Branching out: has Marvel planted the seeds of a solo Groot movie?

With Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2, the studio continues to find new ways for the tree-like alien to deliver the same three words. But might his own spin-off be a step too far?

The enduring popularity of Vin Diesel’s Groot is one of the more curious developments in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. When the studio first announced, in 2012, that it was set to make its next epic about a gaggle of little-known multicoloured cosmic weirdos, the Guardians of the Galaxy, one of whose members is a talking tree with a vocabulary of only three words, the reaction in many corners of the geekosphere was one of polite bemusement. Two years later, James Gunn’s film was 2014’s third highest-grossing film at the global box office. Later this year, we’re getting a sequel, and Diesel now seems to be suggesting that Marvel is cultivating a solo spin-off for Groot in its greenhouse.

It’s something that James Gunn has talked about and something that I knew he would love to do. Sure, I think it could be very interesting. I think it’s inevitable. That character is so enigmatic and he was already one of the most unique characters in the Marvel universe, and I think what Marvel has done, and what James Gunn has done to realise that character, has exceeded beyond anyone’s expectations. It’s just such an interesting character and there’s so much to learn about him. I’d love to go back to his planet and learn more about him, and I think the world would too. He’s really a genius, on a lot of levels, but we can only hear him say ‘I am Groot’ because of our sophistication level.

In Guardians of the Galaxy, Chris Pratt’s Star Lord warns Rocket Raccoon that his tree-like buddy’s incessant repetition of the three words “I am Groot” is “gonna wear real thin, real fast”. But so far, that hasn’t been the case at all. In fact, trailers for the sequel play up the involvement of the twiggy alien. And having regressed to wide-eyed, cherubic infancy following the climactic events of the first film, Baby Groot appears to have even more potential for comedy than his predecessor.

Might a solo movie be taking things a bit far? Not necessarily, for recent history (Deadpool, and the forthcoming Lego Batman Movie) has shown that the more far out and eccentric the concept for a superhero spin-off flick, the more film-makers are given licence to spin their creative wheels. By contrast, directors working from more iconic templates – Superman and Batman spring to mind – can find themselves coming a cropper.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 trailer starring Baby Groot

Moreover, an absence of dialogue is no barrier to success. The first half hour of Pixar’s Wall-E is among the greatest achievements in the pioneering animation studio’s oeuvre, despite featuring a central figure whose vocabulary is limited to his own name. Aardman’s ingenious Shaun the Sheep Movie, which reimagines the fish-out-of-water tale through a distinctly fleecy lens, features not so much as a single word of spoken English. Even the Minions, who are almost completely incomprehensible, got their own movie in 2015 – though directors Pierre Coffin and Kyle Balda did allow the cheese-coloured homunculi to be accompanied by a narrator.

A similar move might be best for a Groot solo outing, giving Diesel the chance to drop in with a full sentence or two at vital moments, although the risk is that such a shift in essential dynamics would ruin the joke. Another way forward would be to pair the tree-like creature with a series of comrades who speak English, perhaps culminating with our hero’s first encounter with Bradley Cooper’s Rocket Raccoon.

What episodes might a solo spin-off cover? Groot was first introduced in November 1960 in Tales to Astonish #13, as an alien monster who arrives on Earth to collect human specimens for his menagerie. He featured sporadically in various Marvel comics over the next few decades. But it wasn’t until 2006 that we began to see a kind-hearted Groot who resembles the current big-screen incarnation. He was given a backstory that involved exile from his home Planet X for interfering in the kidnapping of a human girl. As the basis of a big-screen origins tale, that works well, offering film-makers the opportunity to pay homage to Groot’s monstrous beginnings, and explain why he’s forced to wander the galaxy with his fellow outcasts, and why he is so loyal to anyone he considers a true friend.

It would also be great to see the issue of Groot’s three-word vocabulary touched upon, as well as an explanation of Rocket’s ability to decipher the finer details of his best friend’s meaning. Then again, no one ever explained how Han Solo learned to understand Wookie, or why he never replies to Chewbacca in his own language. And the ability of Lassie’s human underlings to comprehend, from just a few woofs, the precise nature of any dangerous predicament involving small children stuck in a well or lost in a snowstorm has also gone unexplained without any damage to the canine hero’s rep. Perhaps some enigmas should simply never be unravelled.


Ben Child

The GuardianTramp

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