in. From the very first moment Groot is introduced, it’s made very clear that he doesn’t care about competing with his fellow Guardians. The movie’s opening scene follows the four adult defenders of the universe trying to take down a ghastly monster. They snipe at each other about technique and weapons, taking every opportunity to show off their unique skills.
Baby Groot wants none of it. While they’re fighting, Groot dances around the arena they’re situated in, shaking his hips and smiling as he does. He has the innocence of, well, a child. It’s endearing. When juxtaposed with a group of adults characterized by their emotional immaturity, it’s ironically the youngest person in the movie who symbolizes maturity.
Baby Groot is never afraid to show his feelings — in part because he doesn’t know how to. He doesn’t have the emotional intelligence to lie or try and hide what he’s thinking. When Baby Groot is sad, it’s apparent. When Baby Groot is happy, you can see it in his eyes. Whenever Baby Groot is on screen, it’s nearly impossible to silence the awing sound that desperately wants to escape.
He’s cute, but not just aesthetically. Sure, he’s small and sports giant, curious eyes, but Groot gets to demonstrate a personality in the sequel that we didn’t get to see enough of in the first movie. He gets to be playful, because he doesn’t have the same inhibitions that he would as an adult. He’s like a puppy version of Scooby Doo (no, not Scrappy Doo) — impossible not to root for.
There’s another reason why Baby Groot succeeds, however, and it has to do with just how little we see of him.
He’s not always there
Baby Groot is off-screen more often than not. Director James Gunn doesn’t overuse his adorable new character. This makes the time on screen with Baby Groot seem more precious and, quite frankly, less annoying.
I mentioned earlier that before the movie came out I was worried Baby Groot would be a Minion. Unlike Minions, however, Baby Groot doesn’t have enough time to become annoying. When it seems like he’s just about to cross that threshold from cute and novel into annoying and eye-roll inducing, Gunn moves away. He focuses on Star-Lord and Gamora or Yondu and Rocket. Baby Groot is all but forgotten about as he slinks off screen.
This is what makes one of his final, climactic moments so interesting. Like I mentioned earlier, Baby Groot is more than just a mascot for the film. He’s given the most important task of the movie and, although trailers have teased what’s to come, the end result is so much better. I won’t get into it here, as it does mark one of the biggest moments of the film, but Baby Groot has a heavy hand in it.
Before Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 was released, director James Gunn responded to criticisms from fans that he was using Baby Groot as a way to sell toys for Disney. Why, people asked, was a baby version of Groot needed for the series to continue? Gunn said he was having trouble trying to figure out a way to bring back an adult Groot into the sequel and keep it fresh when the idea hit him.
“Secondly, for whatever reason, Groot just wasn't working,” Gunn admitted. “It was then I came upon the idea of having Vol. 2 take place very shortly after the first film and for Groot to still be Baby Groot, with quite a lot to learn. Even though I had already long-ago decided on the other characters involved, this change opened up the whole movie for me and it suddenly all came together.”
He added that he knew Disney would be able to figure out a way to sell millions of Baby Groot related products, but that was never his intention going into designing the character.
“All that said, I'm not an idiot,” Gunn wrote. “I knew if Baby Groot worked, the world would want Baby Groot toys and figures and plushies. But that certainly didn't seem like a certainty when I was alone in my office conceiving of a story, and it most definitely was not the driving force of the decision.”
Baby Groot serves the story
This is the most important part: Baby Groot is a fully sketched out character. He has emotions and moments of failure. He’s funny, charming and full of flaws. I went into Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 expecting Baby Groot to be nothing more than a cute distraction that I was wholly invested in. To say that I was shocked Gunn managed to create such a great character out of such a simple concept would be putting it lightly.
Baby Groot could have been the cutest thing in the world, but without a story to back up his reason for being there, none of that would have mattered. Instead, Gunn took the time to make sure his story was relevant and prevalent to the story. The result is a character that I deeply admire and want to cheer on, and one that I’m thankful helped remind me why I love the other Guardians as much as I do.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 will be released on May 5.