In 2020, before the onslaught of Marvel Studios’ fourth Phase truly began, the idea of minor side characters getting their own spin-offs was still a little absurd. Major supporting players had already been confirmed for semi-solo projects on Disney+ – mostly paired with related names – in the form of series like WandaVision and The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, but there had yet to be any announcements for shows like Agatha: Coven of Chaos that would indicate just how loose Marvel was willing to play it. This is why, at the time, it seemed like such a longshot when Dave Bautista revealed James Gunn had pitched a Guardians of the Galaxy spin-off film starring Drax and Pom Klementieff‘s Mantis to Kevin Feige and the folks at Marvel.
Speaking with Collider in support of his movie My Spy, the former wrestler stated that he was interested in teaming with Gunn and Klementieff for a side project on top of the upcoming Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3. His character and Klementieff‘s shared a surprising chemistry when they met in 2017’s Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, and Bautista felt Gunn was correct in wanting to mine that relationship for more gold. The revelation came after the actor was asked if he’d be willing to star in his own Disney+ series:
I wouldn’t do a series because Drax as a series would be really rough with the make-up and everything, it would just be too tough. What I would like to do is, honestly, and this is not my idea, I’m stealing this idea, James Gunn had the idea to do a Drax/Mantis movie, and that’s what I’d be up for because there’s just too much fun there.Dave Bautista, in March of 2020
Not long after, Gunn took to his Twitter account to confirm the pitch actually happened. Not only that, the director stated his concept had still not been officially ruled out by the Marvel brass, as many outlets had assumed:
True. But this was never ruled out. I still think it could be amazing.James Gunn, in March of 2020
For a year following the news, not much was heard in the way of Drax and Mantis movie. However, there was movement on an entirely different Guardians of the Galaxy spin-off. At the 2020 Disney Investor’s Day presentation, only nine months after Bautista and Gunn had voiced their Drax-based desires, The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special was unveiled. Marvel pulled the curtain back on a short film, a new type of project they would later dub a ‘Special Presentation,’ that would be written and directed by Gunn for a holiday release, with Bautista, Klementieff, and the rest of the Guardians line-up returning for more intergalactic antics.
The mini-movie seemed to be a completely separate idea at first, something reinforced by more comments made by Bautista in 2021. In an interview with Digital Spy, after once again being asked about the status of a Drax/Mantis film, the Army of the Dead lead was far more pessimistic about the project’s chances of seeing the light of day:
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…Dave Bautista, in May of 2021
Bautista‘s remark about the studio not fitting the project into their schedule, once again, felt correct at the time. Marvel’s Multiverse Saga is jam-packed with new series, films, and special presentations, and a Drax/Mantis story falling by the wayside in the midst of it all was fully believable. After all, the Holiday Special had been in the works for a good while at that point, and it seemed logical that Bautista would know the extent of his character’s future by then. Furthermore, when the Holiday Special was first announced, Gunn had specifically stated on his social media that it was an idea he had in the tank for a very long while, making it appear as though the short and any other Guardians-related concept pitched in the year prior weren’t one-in-the-same:
One of my favorite stories ever, which I have bugged Kevin Feige endlessly about over the years. I can’t believe we’re actually doing this. And, yes, I unironically loved the Star Wars Holiday Special as a kid.James Gunn, in December of 2020
In another tweet, posted months later, Gunn stated that he had outlined a treatment for the Holiday Special “years ago,” but had only just finished the actual script in April of 2021. Again, this felt completely innocuous and raised no suspicion among fans who might have been trying to speculate the special’s plot. With the script done, Gunn moved to work on Vol. 3, and the Holiday Special would not begin filming until February of 2022.
Then, just this month, the Holiday Special dropped its first round of marketing. The trailer, a hit with fans, showcased the short film’s plot – with Peter Quill sunk into a depression, Drax and Mantis decide they can brighten his Christmas by heading to Earth and kidnapping his childhood hero, Kevin Bacon. While the released footage features nearly every member of the Guardians, Drax and Mantis seem to get the most screen time, haplessly wreaking havoc across Los Angeles in their quest to bring home the Bacon. Additionally, the poster dropped by Marvel to accompany the teaser featured only two members of the titular team:
Marvel Studios has a long history of repurposing unused ideas and concepts. It seems plausible that, with Marvel unwilling to play ball on a full-blown Drax/Mantis film, Gunn was able to combine the idea with his long-brewing Holiday Special. Although the creative has seemingly had the Special Presentation in mind for years, he did not actually develop its final script until after conceptualizing the Bautista/Klementieff vehicle. In theory, Gunn might have been able to increase Drax and Mantis’ roles in the special after seeing their spark in Vol. 2 and realizing they would not get another opportunity to star in a project together following Vol. 3. Bautista‘s 2021 claims that a Drax/Mantis movie was not happening predate filming by nearly a year and could have simply come from the fact the actor had yet to see the short’s script and was unaware it had largely become focused on himself and Klementieff. Or the Stuber star simply doesn’t consider the Holiday Special a true Drax/Mantis spin-off.
Of course, it’s also possible that none of this is true. It could just be that the Holiday Special organically shifted towards focusing on the featured duo as the story came together, or that the other Guardians play a much bigger role than the trailer suggests. Still, it’s fun to imagine that the Holiday Special is secretly the Drax/Mantis movie that Gunn has spent years asking for. Perhaps when he said he’d been bugging Feige about the Special for a long time, he didn’t mean the Holiday part specifically. Only time, and pure unwarranted speculation, will tell.