The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special (Belated Review)

The Guardians of the Galaxy celebrating the holidays? Sure. Why not? I figured it might get me in a festive sorta mood. Read on to find out if it did…

The Guardians prepare to celebrate Christmas on Knowhere. But Star Lord can’t find his holiday spirit. So Drax and Mantis try to cheer Peter up by bringing him his hero: the great Kevin Bacon– whether Mr Bacon comes willingly or not.

James Gunn is arguably the best director of superhero media. He’s certainly the most consistent: with inventiveness, comedy, drama, and comic-book vibes. The man knows how to adapt comic books for film and TV!

And The Guardians of the Galaxy franchise is an aberration among Marvel Entertainment, because it’s distinctly the product of a visionary director– not producers. They just feel more “real” than Marvel’s other films. And they’re clearly passion projects for Gunn– not just a pay-check. James Gunn puts his heart and soul into these things, and his love radiates off the screen for my viewing pleasure.

Gunn had a stroke of genius by making the Guardians’ two biggest social outcasts the special’s leads. Drax and Mantis really only understand each other, which makes for great goofy shenanigans all around. Their partnership is well-defined, and feels unique in its execution. They’re basically an alien buddy-comedy duo.

The best part of this Guardians special is that we see more of Mantis! Pom Klementieff convincingly portrays this character as utterly alien. Mantis’ blatant unawareness of human social norms is off-putting in an entertaining way. But her child-like demeanor invites sympathy, Also: Pom Klementieff’s facial expressions are hilarious. This hour is really her story: as she copes with a secret and tries to gain favor with her new family.

Dave Bautista’s Drax is also in fine form. He’s still an exceptionally funny comic relief character. That’s great! But I’d love if Drax could be a little serious again, like in the first film. He’s become one-note (though it’s a pleasing note).

Star Lord feels like a more genuine leader now. He’s noticeably matured and become responsible since Guardians 2. Chris Pratt plays Peter more stoic and subdued, but no less funny. Star Lord’s forward character momentum is a breath of fresh air in an era of Marvel where characters regress left and right (Thor being the prime example).

Kraglin continues as the Guardians’ awkward voice of reason. Sean Gunn imbues him with an adorkable charm. His character is still thin, but I hope to see more of him in Guardians 3.

Rocket, Groot, and Nebula are almost non-existent in this special, which is weird. Of course they’re around– but they got little to do. Each of them gets maybe one good joke moment, and that’s all. That’s disappointing, but I appreciate this special’s laser focus. I’d rather some characters got shafted than the hour felt unnecessarily crammed.

And finally: Kevin Bacon shines as… Kevin Bacon. His guest appearance brings the special together. I love that James Gunn treats Bacon as a Macguffin. But his inclusion rises above a cameo because of how organic it felt. Peter Quill referenced Bacon’s films since the first Guardians film back in 2014. We know how much Quill idolizes the guy. So it made some sense for the character to be included at some point– and this was the perfect way to do it: in a one-off special where Peter needs to be cheered up.

The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special features a comparatively stripped down budget from the films. Production values are still solid (especially the Knowhere set). But some VFX suffered– especially Groot’s animations. They looked more rubbery than wooden.

I loved the creature and alien designs though! The makeup and prosthetics look great. And the diverse beings of Knowhere immerse me in its world. Most of them look like humanoids with extra stuff on their faces, sure. But if I attack those sorts of design too hard then I’m not allowed to call myself a Star Trek fan anymore…

James Gunn and cinematographer Henry Braham stylized this special more like a Hallmark film than an MCU film (at least, that’s what it looked like to me). I’ll bet that’s a consequence of their lower budget. But Gunn and Braham’s comparatively grounded visual choices gave this special an underdog charm, befitting the Guardians.

Especially weird to me were the parts where Drax and Mantis toured modern L.A. Somehow that was more strange than anything which happened in the Guardians films– and they’ve done some strange stuff in those (like fought a sentient planet). I think it was the natural lighting and real-life settings which hurt my brain. ‘Cause this looked more like OUR Earth than the cinematography of the MCU’s Earth. I liked the scenes, though they broke my concentration on the story (I was too focused on why they felt strange).

The Old 97’s “Here It Is Christmastime”, and “I Don’t Know What Christmas Is (But Christmas Is Here)” are two stand-out original songs off the Guardians Holiday special soundtrack. Each of these songs deserves a place in the great pantheon of holiday classics for their mix of catchiness and holiday cheer. James Gunn has a knack for choosing awesome mood music and this special continues his streak.

Humor is Gunn’s secret weapon. His dialogue keeps the audience amused, effortlessly propels the story, and forces the serious moments to stand out. Not every joke lands, but most of the special is well-written.

There’s not much to this story. But I appreciate its simplicity. I’m sick of world-ending threats and melodrama. It was a treat to see characters like the Guardians deal with low-stakes, yet heavily character-driven antics.

You know what you get from Guardians of the Galaxy projects at this point: endearing characters, an abundance jokes which range from delightfully dumb to clever, mind-bending sci-fi elements, unabashed weirdness, and a whole lotta heart.

I politely demand more of these special Marvel presentations. They’re some of my favourite Phase 4 Marvel’s releases! Their short, compact structure allows unique one-off stories to be told without overstaying their welcome.

The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special is a Pretty Darn Good way to get in the Christmas spirit!

Are you excited for James Gunn’s upcoming DC universe films? What did you think of The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special? Please share your thoughts in the comments (no spoilers please). If you have any ideas for future articles, or any questions, let me know.
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Till next time,

Joe Morin

By Joseph Morin

Joe's passion for film and entertainment began at 7 years old when his younger brother demanded to watch Duel of the Fates every day for weeks (on DVD). Joe admired the sequence so much, he decided to dedicate his life to film-making and storytelling. He has a degree in Cinema and Media Studies from York University. Joe loves DC superheroes (especially Superman), the first six Star Wars movies, and arguing about media with anyone who will listen.

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