[Watch our review of ‘The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special’ above or read it below.]
James Gunn, director and writer of the Guardians of the Galaxy movies, both directs & writes this amusing and sweet 41-minute Christmas adventure.
Allow me to start by saying that this is one of those films – or mini films? – where I (stay with me now) wasn’t all that impressed while watching it. Don’t get me wrong, I did find it entertaining and mostly well done, it just felt too lite and too quick, so that by the time the credits came I was left feeling… yeah, that was okay. But, I was left thinking about it for a couple of days after watching, and, well, it grew on me. In retrospect, this quite a good special!
I was both surprised and excited when it was announced that Gunn would be crafting a holiday special, but it just makes sense – you don’t have to spend an exhauberant amount and embark on a huge production to tell a Marvel story well. Plus, you can drop smaller chapters continuously on the Disney+ platform.
The Guardians Holiday Special comes on the heels of Werewolf by Night, a 51-minute “special presentation” starring Gael García Bernal released in October. I really enjoyed that black-and-white, horror-heavy special. Filled with influences from cinema’s early horror creations, Werewolf by Night was very entertaining – and it certainly had a more violent edge for the MCU, which I certainly appreciated.
Back to the Guardians Holiday Special. The plot here primarily follows Mantis (Pom Klementieff) and Drax (Dave Bautista) as they head to Earth in an effort to get the perfect Christmas gift for Peter Quill (Chris Pratt). You see, Peter hasn’t been doing too well since Gamora’s departure, so his friends have decided to cheer him up by giving him a celebration of that Earth holiday known as Christmas. Oh, and that perfect gift is… Kevin Bacon. The actor, Kevin Bacon.
Gunn says he wrote this Special in a matter of hours! Now that’s some talent, because the result is a confident, fast-paced chapter that is mostly what you’d want from a small Guardians Christmas chapter. Now, I’ll point out that I did want to it to be a bit longer and not all of the jokes really landed, but Gunn knows these characters so well and has such a knack for delivering a good amount of heart among bonkers narratives, he had me on board for the ride.
It was nice to see Mantis given what’s essentially a lead part to play. Although it is only a short story, the character is fleshed out enough thanks to the previous films that her arc here manages to work on an emotional level. Also, having her dealing with quite the secret related to Peter adds emotional weight that pays off quite nicely at the end.
Mantis’ moving arc aside, the character also gets to spark up a lot of laughs. A Mantis and Drax story isn’t exactly the first pair-up that I would have imagined for a Guardians special, but they’re great together. While Drax’s lovable simplicity and unawareness are, of course, key factors in much of the comedy, his humourous antics are matched and furthered by Mantis, who finds herself forced to be like something of a stern mother on occasion. Scenes in which her frustrations with him come spilling out are quite amusing. The two also take part in a bit of an action sequence involving police officers. The action itself wasn’t really anything special, but it was nice to see Drax easily flip a car and take some bullets.
Kevin Bacon is one of the special’s pleasant surprises. I wasn’t too sure how much he would have to do here, but it’s a much bigger role than I expected. And you can tell that Bacon is really having fun playing himself – or a version of himself – in a story that playfully pokes fun at not only himself and some of his past roles (of course, Footloose is referenced), but pokes fun at actors in general. It’s quite funny seeing these cast members talk about just how awful actors are.
The short runtime means that we don’t spend too much time with the others in the Guardians team, although I certainly appreciated the sheer amount of characters we do get. I won’t list them all, but Gunn brings in a surprising number of characters here – some are inevitably glossed over, but it doesn’t feel overly crowded considering the small narrative. It was great to see a now older Groot, and another certain character is brought back in animated scenes that bookend the special. These animated sequences, charmingly crafted with a rotoscoping animation style we don’t see much of these days, add touching layers to Pratt’s relationship with the character.
As for Peter Quill, he’s also here more than I expected him to be. Pratt’s charming screen presence is always on point; he’s great as a much less enthusiastic Peter than usual – who is spiritless with good reason, of course.
This isn’t a major instalment in the MCU or an ambitious Guardians adventure, but it doesn’t aim to be one. Admittedly, having these characters and visiting this corner of the MCU for a breezy little story was a little jarring. But it’s a holiday special, and don’t forget, Gunn has Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 for those of us wanting the “big” next chapter. Here, Gunn has crafted a fast – perhaps too fast, in opinion – and sweet adventure that mostly ticks off the right boxes for a fun special. Importantly, it also carries a sweet message for the festive season.