Most of what the streaming MCU connective tissue has offered over the last few years has been divisive to say the least. So hearing a holiday special featuring the Guardians of the Galaxy was on the horizon probably raised some eyebrows. And rightly so, seeing as how this ensemble will essentially see its end in the third entry into their journey. (“GotG Vol. 3” is also more than likely James Gunn‘s last film for Marvel Studios.) I think most of us were cautiously optimistic. Some even approaching “Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special” with skepticism. Luckily, Gunn still seems deeply connected to these characters, and delivers a short but sweet heartfelt story that not only furthers the characters we know and love, but gets us into the holiday spirit early.
For all of Gunn’s outlandish proclivities, he certainly knows how to tug on the heartstrings. Even in the short, straightforward “Holiday Special,” Gunn manages to pack the story with a ton of feeling. It’s simple and sometimes a bit emotionally manipulative, but never feels so surface level that you can’t let it waft over you and make you fall in love with Christmas. Sentimentality is kind of part of the nature of holiday films, and the MCU very rarely does anything that won’t have an impact on the overall story in some way. It’s kind of the more annoying parts of the current phase, where the web of stories spreads a little too thin and requires you to miss nothing to understand everything. Thankfully, Gunn is allowed to put it on the back burner and let the simple story of Christmas with the Guardians be the core of his story.
“Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special” essentially does what the “Star Wars Holiday Special” couldn’t quite get right. It adds a small layer of purpose in the universe to familiar characters while delivering a very funny, lighthearted holiday romp. Also, it’s watchable, so there’s that too.
Simply put, the “Holiday Special” catches us up with where the Guardians have been living and what they’ve been up to since we last saw them. Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) is a bit down with Gamora being gone, as well as being the only person who truly understands the Christmas tradition. After hearing a sad story about a ruined Christmas that Quill experienced, Mantis (Pom Klementieff) and Drax (Dave Bautista) decide to get Quill the perfect gift to cheer him up. That gift requires them both to travel to Earth and bring back (you guessed it) Peter’s favorite childhood hero: Kevin Bacon.
The film predominantly features Drax and Mantis is a sort of fish out of water holiday story as they try to track down the famous actor in the streets of Hollywood. Bacon plays himself, and actually appears in more than a cameo role. He’s fully bought in to the silliness of it all, and the three of them spend quite a bit of time on screen together. They’re all very funny, with Bautista and Klementieff once again putting their odd but endearing chemistry on full display.
Though “Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special” is about providing a happy Christmas memory for Quill, it’s really about the strengthening of the relationships of the Guardians themselves. It acts as kind of a preview of what where we can expect them to be in the upcoming “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3” without feeling like it’s forced into the big picture of the MCU.
There really isn’t a whole lot more to say about it, honestly. It’s a short and sweet Holiday movie packed with heart and feel good vibes that is sure to get you into the holiday spirit. Sometimes we need a good old fashioned simple story. Not everything needs to have some deep rooted commentary. Movies can just exist as brief sense of wonder, heart and humor, and “Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special” has all of those things in spades. It is true to form for what we’ve come to love about this characters, and combines that with Christmas to great effect. It feels genuine, even if it feels a bit manipulative at times. But honestly, we’ve had enough in the last 4 years to be Ebenezer Scrooge about.
“Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special” invites you to give yourself over to the magic of Christmas, and the joy that can come from family and friends wanting to share in the spirit with you. Even if their actions are basically kidnapping, they mean well and it all has a pretty nice happy ending. This is one that you can sit back and enjoy more than once, and can easily be put on your holiday tradition watch list.
If you want to hear some pretty funny songs about how weird Santa actually is, watch Drax and Mantis kidnap Kevin Bacon as a Christmas present, Teenager Groot and yes, discover that Drax HATES actors, then “Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special” is the perfect holiday film. (The entire soundtrack album is available on iTunes now!)
[Editor’s note: It’s absolutely the happiest holiday film you’ll see this year because of exactly one moment. Nebula (Karen Gillan), grouchy angry crotchety Nebula, gifts Rocket his dream present. It’s amazing.]
We’ve had enough doom to last a lifetime. A little simple joy is exactly what we need. And our hearts may be frozen over from…well….(gestures at everything) and I think it’s okay to let “Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special” melt some of that ice away, even just for a little bit.
Because you know, it’s Christmas!
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars
“Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special” is now streaming on Disney+. You can watch the trailer below. “GotG Vol. 3” is currently scheduled to hit theaters May 5th, 2023.