‘The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special’ Has The Right Spirit – Review
by Nicolás Delgadillo
In an interesting move, the behemoth that is the Marvel Cinematic Universe has gone with a unique little choice for the capper to their most significant and most ambitious ‘Phase’ of their forever-expanding storytelling tapestry: A classic sort of holiday television special, which just dropped on Disney+ the day after Thanksgiving. Coming in at under an hour long, it seemed prudent to end the rollercoaster of Phase 4 with something both easily accessible to even the most casual of Marvel fans and comfortingly heartfelt after the emotional devastation of Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.
The concept of a palate cleanser is nothing new for Marvel Studios, who similarly ended their previous two Phases, following up Avengers: Age of Ultron with Ant-Man and Avengers: Endgame with Spider-Man: Far From Home. Lower stakes with a bit more leniency towards comedy are the M.O. here, and The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special delivers on that front. While it may seem like a disposable bit of extra content in the increasingly crowded Marvel pool, it ends up being one of the more straightforwardly funny ones of the bunch.
Set sometime after the Guardians have lost Gamora and parted ways with Thor, the group is now made up of Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), Rocket (Bradley Cooper / Sean Gunn), Groot (Vin Diesel), Drax (Dave Bautista), Nebula (Karen Gillan), Kraglin (Sean Gunn), and Mantis (Pom Klementieff). The gang has set up shop back on Knowhere, which looks like it’ll eventually be turned into a more permanent headquarters for them. Peter has been in an understandable funk without Gamora by his side and his comrades – well, actually, just Mantis takes it upon herself to find a way to cheer him up.
The opportunity presents itself when Earth’s holiday season arrives, and Kraglin shares the story of Peter’s attempts to celebrate Christmas during his childhood with the Ravagers. In an animated sequence that follows along the same visual styles of What If…?, Kraglin tells us how with Yondu (Michael Rooker) being the way he was, Christmas was seen as far too sentimental of a thing to be allowed on his ship. Wanting to make up for this and give Peter a perfect Christmas, Mantis hatches a plan to kidnap none other than Peter’s legendary hero Kevin Bacon and bring him back to Nowhere for the holidays.
The particular focus is on Mantis and Drax, who she brings along for the ride. Those hoping to see a bunch of Rocket or Groot or even Peter himself will have to wait until next year’s movie, but that’s part of the appeal of smaller stories like this; they offer a chance for different characters to shine. Klementieff and Bautista are more than capable, and the pairing of their characters getting up to shenanigans and misunderstandings on Earth is often laugh-out-loud funny. A scene where the two of them basically forget about their objective altogether and just end up partying at a club is the kind of fun, slice-of-life stuff that I wish we could see more of from the MCU. I miss those Marvel One Shots!
Kevin Bacon appears as himself, of course, and is a highlight of the entire special, being sufficiently terrified of both Drax and Mantis, who isn’t exactly the best at explaining why they want to take him away. The comedic setup as a whole is just an immediately solid one. James Gunn returned to the MCU after five years to both write and direct this special in the lead-up to Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, and it’s again another reminder of how his top priority always rightfully appears to be his characters.
Whether all the jokes land for you (I think a couple of musical segments take up a little too much of the runtime), there’s a solid emotional journey to follow with Mantis’ quest to give Peter a great Christmas. The stakes in this silly holiday special may appear small, but they’re certainly not for Mantis, who proves herself to be the not-so-secret MVP of this current iteration of the Guardians. Gunn, Klementieff, and the rest have scored a win by hiding one of the MCU’s most surprisingly touching moments in something as unassuming as this.