Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) – The 10th Marvel Cinematic Universe Movie – Directed by James Gunn – Starring Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Bradley Cooper, Vin Diesel, Glenn Close, Lee Pace, Karen Gillan, Michael Rooker, Djimon Hounsou, John C. Reilly, Glenn Close, Benicio del Toro, Josh Brolin, Alex Denisof, Ophelia Lovibond, Peter Serafinowicz, Gregg Henry, Laura Haddock, Alex Denisof, Josh Brolin, Lloyd Kaufman, Nathan Fillion, Rob Zombie, Seth Green, and Stan Lee.
Welcome to a series of specific, character-based reactions to the GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY. You can read the review of the GUARDIANS movie here, and you can read all of my superhero movie reviews (and the specific character reactions to Marvel’s The Avengers) right here. One note – I have watched the movie twice but we’re working on a week since I’ve seen it last so it is entirely possible (but completely unintentional) that I might get a quote or two wrong. If I do, I can only apologize and ask that you feel free to correct me. Thanks.
“Metaphor.” – Drax
I started following James Gunn on Twitter a few months before GUARDIANS came out, and one of the first things he tweeted was that Dave Bautista was going to surprise people. As a wrestling fan, I’ll admit my back goes up a bit whenever I hear something like this. Professional wrestlers have been entertaining the world as long as there have been motion pictures; both pro wrestling (or “catch wrestling” as emerged in the United States) and cinematic acting have their roots in earlier traditions, of course, but both offer something unique, as well, and many wrestlers have made the transition out of wrestling and into acting. Heck, Bautista has already made that transition, turning in fine (if purposely limited) roles in The Man with the Iron Fists (how have I not reviewed it, yet?) and Riddick, so I was a little leery about what Gunn was getting at. Was Bautista going to surprise people because he was exceeding the expectations of those who had no expectations of what he could do as an actor, or because he was exceeding what he’d done previously on film?
Whatever Gunn meant and whatever people’s individual expectations of Bautista’s acting abilities were, he delivers a truly standout performance in GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY.
Like Groot, Drax is positioned very narrowly at the start of the film: he’s a literalist hell-bent on killing anyone associated with Ronan, who murdered his wife and child. As the film progresses, however, his character opens up for us and he becomes as well-rounded as the other members of the Guardians.
Peter, Gamora, Rocket, and Groot meet Drax when they are booked into the Kyln, the Nova Corps prison. He is the calm man in the swirling storm that is the Kyln’s gen pop room, but he’s focused on Gamora right from the start. When Gamora is dragged away in the night by other prisoners looking to kill one of Ronan’s flunkies, it’s Drax who steps in to demand the kill for himself.
I would imagine that in the sequel, we’ll see flashbacks to Drax’s wife and child to build a greater emotional foundation for the character, but here at the start of his journey, he’s focused purely on revenge. Ronan killed his family and so he will kill anyone and everyone associated with the Kree fanatic until he reaches him. Gamora is a known assassin in Ronan’s employ, so he’s going to kill her. He demands the kill not only by the purity of his focus but because he’s the biggest guy in the room.
It’s Peter who talks Drax out of killing Gamora, convincing him that sticking with Gamora will get him to Ronan faster.
Drax agrees to not kill her, and then looks to an unnamed fellow prisoner whose knife he had taken to kill Gamora with, and announces, “I like your knife. I’m keeping it.”
That’s a perfect example of how the filmmakers use Drax’s dry literalness to inject humor into the film, but even though we’re laughing at him a bit, I never get the feeling that he’s gone straight up Gimli on us, and become diminished by the humor. Rather, I think the filmmakers have done a bang up job designing a character who gets revealed by the audience and other characters finding him humorous. When Rocket informs everyone that Drax is a literalist, it combines with the revenge arc to tell us what we need to know about Drax in a broad context.
Almost every scene that Drax is in after the not-yet-named Guardians flee the Kyln is to deepen our understanding of him, and it’s impressively done.
When the group gets to Knowhere, Drax and Rocket hit the gambling tables and we see that Drax did, at one point, know how to have fun. He drinks, he gambles, he drinks some more, and we can see he could use some friends in his focused existence. It’s this focus that causes Drax to send a message to Ronan, alerting him as to their presence.
It’s a smart narrative move to have Drax face off against Ronan at the center of the film, as it completely humbles him both physically and mentally. Drax is the obvious muscle of the group but the ease with which Ronan smacks Drax around removes any doubt from Drax’s mind that he can defeat Ronan in single combat. It’s critical that Drax be humbled, as he needs to have his focus on revenge brought into question. He knows now that to defeat Ronan will take either help or bigger weapons, but the demoralization he feels at the defeat levels him. He only survives the fight because Groot saves his life, and then takes a verbal lashing from Rocket over how he needs to get over his dead wife and son because his actions could get other people killed in the process.
Because of his personal drive, I think Drax needed to be torn down both physically and emotionally, and it’s no surprise that the filmmakers hit him with the double haymaker inside the same scene. Drax is immediately thankful to Groot and repentant to Rocket, and even though he hasn’t officially signed on to Peter’s plan (because the plan hasn’t been discussed, yet), he has clearly aligned himself with Rocket and Groot moving forward.
During the big attack on The Dark Aster, we see a subtle shift in how the film uses him to get laughs. Earlier, when Rocket told us about Drax being a literalist, he mentioned that everything they said would go over Drax’s head, to which the muscleman replied, “My reflexes are too fast for anything to get over my head.” We’re laughing at him there – he’s the object of the joke. But during the assault, Drax is earnestly telling the others how thankful he is to have them as friends, and when he gets to Gamora, refers to her as, a “green whore.” It’s not a nice thing to say but it is a literal thing to say, and now Drax isn’t the object of the laughter but the one generating it. Gamora is rightly pissed, of course, but Drax redeems himself by shooting the just-arrived Nebula with a rocket launcher.
Even though Nebular gets better, Drax gets a major kill by taking out Korath, and plays a role in Ronan’s demise, as well.
After the victory, when Gamora tries to make him feel good by telling him his wife and child were avenged, Drax blows it off, telling her, “Ronan was just a puppet. It’s really Thanos who’s responsible,” giving him a funny line that also sets him up nicely for future appearances. By the end of the film, Drax has thus remained largely the same in terms of being a focused individual who’s out for revenge, but has also undergone a huge arc that sees him in a much healthier mental state. It’s Drax that comforts Rocket after the apparent death of Groot, and Drax who sits by Baby Groot during the mid-credits’ dancing scene.
Bautista delivers a really great performance, doing just what the character needs to be effective. The filmmakers have crafted a highly unique, well-rounded character in Drax, and I can’t wait to see him, again.
The Complete Box of GUARDIANS Reactions
1. GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY: Ain’t No Thing Like Me Except Me
2. GOTG: The YONDU Reaction
3. GOTG: The NEBULA Reaction
4. GOTG: The KORATH Reaction
5. GOTG: The GROOT Reaction
6. GOTG: The CORPSMAN DEY Reaction
7. GOTG: The NOVA PRIME Reaction
8. GOTG: The RONAN Reaction
9. GOTG: The DRAX Reaction
10. GOTG: The COLLECTOR Reaction
11. GOTG: The GAMORA Reaction
12. GOTG: The STAR-LORD Reaction
13. GOTG: The ROCKET Reaction