The biggest success of 2014’s Guardians of the Galaxy was how it took a team of five lesser known Marvel heroes and turned them into stars. The film was so confident and fun that audiences immediately warmed to its various weird and wonderful characters despite their relative obscurity. It’s hard to pick the biggest breakout of the quintet, but the most surprising was almost certainly Drax. Played by the former WWE star Dave Bautista, pre-release he looked like he was going to be the group’s joyless heavy. Instead, he was an unintentionally wry, caring presence who embodied the film’s big, well-meaning heart.

He’s only going to get bigger in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. The film’s trailers have put focus on Drax’s very literal view on the world – with both the teaser trailer and full-length trailer ending on a punchline that involves the character – and writer/director James Gunn has claimed that Drax is the funniest part of the sequel. Now Gunn is saying he’s not the only one who feels that way, either.

Writing on his official Facebook page, Gunn marked Bautista’s birthday with a very complimentary message, calling the actor “humble and compassionate and funny” and revealing that the early reactions to Bautista’s performance as Drax in the Guardians of the Galaxy sequel has been overwhelmingly positive:

“He’s been blowing people’s minds in our early screenings of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 – exponentially increasing the raw emotion and humor he displayed in the first movie. I couldn’t be more proud of having fought for him to play Drax four and a half years ago.”

Guardians of the Galaxy Drax Monster James Gunn: Drax is Blowing Peoples Minds in Guardians 2 Screenings

Drax’s core reason for joining the Guardians in the first film was to seek vengeance on Ronan for the murder of his family, blame for which he passed on to Thanos (Josh Brolin) in the movie’s final scene. The Mad Titan isn’t going to appear in the sequel (the film in general is going to be rather disconnected from other happenings in the Marvel Cinematic Universe), but Gunn’s comments about “raw emotion” reaffirm that Drax’s arc in the sequel is compelling in its own right.

Hearing that Bautista knocks it out of the park again in the second Guardians of the Galaxy film is great to hear, if not the most surprising news; he really was excellent in the first movie. Casting a wrestler in a big blockbuster is always a bit of a gamble – you could end up with someone like The Rock, who is charisma personified, or someone with more muscle than brain – so you can understand why Gunn had to fight for him, but Bautista was a perfect move for the franchise. Since the first film, his star’s shot up; Bautista’s not only a mainstay of the MCU, set to appear in Avengers: Infinity War after Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, but was also a Bond villain in Spectre and will costar in Blade Runner 2049 later this year.

More: How Guardians of the Galaxy 2 is ‘Unconnected’ to MCU Continuity

Source: James Gunn

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