The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special is absolutely perfect.
James Gunn has meticulously crafted a timeless less-than-an-hour celebration of the spirit of everything that makes the holiday season so magical. The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special is as heartfelt as it is hilarious; it has the right amount of holiday schmaltz; it ticks off MCU boxes (including the official debut of Cosmo); and of course, it has the one and only Kevin Bacon in an unforgettable role (yes, as himself).
The special follows two of the most underrated members of the Guardians team – Mantis (Pom Klementieff) and Drax (Dave Bautista) – who are hellbent on improving Star-Lord/Peter Quill’s (Chris Pratt) Christmas as he’s not only depressed about the lack of Gamora (Zoe Saldana) in his life but the season was ruined for him by his father figure Yondu (Michael Rooker).
So, in order to make his season merry and bright, they head to Hollywood to abduct Quill’s hero: Kevin Bacon. Hilarity ensues as the very well-meaning but stubborn, ludicrous, and emotional odd couple causes chaos throughout Tinseltown.
The premise is absolutely bonkers and should be the equivalent of your aunt’s “famous” fruit cake, but this is the world of The Guardians of the Galaxy so no matter how silly the escapade, it just works. This has to do with the sincerity and earnestness that Gunn and his cast have imbued in the characters. They’re all well-intentioned and despite their penchants for crime, violence, and rash decisions, they all have good hearts – even Karen Gillan’s Nebula (who steals every single scene she’s in).
And that’s why this special had to be set during the holidays. No members of the MCU work better within the premise of literal holiday hijinks than the Guardians. Stuff happens and hilarity ensues – only the Guardians can pull that off with the ease and grace needed to make it feel sincere and genuine.
Klementieff and Bautista are the reason this special works. As mentioned previously, these two are easily the most underrated members of the Guardians outfit. Quill and Gamora are the obvious leads, Nebula is the scene stealer, Groot’s the one for the kids, and Rocket is for the adults. Drax and Mantis hover around the fringe – particularly in Infinity War and Endgame – however, they were a major reason Guardians Vol. 2 was such a great film. Here, the two deliver a classic odd couple performance. The ultra-sensitive Mantis and the ultra-blunt Drax are the perfect team to stumble through the absurdity of Hollywood and celebrity. (Keep your eyes and ears open during the Chinese Theater sequence as it contains one of the all-time best jokes in the MCU).
Kevin Bacon being so game for this special is a huge plus. His wonderfully self-deprecating performance as well as his ease with Bautista and Klementieff makes the ultimate “spirit of Christmas” message and big finale payoff so much more satisfying. The same can be said for the indie-alt-country band Old 97’s. Their work, completely under copious amounts of make-up, adds such a dimension of fun to the special. Their original tune “I Don’t Know What Christmas Is (But Christmastime Is Here)” is so good that it will 100% end up on your playlist.
The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special, like Werewolf by Night, is an excellent entry into the fledgling Marvel Special Presentation format. The story works perfectly within the shortened runtime, maximizing its minutes and filling every second with something memorable.
If there is something negative to take away from this special, it’s the bittersweet feeling that this will be one of the last times we’ll see James Gunn and probably a majority of the Guardians cast playing in the Marvel sandbox. Gunn will depart Marvel to run DC Studios post-Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 and there are rumors that characters will not make it out of that film. Not seeing this group of lovable rascals in the future is a little sad. But if you think about it, a good holiday special/film/episode is always charged with misty-eyed nostalgia. We look back at these pop culture touchstones and they’re charged with memories. For Marvel fans, this special will remain something joyous they can look back on and enjoy for seasons to come. Even if we never do see a follow-up to it (fingers crossed that we do), we’ll always have this to celebrate each and every Christmas.
The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special is a wonderful gift from James Gunn and the cast to the Marvel fanbase. If you’re suffering from Marvel burnout, you can still throw this special on as it’s a low-risk, high-reward type of viewing. If you’re not, you’ll just be treated to a wonderful slice of joy to end your year.