J.L. Caraball

Swooping in late in the Thanksgiving week, Disney+ brought an early Christmas present courtesy of the MCU in the form of the one-off Guardians Of The Galaxy Holiday Special, which is frothy and lighthearted enough to ease one into the holiday spirit, but still with the sort of subversive spirit that inhabited James Gunn‘s first two films in the series. Clocking in at a brisk 45 minutes, it doesn’t overstay its welcome (although it isn’t without its share of padding and fluff).

Starting with an animated backstory to a young Star-Lord, Peter Quill (voiced by Luke Klein in the animated sequences, before appearing in the form of Chris Pine) and Kraglin (Sean Gunn) building an impromptu Christmas tree as Quill explains the customs, right before Yondu (Michael Rooker) storms in a destroys the decorations, declaring that Ravagers don’t keep anything they don’t gain themselves. Flash forward to the present, and Quill is with the rest of the Guardians on Knowhere, where we learn that on Earth, it is nearing the holiday season.

Researching the festive season, and using Kraglin’s own jumbled memories of growing up with Quill, an alien band (The Ol’ 97s, in prosthetics) perform a holiday song relaying the absurdities of the holiday, which brings Quill to a funk. Recalling how his admiration of actor Kevin Bacon allowed Quill to defeat Ronan the Accuser, Mantis (Pom Klementieff) and Drax (Dave Bautista) take it upon themselves to track the actor down and present him to Quill as a gift.

The plot is ridiculous, and not without its lapses in logic (I know! A superhero holiday special lacks any real sense of reality! Who’d’a thunk?!), but more than makes up for it in charm, fun, and energy (and a great soundtrack featuring some of the more off-brand holiday songs, from The Waitresses, and the Smashing Pumpkins, among many other performers). In fact, the sequence set to the Pumpkins’ “Christmastime” itself is a delightful sequence all its own, and certainly had me grinning like a moron; a sequence showing Drax and Mantis getting absolutely shitfaced after Mantis tricked tourists into just giving her money is also one of those off-kilter sequences typical from Gunn.

It is absolutely fantastic to see Kevin Bacon poke fun at himself while seeming to have a hell of a time with the characters (although his mention of Batman…and Bruce Wayne…absolutely made me do some mental gymnastics that I probably thought much too long about). Gunn directed with his usual flourishes, and typical energy, and this might just make the cut into my yearly catalog of holiday viewings.

Finally, it was wildly refreshing to see such an unexpecting pairing of characters — Mantis and Drax — take center stage, and play off of each other in such an unexpected way. Both the characters and actors were delights to watch, and had a wild amount of chemistry and energy and hopefully are able to channel both in the near future because they really did steal the show; whereas the rest of the Guardians felt more like extended cameos in search of a reason for being involved.

That being said, as fun as the first original song performance was, it went on just a tad too long, and definitely began to feel like an addition to pad the length. That isn’t to disparage the quality of the song…just…it felt like filler. Ditto with the second song…which I can’t even remember what it was about, although watching Nebula (Karen Gillen) angrily and stiffly dance in place to it brought a smile to my face. Also…I’m not sure if the connection between Mantis and Star-Lord was explicitly mentioned in any other movie or series…but if not, it seemed an incredibly odd choice to introduce it here, of all places).

Ultimately, this special was short, fun, charming, light-hearted, and didn’t really require an entire 16-years-worth-of-backstory to enjoy. There’s just enough here to connect this special to the larger MCU to warrant its inclusion, yet still enough of a single departure to have the freedom to be a bit weird (well, weirder than usual). There are more than a few cameos to keep an eye (and ear) out for, and if this is a proof-of-concept for more holiday-themed one-off specials, I’d say there is more that worked than didn’t work. You could do much, much worse than this special…just like a certain Martian-themed holiday movie Kevin Bacon watches in here.

3.75/5 Little Inflatable Men

-J.L. Caraballo