Sunday, December 10, 2017

Dave Bautista is a national treasure

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 may take an unusual honor on my blog: most times tagged in one of my posts before actually being seen by me. Before Friday night's viewing, I had already talked about the movie five times, in subjects ranging from my anticipation for it, to my reluctance to see it, to my annoyance over its director's tweets, to its poster campaign.

And now that I have finally see it, I have a very similar takeaway to the first movie:

Dave Bautista is awesome.

Dave Bautista was the best part of the first movie, and indeed continues in that regard here. Not only is he the funniest character, but he also has the best character arc (of sorts), and the most touchingly genuine scenes. Drax the Destroyer is easily my favorite Guardian, but more than that, he may be one of my favorite Marvel characters, period.

And that's thanks to Bautista.

As you likely already know, Bautista is one of those who has followed in the footsteps of Dwayne Johnson and made the transition from professional wrestling to acting. He may be the best example of that successful transition other than Johnson himself, who is a true force of nature in the entertainment world, having recently become the highest paid actor in Hollywood. (And if the rumors are to be believed, even a possible candidate for president -- and I can see no reason why he would not win there as well.)

But while Johnson is undoubtedly a singular phenomenon of charisma and I always enjoy watching him, I cannot say he has always been good. Without even delving into his filmography, where I'm sure I could find other examples, I'll mention his weak performances in such films as Southland Tales and Central Intelligence. I wanted to like him in those films, but he was just bad.

Dave Bautista has yet to be bad. At least, not in any film I've seen.

In 2017 we've already gotten two examples of the ways he's improved the films he's in. It's not that difficult to be the best thing in a Guardians of the Galaxy movie, because I'd argue the material is a little overrated, but it's quite something else to be the best thing in a Blade Runner movie. Indeed, I've gone on record saying that Dave Bautista was my favorite part of Blade Runner 2049, and given that he's only in one ten-minute scene, that's really saying something.

What is it about Bautista? It's hard to put my finger on it. But he has something undefinable that all good actors share: a sense of intelligence he brings to the work, which shines through even when the character is not intended to be particularly smart. Given his hulking frame, Bautista has never been cast as a genius, though the spectacles he wears in Blade Runner 2049 do give him something of the aspect of an intellectual. But acting smarts are a powerful form of intelligence that make even a dumb character seem shrewdly played.

And that's what Bautista does. He seems keenly able to focus in on the core of a character and bring out its essence.

Not only that, he can play a range of emotions, from serious to comic. In Guardians of course his function is comic, but even in the two different movies he exemplifies a different kind of comedy. In the first, his lines are funny because he doesn't understand they're funny, and in fact is incapable of doing anything but speaking his mind. In the second, he's a bit more overtly funny, as his character has made a choice to get in touch with the funny things in the world and laughs regularly. When an actor is required to laugh heartily for a role, rarely does it seem as genuine as Bautista makes it here.

Of course, neither should Bautista be mistaken for just a comedic performer. In Blade Runner 2049, it's the world weariness he brings to that character that's so striking. He's been living humbly, quietly, as a rogue replicant just trying to play out the string in peace, despite a sadness that must make his days unendurable. Bautista communicates all of this with a few glances and lines of dialogue. He's switched on. You can see the light emanating from him.

It strikes me as funny that I am making these estimations about him based only on four films. In addition to the three I've already mentioned, I've also seen Bautista in Spectre, where he really is pretty much used just for his muscle and physique, as a henchman. And while I can't remember him making an impression on me one way or another in that film, when he came up recently in discussion, a friend made a pitch for how good he is in that movie too. If I didn't find the rest of that movie pretty boring, I might watch it again just to pay special attention to the intelligent touches he undoubtedly brings.

Bautista is 48, three years older than Johnson, so it's hard to tell if this is just the start of many other great things, or whether we've already seen the best Bautista has to offer. But age is certainly not a consideration for Johnson, as there's every reason to expect he will look just about as he does now for another ten years. The same could certainly be said for Bautista, and if other casting directors out there see what I see -- and how can they not -- we may get plenty of Bautista roles beyond his next appearance as Drax in Avengers: Infinity War.

So I'm going to go out on a limb here with a wild prediction: Dave Bautista is going to win an Oscar.

"Huh?" you say. "Yeah, he's good, but he will never even get cast in the type of role that wins Oscars, let alone be good enough to actually win the award."

Noted. But when actors are good, they find their way into the strangest of places. And just because you didn't start out as a professionally trained actor does not preclude you from winning an Oscar. Just ask Cher, Jennifer Hudson and Mo'Nique.

Even if all Dave Bautista does in the future is bring soul to Drax the Destroyer again, I'll be there to appreciate the hell out of it.

Oh, and I should not leave this post before actually telling you what I thought about Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. The five previous mentions, many of them wary, demand it.

Well, I liked it! "Liked" is as far as I will go, but I did like it just a bit more than the first one. Obviously this is a minority opinion, but the comparison I made to Blade Runner 2049 in my post earlier this week is especially instructive given that Bautista appears in both movies (something I didn't recognize at the time I made the comparison). In that post I said that people who didn't particularly love the first Blade Runner seem to enjoy 2049 better, and that's me for this series. If I had loved Guardians of the Galaxy, like 4.5 stars, and said that Vol. 2 was even better, that would be crazy talk. But since I think Guardians of the Galaxy is a three-star movie, I have no problem telling you that I gave Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 a half star more than that. Oh sure, I have issues with parts of it (particularly the climactic battle and overly sentimental ending), but other parts make up for that, such as the inspired opening sequence.

And Drax. Drax makes up for it. The recurring laughter bit is great, but what I really enjoyed was his relationship with Mantis, the empath and new addition to the cast. What I like about their relationship encapsulates what I like about Bautista's Drax, which is his genuineness. We can tell that they have a little chemistry between them, but it does not develop in the expected ways, primarily because Drax -- who basically cannot lie -- tells her how ugly he thinks she is. He says she is awful to look at and the idea of physical intimacy with her makes him physically sick.

Of course, Mantis is a fairly unique being so she is a bit taken aback by this, but not offended in the way that a more traditionally socialized creature would be. That's what makes her a good match for Drax. And what's nice is that Drax loves her for what's inside her. Even at the end, when we think the movie is going to soften his stance and that he is going to learn to be physically as well as emotionally attracted to her, it doesn't go that way. "You're beautiful too," he says. "On the inside."

If it's wrong to love Dave Bautista, I don't want to be right.


thevoid99 said...

Personally, I think Bautista is a better actor than the Crock. Bautista just knows what he can do and doesn't take himself too seriously while he can be funny but he does it in small doses. He can be a badass but also show he is sensitive.

As for the Crock, Dwayne is just full of shit. He hypes up all of these lame projects and tries to win people over with his pec-pops and stupid catchphrases. He would then return to Meekmahan land to something stupid and then be gone for a while. Dave, thankfully, hasn't stepped back into Meekmahan land after being a victim of bad timing, bad booking, and awful creative decisions where he told Meekmahan and his dufus son-in-law in the Man w/ 3Hs to suck his balls.

Derek Armstrong said...

I don't fully get the wrestling references but thanks for the comment! I think the difference is that Johnson is a movie star and Bautista is an actor. Bautista probably couldn't carry a Jumanji movie but that's okay with me. Take on more eccentric roles and do what you do well.