The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special Review: Festive and fun

Marvel fans are ready for a short break after Black Panther: Wakanda Forever marked the end of phase 4. But unknown to many, Wakanda forever didn’t actually finish phase 4. The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special drops Friday, November 25 on Disney+, and it serves as a feel-good end to the MCU’s first post-Infinity Saga phase.

Written and directed by James Gunn, who has been at the helm of Guardians franchise since their first film nearly a decade ago, The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special sees the return of the cast of space misfits fans have come to love. Chris Pratt, Dave Bautista, Karen Gillan, Pom Klementieff and Sean Gunn all reprise their roles from the films, along with the voice talents of Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper and Michael Rooker.

Zoe SaldaƱa’s Gamora is currently in a slightly awkward place in the MCU, like the version seen in the first two Guardians movie died in Avengers: Infinity Warwhile the one that exists in the main timeline now was plucked from 2014 below Avengers: Endgame and was last seen venturing himself. She does not appear in this special, and her absence is surprisingly not felt that much. It will likely be much more prominent (and plot-centric) when Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 rolls around next year, but since this is a one-off special about a small moment in time during the rest of the Guardians’ adventures, she doesn’t really need to be there. As integral as Gamora is to the franchise, Gunn made the right call leaving her out.

The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special probably picks up sometime after the events of Thor: Love and Thunder. The Guardians seem to have made Knowhere their home base and things seem relatively calm. Groot has grown considerably (although his new look is more akin to what you’d expect from a costumed character at Disneyland’s Avengers Campus than what audiences have come to expect from his appearances in actual Marvel projects), and everyone’s pretty happy with where they are at.

Everyone except Quill. It’s the time of year when the holidays are approaching on Earth, and he’s feeling down because of a bad Christmas-related experience with his late father, Yondu, as a child. (Viewers get to see this interaction play out in animated form, which would be a fun touch if the animation quality wasn’t pretty bad.)

After Kraglin tells some of the other Guardians about this (Sean Gunn actually gets a decent amount to do as the character in this special, and it’s great), Mantis takes it upon herself to cheer Peter up by giving him a special Christmas present, and with Drax in tow, he heads down to Earth to find the one person Peter has idolized his entire life: Kevin Bacon.

I’ve always loved Mantis, but for those skeptical of how a special led by her and Drax could even work, it works better than you might expect. Drax is still… Drax (not as insufferable as in Vol. 2 but not nearly as much fun as you Infinity War), but Mantis manages to be a bit more well-rounded as the duo’s de facto straight man. That said, she still gets some fun moments from her and shows more sides of her personality than she was able to in any of her three previous film appearances. A recurring theme in Phase 4 has been supporting characters finally getting their time in the spotlight, and Klementieff proves his worth with this performance. She is undoubtedly the star of this special, and it works incredibly well.

Kevin Bacon plays himself in this and ends up getting quite a bit of screen time. While he spends a good portion of the special confused and terrified by the aliens who have come to capture him, he gets to exercise his comedic chops in a few scenes and even some musical ones. His appearance is certainly the biggest takeaway from past Marvel projects in this special, but it’s not the only one, so look out for another fun moment or two that connects the MCU as a whole.

Speaking of which, it’s obvious that the special won’t be “required viewing” for Vol. 3 (although it does introduce Cosmo the Space Dog – voiced by Maria Bakalova – who will appear in the upcoming film), but it’s also not something the uninitiated can just pick up and fully enjoy. You definitely need to be familiar with the Guardians and their particular brand of humor and heart for this to hit home. While The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special was made for fans, it’s a fun second foray into Marvel’s new “Special Presentations” brand of one-off stories.

And yes, wait until after the credits, especially if you’re a fan of some of the characters who get less to do in this one.

SCORE: 8.5/10

Like ComingSoon’s audit policy explains, a score of 8 corresponds to “Fantastic”. Although there are a few minor issues, this score means that the art succeeds in its goal and leaves a memorable impact.


Disclosure: The reviewer received a screener link to ComingSoon’s The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special review.

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