Out of the entirety of Marvel Studio’s planned phase 4, the two projects that drew the most questions were Werewolf by Night and the newly released Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special. Two projects that fall outside of the scheduled “Multiverse Saga” and are subsequently isolated and tied to their respective holidays that each story is built around, both wound up becoming two pleasant surprises upon release among a less than pristine phase overall. Where and when on the timeline Werewolf and Guardians fall in is another thing entirely. The result far exceeds the expectation placed on any project in the MCU with now over 30 films logged in the universe.
Coming in with a run time of 42 minutes, The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special is more of an amuse bouche as we wait for the 3rd installment and most likely the final iteration of this Guardians team by director James Gunn. Written by Gunn, almost every holiday cliché is added into Santa’s sleigh as the writer director does what he does best – taking the obscure characters barely anyone had knowledge of prior to 2014 and bring them front and center. The spotlight is once again theirs with emphasis on underrepresented characters that have been established in the previous Guardians and Avengers films.
In those 42 minutes, crucial details are sprinkled in to catch the audience up on the team since we last saw them being snapped back to life by the Avengers and stopping Thanos. Dropping this information is maneuvered intelligently so there won’t be too much convolution in the next adventure. Less will be more concerning the Guardians. But the basic gist of the Holiday Special is this. Mantis (Pom Klementieff), Drax (Dave Bautista), Kraglin (Sean Gunn) Nebula (Karen Gillan), and Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper) all decide to cheer a clearly home-sick Peter Quill aka Star-Lord (Chris Pratt) up for a holiday celebration only held on earth called Christmas.
Mantis and Drax come up with a brilliant gift idea, travel to the planet and kidnap Peter’s childhood hero Kevin Bacon (Himself) and bring him back to Peter. Some may call it a gift; others would call it human trafficking.
The term is up for interpretation.
Out of all the Guardians, Gunn centers his story around Mantis and Drax – two characters that have taken the back seat in previous films and deserved to have their time in the spotlight. Both Pom Klementieff and Dave Bautista fit their roles comfortably by now – quickly getting into the holiday spirit after landing on earth. For two characters that have never heard of Christmas before, both Klementieff and Bautista channel the excitement and childlike wonder of experiencing Christmas for the first time. Their chemistry together leaps off screen and adding in a giant candy cane, an ugly Christmas sweater and a blown-up lawn elf and James Gunn has another hit added to his repertoire in the MCU.
Compared to the rest of phase 4, the Holiday Special is served as an epilogue coming on the heels of Wakanda Forever. An early present opened up a day or two before Christmas Eve among the holiday juggernauts that are sure to be consumed during the whole month of December. Leave it to Gunn to add his flavor for comedy to a holiday special – blending classic stories with MCU flair. Opening the special is an animated sequence in the Eight Crazy Nights style establishing Yondu (voiced by Michael Rooker) as a hater of Christmas, one that made Peter feel belittled for celebrating a holiday. By the end of the special, Gunn brings the animation back to only make the heartbreak of losing Yondu in Vol 2 even more devastating – perfectly capturing the special relationship between Peter and Yondu.
Joining Drax and Mantis on their Christmas adventure albeit against his will is Kevin Bacon, the proclaimed hero who saved a town with the art of the dance. In his MCU debut, Bacon fits right into the star-studded ensemble and is able to stand out among the heroes by spreading Christmas cheer. It doesn’t take much for Peter to feel appreciated by his adoptive family and Bacon is a welcomed addition.
Like the previous Guardians films, Gunn pulls out all the stops with the soundtrack and music for the Holiday Special. Fans of early 2000’s SNL will find a familiar tune that the sketch comedy changed the game with among an addition of classic songs and original ones by the Old 97’s whom Kevin Bacon joins in serenading Knowhere among a highly decorated final act. Full of gifts given out by Nebula and Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel), the Holiday Special is sure to get any scrooge ready for the upcoming holiday.
A new holiday staple that deserves to be added to the yearly rotation, the GOTG Holiday Special is perfect to throw on in the background while decorations are put out, hot cocoa is made, the Yule log is set aflame, and the tree is lit. Perfectly blended between silliness, charm and heart with a ton of well-placed humor. There’s enough substance within its bones to stop the decorating and pay attention to the good deed that the titular Guardians do for Peter that will make anyone cheer right up in no time. Every year, classics are remade into modernized versions but the GOTG Holiday Special stands on its own as a new Christmas film that can even warm Nebula’s cold mechanical heart and be appreciated by all.
Screenplay By: James Gunn
Directed By: James Gunn
Music By: John Murphy
Cinematography: Henry Braham
Starring: Chris Pratt, Dave Bautista, Karen Gillan, Pom Klementieff, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Sean Gunn, Michael Rooker, Kevin Bacon
Where to Watch: Disney Plus
Release Date: November 25, 2022
Running Time: 42 Minutes
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 89%
Based On: Guardians of the Galaxy by Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning