The Marvel Cinematic Universe’s uneven fourth phase comes to an end with the release of The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special. This is the second holiday-themed special Marvel have given us, after this year’s Halloween event Werewolf By Night, but we’re locked into a Christmas-themed event with characters we know and love this time around. Phase Four may have been a little rocky, but these little specials they’ve produced on Disney+ have been pretty solid. In fact, I’d go as far as to say The Guardians’ Holiday Special may be added to my annual Christmas rotation.
Coming in at a brief yet perfectly paced forty-five minutes, The Holiday Special opens up on a high note for me personally as an Irish-Canadian: with The Pogues’ Fairytale of New York, arguably one of the best Christmas songs you’ve likely never heard of if you live west of the Atlantic. James Gunn, director and writer of the short, has clearly heard of the song, which is the ultimate bummer Christmas song, and uses it as the framing device for his special.
Being a bummer basically sums up Chris Pratt’s Peter Quill, who has not been his usual giddy self since the loss of Gamora. Sidenote, but his demeanour here only highlights how out of sync Love and Thunder was to the MCU at large.) Mantis (Pom Klementieff) notices how sad Quill has been and takes note that the festive holiday of Christmas is about to happen back on Earth, a holiday that features the giving of gifts. Quill attempted to bring this tradition to the Ravagers, but, well, Yondu. But Mantis and Drax (Dave Bautista) want to give Quill that magical feeling of Christmas once more to cheer him up and there’s only one thing they know of that will bring joy to Quill’s sad heart: his idol, the man, the myth, the legend, Kevin Bacon.
Yep, you read that right. If you’ve been watching The Guardians of the Galaxy films, you’ll know that Quill idolized Bacon and has spun a yarn to his fellow Guardians of how legendary and heroic Bacon is, the man who really saved a town with dance or who slew the monster, Jason Voorhees. So Mantis and Drax venture to Earth to kidnap the Hollywood actor to present to Quill as his Christmas gift. Only they don’t realize he’s an actor.
In forty-five-odd minutes, Gunn’s Holiday Special ends up being one of the best things Marvel has produced in the fourth phase. Not bogged down by side plots, villains or action, it keeps it entirely focused on character and humour. It’s surprisingly touching and heartwarming but full of great humour and antics. Kevin Bacon is having a blast playing himself and the fact that Marvel and Gunn were able to get him on board with the special just feels so right. There’s a sense of payoff for fans of the Guardians movies by including Bacon in the special, as it’s been a running joke in both Gunn’s films and Infinity War. There’s musical numbers, animation and lots of Christmas joy but amazingly, Gunn’s trademark humour never compromises the drama or the heart.
Considering the runtime is shorter, most of the narrative is told from the perspective of Mantis and Drax, which is nice as they’re not protagonists in the mainline movies. But this special allows the attention to shift to other characters, giving them their own moments to shine. But it also captures the spirit of Christmas, even with all the zany humour and antics. I’d very much say that The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special is a new Christmas classic in this household and one that I would highly recommend you watch.