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‘Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3’ and Groot’s Last Line

A loving farewell from an unexpected source, told with some fun sleight of hand by director James Gunn.
Photo: Marvel Studios

When you think of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s style of dialogue, you tend to think of quippy, overwrought comic relief. But there’s a single line near the end of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 — James Gunn’s trilogy capper and likely Marvel farewell — that delivers perhaps the most emotionally meaningful payoff to this film series, despite reading like a punch line on paper.

Spoilers to follow.

As the film winds down and the Guardians prepare to part ways, it’s the Vin Diesel–voiced Groot who utters the final farewell. After nearly a decade of saying nothing but “I am Groot” with a mildly different cadence each time, he suddenly speaks in perfect, unbroken English, confessing to his fellow Guardians: “I love you guys.” You’d think a moment like this would register like Caesar the chimpanzee yelling “No!” in Rise of the Planet of the Apes — the shocking reveal of a heretofore unseen intelligence. But none of the other Guardians react as if the lumbering dendron has done anything out of the ordinary. That’s because this is a fun little point-of-view trick, for which Gunn has planted seeds throughout the entire series.

In the first Guardians of the Galaxy, Groot’s incessant “I am Groot”–ing is understood only by his closest compatriot, Rocket (Bradley Cooper), whose responses clue us and the other Guardians in on what the sentient tree-creature is saying. It’s a dynamic that resembles Chewbacca and Han Solo’s in the original Star Wars trilogy, in that Han always replies in English (or, excuse me, “Galactic Basic”) to the Wookie’s growls and grunts. The characters’ casual exchanges speak to how close and connected they are as friends and business partners.

Throughout the first and second Guardians movies, Groot and the other Guardians are dependent on Rocket’s translations. But one Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 post-credits scene hints that, at this point, Rocket is no longer the only character who can catch Groot’s meaning. We see a moody teenage Groot slouched over playing video games. Star Lord/Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), now marginally more mature after a fatherhood-centric adventure, walks into Groot’s room in annoyingly paternal fashion. He orders Groot to clean his room, to which Groot responds with a mocking, sarcastic, “I am Groot.” Quill not only appears to understand him this time, he’s actively offended by what Groot just said, barking back, “I am not boring, you’re boring!”

By the time the third film begins, the Guardians have spent enough time together that whenever Groot — now fully grown again, with a burly Diesel-esque frame — delivers his signature catchphrase, they all understand and respond to him without the help of an interpreter. The only person who doesn’t is Gamora (Zoe Saldaña), since this version of the character isn’t the same one from Vols. 2 and 3. (That Gamora died in Avengers: Endgame; this one is from a different timeline.) This Gamora just met Groot, and she repeatedly points out the absurdity of the Guardians responding to every “I am Groot” as if it were a complete sentence. (For the record, it is; Diesel delivers each one uniquely and recorded his lines in several languages). At one point, she even drolly wonders aloud whether the Guardians are simply making up their own interpretations.

That might have made for a funny reveal. But even the new Gamora ends up responding to Groot by the end of the film. Without a second thought, she replies to one of his repetitions as if it were a distinct statement, catching herself in the process and smiling at her newfound ability. Of course, this is because Gamora and Groot have spent enough time together on this adventure for her to finally understand him. Gunn explained on Twitter that this is what it takes for someone to “speak Groot” — Thor’s joke about “Groot” being taught as an Asgardian elective in the non-Gunn penned Avengers: Infinity War notwithstanding. But it isn’t just about physical time spent with Groot. Rather, it’s about the depth of one’s relationship with him. And in a trilogy about characters from wildly different backgrounds coming together, the idea of understanding someone so intrinsically across the barriers of language is particularly moving.

When Groot says “I love you guys” at the end of Vol. 3 — and Diesel sells the line with all the sincerity of Dominic Toretto mumbling about family — this time it’s us, the audience, who are finally able to understand what he means. And why wouldn’t we? We’ve spent almost ten years and three films with him. That history is what makes the line such a lovely expression of the series’ through-line about found families — and an open-armed welcome into the Guardians’.

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