Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 had plenty of unexpected moments. But one truly shocking comment wasn’t quite what it seemed. Groot didn’t actually expand his vocabulary and speak new words in English in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3. How can that be when we heard him say something other than “I am Groot?” The understated response of his fellow Guardians reveals what was really going on during their emotional goodbye. James Gunn’s final entry in the franchise lets us hear Groot the way his friends do.
“I love you guys.” Before the end of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, the only words MCU fans ever heard any Groot say were “I am Groot” and “We are Groot.” (The latter was used in countless trailers as a reminder of the original Groot’s ultimate sacrifice.) That seemingly limited vocabulary never stopped his friends from understanding him, though. There’s something about the Groot language—severely limited though it may be in terms of total words—that makes it easier to comprehend the more you hear it. The alternate 2014 Gamora initially accused the Guardians of just “making up” stuff when Groot repeated the same three word phrase. She thought he was simply telling her his name again and again. But by the end of Vol. 3 she didn’t need a translator to understand the way Groot speaks.
We always needed one, including during their last scene together. Without specific translations from other characters, we never knew exactly what Groot was saying when he spoke. The best we could do was make an educated guess based on his inflection and body language. Sometimes that was easy, like when teenage Groot was obviously being a sarcastic a-hole. Other times our lack of comprehension denied us the full emotional weight of Groot’s words. How many fans know his last spoken “I am Groot” before turning to dust in Infinity War was him calling out “dad” to Rocket?
That wasn’t a problem. It was an effective and entertaining way to establish his character and role in the group. Groot’s simple vocabulary reflected his sweet, childlike nature without limiting his inherent complexity and full range of emotions. James Gunn also used those necessary translations effectively for both comedic and dramatic purposes. Sometimes he even pulled off both simultaneously, like in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 when Rocket told a soon-to-die Yondu that Groot had said, “Welcome to the frickin’ Guardians of the Galaxy. Only he didn’t say frickin.”
It was only at the end of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 for the first—and likely only—time ever, we didn’t need anyone to tell us what Groot actually said. Gunn let viewers experience what it was like for the sentient tree’s loved ones to hear Groot speak. It might not have seemed that way initially because it was so jarring to hear Groot clearly say, “I love you guys.”
But the fact Groot’s other Guardians of the Galaxy weren’t as shocked as we were is the key to understanding the significance of that moment. It didn’t impact them because that was a normal moment for the Guardians; they always understood Groot when he spoke. Groot didn’t actually speak new words to them. He physically said, “I am Groot,” only, like them, we heard the true meaning behind those words. It was like having a galactic translator in our ears that let us hear from Groot directly.
It was only fitting we got to experience that moment, which Gunn has confirmed is exactly what we thought it was. The alternate Gamora only spent one movie with him before she understood him. We’ve been listening to Groots talk for way longer, and we’ve always loved those guys, too.
Originally published on May 4, 2023.
Mikey Walsh is a staff writer at Nerdist. You can follow him on Twitter at @burgermike. And also anywhere someone is ranking the Targaryen kings.