Directed by James Gunn — Screenplay by James Gunn.
I’ve made it no secret that the Guardians of the Galaxy films mean a great deal to me. I saw the first film in theaters with my family when we greatly needed something to smile about and we all absolutely loved it. It came around at the exact right time, and James Gunn’s spin on these C-List Marvel characters has made them family favorites (and I’m sure that isn’t just true in my family). I’ve often said that it had the potential for a Star Wars-like impact on a generation, and so I thought it was a hilarious and brilliant idea for James Gunn to add to his overarching narrative about this group of Guardians with a holiday special, as Star Wars’ infamous 1978 holiday special is still spoken about to this day. Thankfully, whereas the Star Wars special was criticized so much that it has never been officially rereleased, this Guardians of the Galaxy special feels much more appropriate to the tone of the films it has spun off from. Like how Werewolf by Night was an entertaining Halloween Marvel Studios special presentation, James Gunn’s Christmas special is exactly what I needed to reconnect with the holiday spirit just in time for December.
The Guardians of The Galaxy: Holiday Special takes place somewhere in between the events of Avengers: Endgame and the upcoming third entry, and it finds the Guardians settled on Knowhere, where they have made their permanent home base. Peter Quill (played by Chris Pratt) is feeling somewhat lonely, though, as he still deeply misses Gamora, who he lost in Avengers: Infinity War. Mantis (played by Pom Klementieff) and Drax (played by Dave Bautista) decide to go to Earth to find someone who can lift Peter’s spirits. They’re looking for actor Kevin Bacon, who Drax and Mantis believe is a mythical hero and not just an actor.
James Gunn’s holiday special has all the right ingredients to make up a solid rewatchable Christmas special. It has moments with nostalgic animation, original music, bright Christmas lights, and an emphasis on holiday spirit, friendship, family, gift-giving, and comedy. It isn’t a full-fledged movie, though. It feels more like an extended sitcom episode, which, however, is a structure and tone that works quite well with these zany, silly, and strange characters. As I mentioned, the film opens with a brief animated sequence that sets up exactly how Peter Quill introduced the concept of Christmas to his alien colleagues. It is a simple animated section, but, frankly, without it, the film probably wouldn’t have made much sense, and the way the film later returns to animation is quite heartwarming and somewhat moving in its holiday sweetness. It’s not exactly What If…? animation, but much simpler and nostalgic.
The holiday special primarily follows Drax and Mantis, even though all members of the Guardians (except for Gamora, for obvious reasons) make appearances. Can the aforementioned ingredient-like list feel like a checklist? Sure. Is this special reliant on expositional dialogue? Absolutely. But it doesn’t bog the film down, other than raise questions as to why Gunn chose to explain one or two new developments, that could be important in the upcoming Vol. 3, in a holiday special. The film reintroduces Cosmo the Spacedog with the voice of Maria Bakalova, and it’s a fun addition to the Guardians group, though we barely get to know her here. The band the ‘Old 97’s’ also makes an appearance as an alien band fascinated by Christmas lore, and there is a fun Christmas song built around their introduction (the soundtrack in the film is also quite neat).
But the film mainly rests on Drax and Mantis and seeing them meet people of Earth and get into fun situations like having fun in a gay bar and posing for pictures on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Klementieff and Bautista definitely make it work, as their rapport, as established in Vol. 2, is just electric and delightful. Kevin Bacon, who was first mentioned in a joke in the first Guardians of the Galaxy film, also seems to have had a lot of fun with this, but it’s not really a deep performance, as the role doesn’t necessitate it.
Packed with nostalgia, heart, humor, and his lovable Marvel misfits, James Gunn’s The Guardians of the Galaxy: Holiday Special is precisely the kind of thing I needed to get back in the holiday spirit. From minute one, I was grinning from ear to ear and I kept smiling throughout the film. It is a super silly, nostalgic, and delightful little Christmas special that feels like an extended sitcom Christmas adventure episode. It is constantly sweet and charming, quite funny, and even somewhat moving at times. This was such a great idea in the first place because these Guardians of the Galaxy films have always been about friends becoming your family away from home. It’s a perfectly tuned little special and a great Christmas gift that I didn’t know I needed.
8 out of 10
– Review Written by Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen.