(Welcome to Great Moments in MCU History, where we fondly recall great little bits that made us fall in love with the MCU.)

Once upon a time, Guardians of the Galaxy was not a beloved corner of the Marvel Cinematic Universe featuring characters that would become eventually become Avengers. If you’d told me back in 2014 that both Rocket Raccoon and Nebula would be major players in the fourth Avengers movie, I would have had to look up who Nebula even was.

In its sixth year of existence, Marvel was not yet so bulletproof that a team of new characters would automatically succeed at the box office. This is especially true of a team with a talking raccoon, a sentient tree, and only one human. Movie fans waited nervously for Guardians, wondering if Marvel – having put their fate in the hands of known weirdo James Gunn – would finally make their first major misstep.

The answer was no. A very big no. Guardians went on to become one of 2014’s biggest films. But more than that, its emotional story of found family built a stronger than normal bond between the audience and its characters. To say we were hungry for a sequel would be an understatement, particularly given how the first film ended with the death of Groot and his resurrection as an adorable baby twig. We couldn’t wait to see the team again (or learn more about Star Lord’s mysterious father), but more than anything, we just needed to learn more about this new Groot.

James Gunn obliged with Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, and the cockiest victory lap in opening credits history.

The Scene

We meet up with the Guardians as they get ready to do what they do best: fight giant monsters for profit, I guess. With some quick snappy dialog, the opening sets up the oncoming space battle while simultaneously averring character quirks we love. Drax won’t wear his battle suit because it chafes his nipples. Rocket tries to rig their speakers for fighting music. Regular Guardians stuff.

The monster arrives and ELO’s bouncy “Mr. Blue Sky” begins playing on the soundtrack. But instead of watching the battle, we see it in the background while Baby Groot dances at us and gets into mischief.

It takes guts to ignore an expensive action set piece to instead focus on character comedy, but that’s the kind of spirit that makes James Gunn’s Guardians movies so unique. I’m no expert, but I imagine it is still quite expensive to produce a CG squid battle even if it’s not the main thing you’re supposed to be looking at. Nevertheless, it’s hard to keep your eyes off Baby Groot and his fancy moves.

Why It’s So Great

The scene works because for all its comedic bombast, it’s about important character work. We don’t know Baby Groot yet, and need to quickly understand that this is not the old Groot we fell for in the previous movie. He’s a new character (which heightens the sadness of the previous Groot’s death, but that’s a peripheral consideration). 

We learn all we need to know from this sequence: Baby Groot is adorable. Baby Groot is blissfully unaware of the danger all around him. And Baby Groot has a natural tendency toward violence without provocation. He’s like, I dunno, if Mr. Magoo were also a baby lion.

On top of that, we also come to realize Baby Groot’s role as the team’s mascot and a responsibility they all share. He’s not even helpful. One by one, Groot’s fellow teammates come across his path. Each Guardian (well, maybe not Drax) shows concern for Groot’s oblivious wellbeing while also fighting for their lives. When Groot eats a bug, Rockets stops fighting long enough to take it out of his mouth the exact same way we all do when our dogs accidentally nab a piece of chocolate. Obviously, the scene is about Baby Groot, but it gets to be informative about the larger team as well. 

What If?

Groot comes so close to getting killed throughout this scene, you might as well wonder what happens if he did die. It would change the film’s plot trajectory a bit – Rocket lifting those batteries while mourning seems unlikely – but the larger Kurt Russell father/son story would likely stay intact. This is particularly true given that Groot’s ability to die at all seems questionable. I suppose this particular version of Groot would die, making way for a new Groot. That feels like less of a big deal considering this Groot is a baby no one really knows yet. 

This colors outside the lines of the scene a bit, but I also wonder: what if Drax never gets out of the monster’s stomach? What if he gets dissolved in alien stomach acid instead of comically saved in a way that makes him think he did all the killing himself? Well, I have bad news. Save for some funny lines, I don’t think the MCU’s future would be changed much without Drax. He’s probably the funniest Guardian, but also the least consequential. 

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