Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special review: A heartfelt Christmas treat

A still from the poster for the Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday SpecialMarvel Studios

The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special is a warm, heartfelt hug from the MCU, and the perfect gift the franchise could give: a reminder of what makes this team so beloved, and how much we’ll miss them.

Lest we forget, the Guardians of the Galaxy were once the scrappy underdogs of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. In 2014, James Gunn shattered everyone’s expectations, turning his band of space-faring misfits into a household name.

They’re continual highlights of any movie, whether it’s Groot meeting Steve Rogers in Avengers: Infinity War or anything they do in Thor: Love and Thunder (let’s be real, it wouldn’t be hard to steal the limelight in that one), not to mention both Vol. 1 and 2 being two of the strongest movies in the entire franchise.

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Before they bow out in Vol. 3, the fateful final installment of the Guardians saga as we know it, the Holiday Special is a tender stocking filler for your holiday viewing; slight, but not without emotional and narrative richness.

Guardians of the Galaxy begins with a fairytale

Twelve piano notes and the familiar, blissful crooning of Shane McGowan open the special. “It was Christmas Eve babe,” he sings as snow drifts across the Marvel logo. We’re thrown into the middle of the cosmos, with a young Peter Quill explaining Christmas to Kraglin (Sean Gunn), but Yondu (Michael Rooker) is angered by the notion. “Charity,” he barks. “Handouts… I hate Christmas.”

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The scene cuts to Kraglin in the present day, standing in the middle of Nowhere, recounting the story of how Yondu ruined the holiday season. Naturally, Drax (Dave Bautista) finds it all rather hysterical.

After a rock-and-rolling opening number – featuring the lyrics, “Santa is a furry freak with epic superpowers” – we find out why we’re here. Mantis (Pom Klementieff) is worried about Peter (Chris Pratt), who’s been down in the dumps ever since losing Gamora in Endgame, so she hatches a plan to go to Earth with Drax and get him the best Christmas gift she can think of: legendary hero Kevin Bacon, in the flesh. Clearly, Peter never told them about Sleepers.

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Holiday Special is an ode to the Guardians

James Gunn helmed the special, and it combines his visual flair (wide shots of Knowhere feel immersive with lived-in detail, and the VFX in the galaxy-hopping scenes are just as slick and eye-popping as Vol. 2) with lighter, on-the-go shooting. Drax and Mantis’ streetwalking has an energy somewhere between Billy on the Street and a Disneyland advert – and it’s really amusing! Their fish-out-of-water hijinks are well-worn, but tried-and-tested gags are tried and tested for a reason: they’re funny.

We catch Kevin Bacon as he’s cackling at Santa Claus Conquers the Martians. We won’t go into other details about the special, but suburban Hollywood and song-and-dance shenanigans ensue, with the Footloose star making every minute as funny as the last. Also, it’s worth it for hearing Nebula (Karen Gillan) shout, “Can’t outrun me, Bacon!”

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Kevin Bacon in the Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday SpecialMarvel Studios

Pratt, admittedly, doesn’t have much to do as Star-Lord this time, left to mope over Gamora with a few glum asides. Rocket (Bradley Cooper) is too busy with Cosmo (Maria Bakalova) the scene-stealing space Dog, and Groot wanders around the background, now an older teenage boy who’s rather hench, even for a tree. This is Drax and Mantis’ show, and the stars make for a lovable, fallible pair – even when flipping cars or manipulating minds, their sweetness is never in doubt.

Gunn’s Marvel gift has always been how deftly he imbues the Guardians’ adventures with such a deep, pulsing heartbeat, and the Holiday Special, for all its fluffy, festive charm, is no different. The gags are good – like Drax pleading, “Stop, it tickles” in a hail of bullets – but the emotional hits are stronger, particularly as the endeavour’s true purpose (and lesson, like all Christmas movies) comes to the fore.

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Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special review score: 4/5

There’s no other word for it: The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special is lovely. As a Phase Four capper, it’s not changing the hierarchy of the MCU, but it’s an ode to the franchise’s best family and all their twisted quirks.

The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special will be available to stream on Disney+ on Friday, November 25. You can sign up for Disney+ here.