The Marvel Cinematic Universe has fully embraced horror in 2022. After slowly introducing new elements and genres over the past decade, the massive universe is getting spooky, particularly this year. There's "Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness" giving us that sweet Sam Raimi horror, with his fantastic camera work, love of practical zombies, and terrifying villains. There was also "Moon Knight" and its mix of horror and action adventure that reminded us of Stephen Sommers' "The Mummy." More recently, there was the first Marvel Studios Special Presentation, "Werewolf by Night," bringing classic horror monsters to the MCU. Now, Marvel is getting hardcore by introducing its scariest character yet: Grown-up Groot.

Kids grow up so fast. One day you have a potted sapling dancing happily to The Jackson 5 when nobody's looking, then they're the cutest baby in the galaxy dancing while his friends are in mortal danger, then they're a moody teenager obsessed with video games. But before you know it, they grow up, start going to the gym and become swole monstrosities with baby faces. That's right, Groot is now bafflingly muscular, and it is absolutely terrifying. Forget the Scarlet Witch doing her best Sadako impression, forget werewolves — this is the scariest thing Marvel has ever done.

The "Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special" is something special. It's a sweet and endearing story about the magic of Christmas, which follows one of the genre's grand traditions: Christmas horror. For you see, while the story of Drax and Mantis trying to make Peter feel better about Gamora by giving him the gift of Kevin Bacon is cute and fun, there is a darkness looming over the whole thing, and that is the sight of a wooden behemoth with a baby face dancing along to Christmas music.

Not the original Groot

The thing that's most surprising about Swole Grown-up Groot is not necessarily that he is so big, but that he is so different from the original adult Groot. This is not a case of Groot simply going through a gym-going phase that he'll grow out of, but a grim reminder of one of the saddest scenes in the MCU: Groot's death. 

In case you missed it, James Gunn confirmed a while back that the Groot we met in the first "Guardians of the Galaxy" is dead and gone. He met his end when he sacrificed himself to save the other Guardians from the crashing ship of Ronan the Accuser, and we haven't seen him again since. The current iteration, then, is not a phoenix being reborn from its own ashes but an offspring, a child being born out of the corpse of his father. It's is tragically sad, which may explain why Groot is smiling all the time: to hide the pain of his own existence. 

Maybe we're coming closer to a very different version of Groot, one who is bigger and more muscular. After all, this new design looks less like a CGI creature, and more of a practical suit enhanced with CGI, ready to be used in Disney theme parks. The problem is that this approach makes Groot's body look disproportionate to his head, at least compared to previous portrayals. Groot is, well, a tree with thin branches for arms and legs — like a scrawny kid. Now, Groot looks like he's wearing a giant suit of heavy armor, like a Disney cast member wearing a giant foam costume and a Groot mask. He is awkward in his own body, as seen by how clumsy he looks while dancing.

A swole king

The result is nightmare inducing, but not necessarily surprising given James Gunn's history with and affinity for horror. This new Groot is horrifying, and looks to be more formidable in battle than ever before. You can just imagine the possibility of Marvel replacing Vin Diesel as Groot's voice actor in favor of Dwayne Johnson just playing the character in person using a practical costume, just to revive that "Furious 7" rivalry. 

Goodbye, sweet tiny baby Groot. Goodbye, awkward brooding teen Groot. Long live swole Groot, mightiest of tree warriors, gym bro, and Guardian of the Galaxy.

"Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special" is now streaming on Disney+.

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