Identifying as an ally is strange. You are not directly affected by the problem in question, but nonetheless wish to help. In this regard, you have to constantly be willing to listen, evolve, and admit when you have made mistakes. Because even if you are an ally, you are going to make mistakes, by simple virtue of who or what you are not. Particularly in relation to Feminism. Men can only ever be allies, at best. We will never fully grasp the experience of women and the struggles they must persist through. So, at risk of hiding behind labels or pushing the blame onto others, male feminists can only ever hope to simply listen and change.
So, with no actual jumping-off point I come to Drax The Destroyer, one of the many breakout stars of the breakout hits of Guardians of the Galaxy Volumes 1 and 2.
Who is Drax The Destroyer? Quite possibly the most literalized portrayal of classic masculinity ever put to film. He is strong, fearless, loyal, a family man, utterly incapable of overthinking any concept, and just for good measure loves a good poop joke. Drax is every masculine heroic fantasy pushed to its furthest limits. And for many of these things we love him.
He tells it like it is…
Which has landed him in some deep waters, both within the films and from audiences. With Volume 1, Drax was criticized for this little moment:
A genuine moment of sincerity undercut by very poor word choice referring to Gamora: “this green whore…” To which she very quickly responds and shuts him down. This became a minor controversy back during the first film’s initial release, with Writer/Director James Gunn even responding, and it’s not difficult to understand why. Films don’t exist in a vacuum, and words mean things. It means something to call your female lead a whore, even if it is meant as a joke.
And yet, people still love Drax. Whether it be sharp writing or Dave Bautista’s innate charm in the role. Audiences were seemingly ready to forgive and forget and just love Drax again with Volume 2.
But then this happened:
Once again, Drax’s no-filter nature leads to a moment demeaning another female character. And though the scene very quickly takes a turn to show that Drax realizes he shouldn’t have said that, it becomes a running joke that Drax is greatly disgusted by how unattractive he finds Mantis to be.
Now, to be sure, while these moments are played for laughs, the impact of Drax’s words have still been felt by female audience members. There is problematic language within the dialogue and perhaps even muddled perspective to the jokes being made. It’s understandable to see how these moments have negatively affected certain portions of the audience. Even to the point of heavy criticism being lobbied at James Gunn himself, at times being labeled sexist and homophobic.
A large thematic element of Guardians Vol. 2 is the very flawed nature of its numerous heroes. And within that theme it may be relevant to consider the relationship between Gamora and Nebula, sisters who spend much of Vol. 2 and all of Vol. 1 at each other’s throats. In Vol. 2 we come to understand where their anger comes from:
“… I just wanted a sister.”
It is here we see that Gamora, easily the most level-headed of the Guardians, has still made mistakes to the people closest to her. Under great duress, to be sure, but the wound is there nonetheless. And by the film’s conclusion, Gamora and Nebula have made efforts to make up for their mistakes and heal as much as they can, having finally done right by each other.
It could be argued that we somewhat overlook Drax’s own efforts to right his own wrongs. For we must remember one very simple facet to his character:
Drax is The Fool.
From the very beginning Drax is portrayed as the idiot, eventually specifying that his entire species have no concept of metaphor, which leads to his comedic literalization of common phrases. Despite being likened to an old woman, he is not, in fact, very wise.
He makes mistake after mistake. Whether it be calling out Ronan The Accuser without a plan or jumping into the maw of an interdimensional monster hoping its skin is weaker on the inside, Drax is one card shy of a full deck. But he persists, and makes the effort to change and do right.
Returning to the scene from Vol. 1, immediately after referring to Gamora as a whore, Nebula appears to berate her and her new comrades. Calling Gamora a “stupid traitor,” Drax responds by blasting her with a rocket launcher. Not the most level-headed response, to be sure, but his follow-up statement is telling:
“No one talks to my friends like that.”
In the span of twenty seconds Drax says something stupid, gets called on it, and takes action to reconcile his mistake. It may not be nuanced, but it would appear he’s trying.
Drax’s fault in Vol. 2 is perhaps a subtler one, not simply using the wrong word but instead remarking upon something he doesn’t understand. And again, his misunderstanding of this concept is played for laughs the entire film. Even to the point where Drax humorously admits that he lied when he said he believed Mantis could hold back Ego the Living Planet:
“I never thought she’d be able to do it, with as weak and skinny as she appears to be.”
Indeed, many jokes are made at the expense of Mantis, mostly coming from Drax. But, again, Drax is the Fool, it is his very nature to misinterpret and misspeak. But that is the very important connection between Drax and Mantis: even as he fails to find the correct words, she still understands. Through Mantis’ empath abilities, their relationship is not of words, but emotions and actions.
Because if a picture is worth a thousand words, I’ve been building to this one right here:
If actions truly speak louder than words, this moment is shouting out that for all the little jabs or misbegotten jokes, Drax cares. That even as he makes mistakes he will do everything in his power to keep his friends above ground. And seeing as this is Drax, it’s fitting that the metaphor is so literal.
But still, people will have their problems with Drax and, by extension, James Gunn himself. It would be remiss of this writer to not admit his own biases (like the fact Gunn hails from my own hometown of Manchester, Missouri) and realize this is just one opinion amongst countless others. So I’ll end this not by trying to convince anyone of my convictions, but instead asking any and all to share their take. Art is a conversation, and we’re all invited. Lest we forget that which is most important of all:
“We are Groot.”