Christmas may be more than a month away, but James Gunn’s got a marvellous early gift for us, The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special. Anarchic and hilarious, this new Marvel special presentation captures the chaos of the festive season and adds a dash of superheroic action for good measure.
We open on the space station Knowhere which The Guardians have made their home base. While everything seems well with the team, Mantis (Pom Klementieff) and Drax (Dave Bautista) worry that Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) is depressed. After hearing from Kraglin (Sean Gunn) about this ancient Earth custom known as Christmas, they set off to get him the perfect gift, Kevin Bacon (Kevin Bacon).
And that’s sort of it. It’s a simple enough concept, but Gunn and the cast get an awful lot out of it. There are loads of great jokes about Hollywood and superhero movies, blink and you’ll miss them cameos from Gunn’s friends, and it generally captures the feel-good magic of the festive season in a tidy 42 minutes.
The special definitely owes a debt of gratitude to the more ‘alternative’ Yule-tide classics; you can practically smell the ruins of the Griswald’s Christmas tree in some scenes, but it’s surprisingly sweet in a twisted sort of way. There aren’t many people who’d trek across the galaxy to indulge in some human trafficking just to make their friend smile, but The Guardians would.
Drax and Mantis are definitely the special’s MVPs. The scenes of them on Earth hunting down Kevin Bacon, who they believe to be Earth’s mightiest hero, are the highlight. It’s typical fish-out-of-water humour, but Bautista and Klementieff make it work by leaning into how alien Drax and Mantis really are.
Speaking of which, it’s a delight to see Klementieff’s Mantis really get some time to shine. The character was quite subdued in her first few Marvel movies, but in this, Klementieff and Gunn make it clear that she’s just as big a lovable weirdo as the rest of her rag-tag team. Special mention has to go to the terrifying scene where she’s drunkenly chasing Kevin Bacon through his house. Seriously Marvel, if you ever want to make a horror movie make Mantis the villain.
As for the special’s big star Kevin Bacon? Well, he’s a charming presence in the special who takes a lot of light-hearted jabs about his career with grace. It’s typical Hollywood ribbing and never really devolves into anything nasty, but there are a few moments where you wonder how happy Bacon was to be told how much everyone hated him.
If there were any complaints about the Guardian’s special, it does feel a little ‘made-for-TV movie’. You can’t shake the feeling at times, they had access to 3 sets, and that’s about it; most of the Guardians, including those created by expensive visual effects, go missing for the bulk of the runtime (almost like they had other commitments); and it wraps up quicker than a hastily bought pair of socks of Christmas Eve, but ultimately that’s all forgivable.
Why? Well, The Guardian’s Holiday Special feels like a throwback to the old Christmas specials of Gunn’s youth, and the (relative) cheapness feels more like a homage to those show-string budget shows and movies than Marvel being an Ebeneezer Scrooge.
As for those wondering brings his usual eclectic musical takes to the special. Well, what do you think? We start with The Pogue’s Fairy Tale of New York, and it only gets better from there. I expect a lot of people will be pausing on the credits so they can make their Guardians Christmas playlist.
The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special ultimately works so well because it captures the imperfect spirit of Christmas. It’s sweet, fun, and a little bit chaotic, but we wouldn’t have it any other way. If you want to know more about the gang’s next adventure, check out our guide to Guardians of the Galaxy vol 3.
Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special review
Sweeter than a cookie and more chaotic than trying to sort Christmas dinner the Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special has the potential to become a classic.