With Army of the Dead, Knives Out 2, Guardians, Dave Bautista makes Hollywood inroads like no other WWE superstar
Men have tried and fallen. But no WWE superstar has made a mark in Hollywood like Dave Bautista has. Not even Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson.
Back in 2006, Batista took to the WWE ring and announced that he was relinquishing his World Heavyweight Championship after an injury. His revelation met with resounding gasps from the live audience, and those watching Friday Night SmackDown! at home, including this writer. I believed this was a place very few wrestlers could make a comeback from.
But The Animal did return. And went on to regain the World Heavyweight Championship. He then forfeited the title once again, before striking back to reclaim what he never lost.
Perhaps it is this tenacity, along with several other traits, that have now made Batista, now better known by his real name Dave Bautista, a part of Hollywood's A-list. With a recurring part in Marvel Cinematic Universe's Guardians of the Galaxy as Drax The Destroyer, and now the lead role in Zack Snyder's Netflix zombie apocalypse film Army of the Dead, Bautista has grabbed that elusive brass ring that hordes of his predecessors could only touch before coming crashing down (through a table or two, maybe).
Bautista now seems to be the only superstar from World Wrestling Entertainment after Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson to have reserved his spot in Hollywood. Johnson's ascent in the movies could be attributed to his electrifying WWE persona and the unparalleled crowd work he mastered. In fact, it is not an exaggeration to claim The Rock has merely stepped from the squared circle to every Hollywood set he has been on, since almost all his film performances are an extension of his WWE character. The same, however, cannot be concluded for Bautista.
Though he was a longtime fan favourite in his own right, WWE never provided him the same leverage as it did to Johnson in order to secure a Hollywood career.
Also, Bautista never carried his WWE persona to the Hollywood roles. You would not catch him do a signature 'rope shake' or 'thumbs down' like you would see Johnson do his trademark 'eyebrow raise.'
You could almost feel Johnson deliver a Rock Bottom or People's Elbow during an action sequence in Fast Five (2011), but you would never feel that Bautista would step out of character and let Drax dish out a Spine Buster or Batista Bomb in Avengers: Infinity War (2018).
Johnson's past as a WWE legend is a burden to the extent that the makers of Hobbs & Show (2019) set the climax at his home of Samoa, surrounded by extended family, many of whom are WWE superstars as well (Roman Reigns and The Usos included). Johnson is now a franchise asset with titles like Fast and Furious and Jumanji to his credit, and he ends up making them his own.
On the other hand, whenever Bautista has entered a film franchise, he has transported himself to those worlds seamlessly. This includes both a constant part in Guardians of the Galaxy and extended cameos in James Bond film Specter (2015) and Blade Runner 2049 (2017).
Between Johnson and Bautista, only John Cena has made waves to some extent in Hollywood. He started off with The Marine (2006), produced by WWE Studios arguably to launch its poster boy in Hollywood. While The Marine was stretched into a franchise despite lukewarm response, Cena later made dents on his own merit with Transformers spin-off Bumblebee (2018), and now, in Fast & Furious 9 (2021).
Bautista never got the patronage in his film career from the WWE, like Cena and fellow A-list superstars enjoyed. These include Stone Cold Steve Austin, who headlined WWE Studios' actioner The Condemned (2007). But beyond that dud, Austin could make inroads into Hollywood only till the extent of forgettable appearances in ensembles like The Longest Yard (2005) and The Expendables (2010).
Similarly, Kane or Glenn Jacobs (who is a politician now!) attempted to break through with WWE Films' slasher franchise See No Evil. In a rather crass promotional track, Kane would destroy every opponent during WWE shows who would utter the words, "May 19," which was — no points for guessing — the release date of the first instalment. He even pummeled Mr Kennedy, who was wearing a "Special Guest Referee" T-shirt that had May 19 printed all over it (meh!).
Several other WWE superstars like Kevin Nash, Andre the Giant, Jesse "The Body" Venture, Edge aka Adam Copeland, and Triple H have tried their hand at cracking Hollywood but none has been as consistent as Bautista. It is worth noting that all these names, along with Johnson and Cena, have largely been pigeonholed into doing action parts. Johnson has used that to his advantage. Now the highest paid Hollywood actor, he has accepted that experimenting is not his cup of tea.
Bautista attempted to break out of that mould with comedy parts in Stuber (2019) and My Spy (2020). But even those reinforced the stereotype of how "a tough guy" is expected to do or react to comedy, a la Vin Diesel in The Pacifier (2005). Even in his latest zombie flick Army of the Dead, he rises from the dead but more or less in the same skin. But this year or next, The Animal will be seen decimating the steel cage through his turns in Dune and Knives Out 2, which are far from falling under the regular action fare he is associated with.
Soon to be inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame, Bautista has undoubtedly cemented his legacy in the wrestling ring. From the enviable filmography he is building brick by brick, a seat in the front rows of Hollywood galas does not seem distant either. As the fans in attendance would cheer every time he would make a comeback from a career-ending injury — "You still got it!"
The Army of the Dead is streaming on Netflix.
All images from Twitter.
Camille Vasquez, who serves as one of Johnny Depp's attorneys in his defamation fight with ex-wife Amber Heard, discredited Heard's abuse accusations.
Tom Cruise landed a helicopter on aircraft carrier USS Midway on Wednesday to kick off the film's world premiere, appearing alongside co-stars Miles Teller, Glen Powell, Jennifer Connelly and Jay Ellis.
Cannes Film Festival 2022: Director Thierry Frémaux responds to diversity criticism in lineup selection
Frémaux suggested the discussion around gender equality in the film is often framed unfairly, and that the festival selects films based only on their quality.