In Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, the anthropomorphic tree-man Groot is no longer the towering, full-sized version voiced by Vin Diesel in the first film, but rather a pint-sized pipsqueak known as Baby Groot. This is because [clears throat for spoilers] according to writer and director James Gunn, the Groot we knew is dead. At the end of the first Guardians of the Galaxy, Groot wraps his tree-limbs into a sturdy wooden bubble to protect his pals as their ship falls from the sky. When it crashes, he shatters into a pile of kindling. His friends mourn, his partner Rocket plucks a twig from the wreckage, and regrows Groot into a dancing sprout. By the end of the second Guardians movie, Baby Groot is growing up.
According to director James Gunn, however, that wasn’t Groot using his neat regeneration powers, and he’s never going to grow back into the original Groot. Protesting a tweet asking “Who would you save, Baby Groot or a porg?” he points out that Baby Groot is an entirely new being that is, at best, a son.
This isn’t the first time Gunn has mentioned this tidbit, which never fails to get Guardians of the Galaxy and Groot fans worked up. In a 2017 Facebook post, Gunn wrote, “I do think it’s more obvious in Vol. 2, as Baby Groot has a different personality than Groot, none of his memories, and is much, much dumber.” When the issue resurfaced today, Gunn lamented on Twitter, “The internet is like Groundhog Day every time I point out first Groot died.” This time, however, the news seems to have gone viral, leading Gunn to repeatedly emphasize the point to people asking questions and freaking out.
Given that Guardians of the Galaxy takes place in a fictional universe that includes talking raccoons, a scientific analysis may be beside the point. But if I were to push up my glasses here and talk about the technicalities, I might mention that asexual plant reproduction à la stem-cutting — like Rocket growing a new Groot from a twig — would actually qualify as a clone. That’s because the new plant is genetically identical to the original, which means it’s not necessarily offspring. But I’m not here to get into a science fight!
What I do take issue with is Gunn implying that everyone who is shocked by this news is a dummy. James, my man, it is certainly not clear from the first film that the Groot sprout is not, in fact, the old Groot. Groot shows off his regenerative powers early in the film; the principle of Chekov’s gun would lead us, as viewers, to assume these facts are related. As for why Baby Groot is so stupid in the second film? I mean… he has a tiny baby brain. Have you ever met a baby? They’re dumb.
Gunn wants Groot’s sacrifice in the first film to carry weight. But this Groundhog Day-style revelation he talks about muddies the revelatory waters. If he is in fact introducing a new Groot at the end of the first film, the timing is confusing at best. Offering up a cuter, tinier version of the same character in the credits is an emotional salve to heal up the wounds caused by Groot’s death before anyone leaves their seats, whether it’s a son, a clone, or just a great merchandising opportunity.