Over the past few years, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has become so popular, the characters have almost become family. Fans know and love them so much, any chance to spend even one or two more minutes with them outside of their own films feels like a gift. And that’s why The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special is so, well, special. It allows fans the opportunity to spend some downtime with these beloved characters, resulting in a heartwarming and entertaining but slightly superfluous experience.
Set between the events of Thor: Love and Thunder and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, the Guardians have a new home, new ship, and are going through the daily grind. We learn, via a Spine of Night-esque animated flashback, how Peter Quill first introduced the idea of Christmas to the galaxy, and Mantis (Pom Klementieff) and Drax (Dave Bautista) are so moved by the story, they want to give Peter a proper Christmas. So they travel to Earth to find him the perfect present.
That present was revealed in the show’s trailer and again in the opening credits, so it’s not really a spoiler—but just in case you don’t know, we’ll drop this.
Drax and Mantis head to Earth to find the great hero, Kevin Bacon, who Quill has been talking about since the first Guardians film. On the quest, the pair traverse Hollywood looking for the actor, getting into all sorts of hijinks. Once they find him, well, imagine you’re Kevin Bacon and Drax and Mantis show up at your door. Things don’t go well.
At the start, part of the joy of the Holiday Special is just seeing the Guardians again. Peter (Chris Pratt) is there, of course, along with Nebula (Karen Gillan), Kraglin (Sean Gunn), Rocket (Bradley Cooper), Groot (Vin Diesel), Drax, Mantis, and even newcomer Cosmo (voiced by Maria Bakalova). Where they are and what they’re doing acts as a tease to what fans can expect in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, which is exciting, but that quickly gets pushed aside in favor of the holiday story, which is more than welcome. Because this show isn’t meant to be a 40-minute trailer—the aim is to tell a story with Marvel characters of friendship, giving, and love, which comes across in every scene of the special. That the concept of Christmas is so foreign to everyone not from Earth is a bonus throughout, setting the stage for lots of incredibly funny moments and observations, some of which even come in the form of music.
Though all the Guardians play a role, really, this is the Drax and Mantis show, and the chemistry Klementieff and Bautista began to display in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 really blossoms here. For 40 minutes, Drax and Mantis basically act like toddler siblings, running around with no idea about what they’re doing, getting into trouble, and it’s hilarious. They’re beyond lovable. Klementieff especially, whose previous MCU appearances have made her more of a background character, really raises the bar here, endearing Mantis in a way that should rocket her to MCU stardom.
Writer-director James Gunn crafted the special to fit seamlessly with his Guardians films: lots of great music, beautiful visuals, and an unstoppable momentum, as well as some real pathos, much of which is seen through Bacon’s eyes. The actor, who plays himself, starts scared but as he goes on this adventure, slowly starts to shift. Eventually, Bacon gets a whole new perspective not just on life, but his own career too. Little things like that add some real depth to the special, though they’re occasionally fleeting in favor of the story.
That story pays off incredibly well though, with some truly lovely and magical moments at the end leaving you feeling simply joyous as the credits roll. And really, that’s the whole point of the special: Here are some characters you love, that you usually don’t get to spend a lot of time with, and now to get to see them in this other story. As a whole, there are certainly a few moments that don’t quite fit (we cringed at one scene with police officers) and there’s a chance the special won’t make much sense unless you are very, very well-versed in the MCU and Guardians’ previous stories (a joke from Infinity War pays off in a big way here, for example). But, if you are devoted Marvel fans—as we are—the holiday special amounts to a perfect Guardians of the Galaxy slice of life that’ll instantly get you into the holiday spirit.
The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special comes to Disney+ on November 25.
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