This year has been a busy blur for Marvel Studios. They’ve released three theatrical films and debuted four streaming series. But this year for Christmas, there’s something fans would really like from Kevin Feige. So if you can hear those sleigh bells coming around that Disney+ bend, then consider watching James Gunn’s The Guardians of the Galaxy: Holiday Special to mark this year’s end. Because Christmas Time has come, and that means MCU joy for everyone.
The Guardians of the Galaxy: Holiday Special is Marvel Studios’ second ‘Special Presentation’ project following Werewolf By Night. Exclusive only to Disney+ subscribers, Holiday Special acts as a supplemental story to the larger MCU. You may not have to watch it to understand what’s going on in some of the other films or TV shows, but it does fill in a few of those gaps and gives a chance for some of the supporting characters to take the lead.
That’s not to say that there are no stakes in The Guardians of the Galaxy: Holiday Special. It wouldn’t be much of a comic book movie without one. So Gunn puts together a Christmas Treat while also adding some emotional depth to a story that centers on Mantis (Pom Klementieff), along with Drax (Dave Bautista), trying to find the perfect Christmas gift for heartbroken Peter Quill (Chris Evans), who misses Gamora. Eventually, they figure out the best gift that they could give him would be the one hero that Peter cannot stop talking about. So, their quest takes them from Knowhere to sunny Hollywood, California, where the two aliens are met by tourists who pay to have their photos taken with them. Not knowing how these Earthly customs work, they navigate Hollywood visiting nightclubs, drinking libations, and using Star Maps to find the legendary Kevin Bacon (Kevin Bacon).
Of course, when Mantis and Drax finally find Bacon, they are in for quite a surprise that he is pretty much not like the person that Peter told them he’d be. Then the night goes from comedic misadventures to hilarious misunderstandings of epic proportions as Mantis and Drax chase Bacon on Christmas eve against a backdrop of all bright and sparkly Hollywood homes decorated with holiday lights. It’s quite the fun juxtaposition that can only work in a superhero comedy with a slight family-friendly angle to it.
Now, there is more to the special presentation than just the thrill of two socially awkward aliens with good intentions trying to abduct a legendary actor. Because Gunn knows this world so well, he is able to bring some depth and nuance to the latest Guardians short while using the holiday season as a backdrop. And since this is a Mantis-centric story, we get to see more of Klementieff, who had played a supportive role for far too long during her MCU tenure.
Much of the first act centers on Mantis and Drax trying to figure out what Christmas is and what it actually means to Peter Quill. Of course, with no knowledge of how humans behave, the two think that it’s okay to do things their way. The brother and sister dynamic is hilariously dysfunctional, and their After Hours misadventures end up in chaos. But the kind of chaos that brings out a lot of laughs. At the same time, in their quest to present Kevin Bacon as a gift, we discover a lot about Mantis and Drax. While they may not understand some of the customs, their heartfelt efforts to strengthen their family connection are anchored in something beautiful and emotional.
There’s even a moment where we get to see Mantis use and misuse her powers for the greater good. And to watch her try and perfect Kevin Bacon in the image that Peter Quill painted for them is quite hilarious to watch.
And because this is a James Gunn directorial effort, The Guardians of the Galaxy: Holiday Special has tons of Christmas-related needle drops, which is perfect for those who want to add some fun tunes to their holiday playlist. While you can expect to hear some favorites like The Waitresses’ “Christmas Wrapping,” The Pogues’ “Fairytale of New York,” and the Smashing Pumpkins’ “Christmastime,” there are also a few deep cuts from Hanoi Rocks and Low. Not to mention an original song from Gunn’s favorite band, The Old 97s.
What’s more, Gunn really brings that spirit of coming home for the holidays by having us revisit Knowhere,and reuniting us with some of our favorite ragtag crew, while also introducing us to some new characters or maybe newer versions like a very swol Groot (voice of Vin Diesel), and Cosmo (voice of Maria Bakalova). And by the looks of things, you couldn’t tell that Gunn shot the Holiday Special and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 simultaneously.
The Guardians of the Galaxy: Holiday Special bursts with cheer. Gunn doesn’t hold back on bringing plenty of emotional depth to the picture by using Christmas and Mantis’ pursuit of making a gloomy Peter Quill happy as the backdrop. And it wouldn’t be fair to compare this to any other of the Guardians of the Galaxy installments or even Werewolf by Night, considering that they all have different stories to tell. Not to mention that they all have different things to accomplish. But for the most part, they all humanize these otherworldly characters and give them the necessary space to learn and grow. If anything, James Gunn’s latest is only a small tease of what’s to come and a heartwarming story for Mantis, a socially awkward hero with good intentions learning about the true meaning of giving.