The Guardians cast played a significant role in Avengers: Infinity War, as well as Avengers: Endgame. However, post-Iron Man snap, their appearances have been minimal at best, including their limited presence in Thor: Love and Thunder.
Fortunately, The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special put an end to the drought of Guardians content.
Following the special's successful debut, and with Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 mere months away, writer and director James Gunn have opened up about focusing on Drax and Mantis and how they've been underutilized in the past.
James Gunn Talks 'Sidelining' of Drax and Mantis
In talking with Phase Zero, James Gunn discussed Drax and Mantis' relationship and how he wanted to put them "at the center" of The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special as opposed "to on the sidelines:"
“Well, I think that it’s the end of the trilogy for all of the Guardians, really. So, it’s not just Drax. But, I think that especially, I love the relationship between Mantis and Drax. I think it’s such a unique relationship and they really are kind of like Abbott and Costello, but both are Costello’s. But Drax is such an enormous Costello that he outweighs her Costello-ness. But I love the two of them… I wanted to be able to put them at the center of the story as opposed to on the sidelines."
Gunn went on to admit that in recent Marvel movies - particularly those which "weren't Guardians movies" (ie. Infinity War, Endgame, and Love and Thunder)- Drax and Mantis "haven't been utilized so much:"
"I think both of them have, in the past few movies that weren’t Guardians movies, have been incredibly sidelined, haven’t been utilized so much. And so being able to really tell their story and put their journey at the middle of this was important to me."
In addition to giving them their due in the Disney+ special, the director also noted how the roles highlighted "how talented those two actors are:"
"And to be able to see how talented those two actors are as comedians and dramatically. Especially, you see how good Pom [Klementieff] is in this show.”
James Gunn isn't the only member of the Guardians team to have commented on certain characters being sidelined.
Drax's own Dave Bautista has been quite outspoken about his frustrations with the role in recent years.
In past interviews, Bautista confessed to wishing that Marvel "would have invested more in Drax" because the character "has a really interesting backstory which they dropped the ball on:"
“That role changed the trajectory of my life. It’s always going to be special to me. Now that I’m four films in... I really wished they would have invested more in Drax, personally. Because I think Drax has more of a story to tell. I think Drax has a really interesting backstory which they dropped the ball on. That’s no dig on Marvel. They had their slate, I know what they’re focused on, that’s what they have slated out. But man, I think they really missed the ball on Drax. He has such a great backstory. Selfishly, as a performer, that would have given me the opportunity to show different sides of Drax, emotionally.”
But that's not to say that The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special exists as a last-minute make-do for Drax or Mantis.
In fact, a Drax and Mantis team-up is something James Gunn has apparently been thinking about for a while.
Back in 2021, Bautista told the Digital Spy that there had been "talks" about "a Drax and Mantis film" and that it was "James Gunn's idea:"
“There were talks for a while about a Drax and Mantis film. It was really because it was James Gunn’s idea. He really wanted to do a Drax and Mantis film. He laid it out to me. I thought it was such a brilliant idea, but I haven’t heard any follow-up from the studio. I don’t think they’re very interested, or it doesn’t fit into the way they have things mapped out. But other than that, no. I mean, as far as my obligations, I’ve got Guardians 3, and that’s probably going to be the end of Drax.”
How Drax and Mantis Were Overlooked and Why
Up until The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special, Mantis and Drax have mostly served as comic relief in the MCU.
However, that's not to say their characters haven't been memorable. The question is whether their supporting roles could've been easily avoided.
While both Drax and Mantis have some hilarious moments in Avengers: Infinity War, Bautista has expressed his complaints about how "that whole Drax, Thanos history seemed to get swept under the rug."
On one hand, Infinity War already featured a massive cast and had a specific story it was trying to tell. But, as Bautista expressed, Drax had a history with the Mad Titan that was touched on but never fully explored.
And then, in Endgame, both characters were snapped and only returned at the end of the film.
Thor 4 was a different situation as the cast was barely in the movie, leaving audiences to wonder why they were so heavily featured in marketing, to begin with.
Now, another reason why it's taken so long to give these supporting characters more of the limelight is Disney's history with James Gunn.
Disney's firing and then rehiring of the writer/director reshuffled the Marvel Studios slate, putting more years between Vol. 2 and Vol. 3 than Gunn or the fans ever expected.
But despite these past issues, Gunn, the cast, and the fans now have The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special which, as the director noted, truly showcases Bautista and Klementieff's talents and enriches their characters ahead of Vol. 3.
The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special is available to stream on Disney+; Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 arrives in theaters on May 5, 2023.