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’The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special’ Recap and Review: James Gunn Warms Our Hearts Before (Probably) Ripping Them Out

Drax and Mantis drunk in The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special

Christmas is still weeks away, but Disney and Marvel Studios have decided to warm our hearts in advance with The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special.

 

Nearly two months after the release of Marvel Studios’ first-ever special presentation on Disney Plus in the shape of Werewolf by Night, we can already watch another 40-minute (less, actually) Marvel one-shot. And let’s hope Feige and his teams keep them coming every year, because they’re really good so far and way more useful for the MCU as a whole than initially expected.

 

It was no secret that writer-director James Gunn had shot the Guardians’ own Holiday Special at the same time as Vol. 3 (watch its first trailer here) as it was designed to be a prologue of sorts to the threequel. One would expect a couple of hints at what’s coming next for the team, but it turns out this special presentation had much more to say (and celebrate) and even packs a couple of big surprises that Guardians of the Galaxy fans will love and which will be relevant moving into the third and final entry of Gunn’s Guardians films.

 

Spoilers ahead…

 

A surprising rock band in The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special

 

The story kicks off with the Guardians trying to rebuild Knowhere and organize its citizens and their tasks (first big shocker) following Thanos’ attack on the uncommon space station in Infinity War. While I’m certain the people of Knowhere and new arrivals could’ve returned the location to its former glory on their own, it’s great to see the Guardians of the Galaxy actually embracing a permanent hero status after the events of the two-part finale of the Infinity Saga and Thor: Love and Thunder. Another surprise is the presence of Cosmo the Spacedog, who already had a brief cameo in the first Guardians film and is now voiced by Maria Bakalova (Borat 2, Bodies Bodies Bodies) — she’s part of Vol. 3 too.

 

Even though things are looking up and spirits are high, Peter Quill aka Star-Lord can’t take his mind off alternate-timeline Gamora, who left Earth in a hurry during the final battle against Thanos and his army in Endgame. It’s not only that she’s run away, but also that she might never become the Gamora that Peter fell in love with. Some team members are well aware of the pain he’s going through, and with rumors of a strange but fun earthly tradition called Christmas going around, Drax and Mantis — who already made for a pretty funny duo in the second Guardians film — journey to Earth to get Peter the best present he could ask for: Kevin Bacon.

 

Now, we before we move on to Drax and Mantis’ antics, there’s a bonus inclusion in this special worth highlighting: that of Old 97’s, an American rock band from Texas that James Gunn loves. Unlike Kevin Bacon, the group members don’t play themselves, but an aspiring music band from Knowhere who invent a song about how cool Christmas is without really knowing what Christmas is about. It’s as silly as it sounds in the best possible way, and sets the tone perfectly for the rest of the special. You can listen to the song here:

 

 

As we arrive on Earth (aboard a striking new spaceship), Drax and Mantis get lost immediately as they had no plan besides getting to Quill’s home planet and asking around for Kevin Bacon. They do, however, land on Hollywood, and that means we get to see them bumbling around many of Los Angeles’ hottest tourist spots. There’s a bit of “Thor and Loki lost in New York” energy to the initial sequence (selfies included), but the duo later walk into a bar, and we get some moments very much line with the party scene that happens around the middle point in The Suicide Squad.

 

It’s all good, sincere vibes up to this point, with both Drax and Mantis enjoying their time on Earth now that the entire universe isn’t in danger, but they’re getting nowhere in their search for the legendary actor from Footloose. Lucky for them, a lady who knows about Hollywood celebrities points them in the right direction, and we suddenly find ourselves in the middle of a reverse home invasion film…

 

Kevin Bacon meets Drax and Mantis in The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special

 

James Gunn usually excels at marrying goofy imagery and bad deeds with the nicest, most heartfelt moments and dialogues you can think of, and The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special is no different. While things don’t get messy this time around, the idea of two random aliens (who admittedly look like people in great make-up) with next to zero social skills breaking into an actor’s home and basically kidnapping him after a long (and terrifying for Mr. Bacon) chase is wrong. Funny, yes, but wrong. But Gunn makes it work almost effortlessly.

 

The funniest thing about this whole sequence might be both Drax and Mantis refusing to drop their Christmas presents… which are just stolen items from Bacon’s front yard. They’re super important for them for no good reason, and it just enhances the absurdity and deranged nature of the entire situation. There’s also a very brief action bit (the special’s only) here, with Drax flipping over a cop car and Mantis putting a bunch of police officers to sleep. As generally confused as she is, Mantis is more aware of the fragility of humans than Drax, who’s just having a fun time. Her empathic abilities don’t stop her from kidnapping (via brainwash) Kevin Bacon though.

 

Peter and Mantis in The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special

 

Back in Knowhere, and after a small ellipsis, decorations are up and everyone gathers to surprise Quill with an awesome display of Christmas spirit. The downside is that he’s disturbed by his childhood hero being literally wrapped in paper and stuck inside a gift box, and understandably mad at Mantis and Drax for being naughty. However, Kevin Bacon embraces whatever they’re trying to celebrate once Mantis’ influence is lifted and he has a small talk with the always sincere Kraglin.

 

What comes next is Kevin Bacon and the (extraterrestrial) Old 97’s singing a proper Christmas song and everyone finally coming together to embrace a new tradition and open gifts. Two favorite moments here: Rocket receiving Bucky’s vibranium arm from Nebula (now that’s a payoff years in the making), and grown-up-but-still-young Groot getting a classic Game Boy. It’s arguably one of the most beautiful and heartwarming sequences in the entire MCU, right up there with the tear-jerker that was the ending of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 — I wasn’t expecting any less from Gunn. Furthermore, Peter receives the news (revealed to the audience earlier in the special) that Mantis is his sister, another of Ego’s many offsprings across the cosmos. For a film series that has been all about found family, it feels nice to give Peter someone he shares blood with (and the surprise makes total sense). This is a major development for both characters that I was shocked but delighted to see here.

 

 

As if that wasn’t enough, two animated sequences bookend the entire special, showing us Peter in his early Ravager years getting an attempt at Christmas shut down by Yondu, who later has a moment of reflection and decides to make his adoptive son happy. To see Peter and Yondu together one more time being nice to each other felt like the perfect note to end on, and I’m so glad Gunn decided to do those animated flashbacks.

 

Those expecting a meaty post-credits scene may feel a bit disappointed though, as we only get a funny bit with Rocket and Cosmo trying to decorate Groot as a Christmas tree before giving up. Then again, why would you expect more MCU universe-building after 40 minutes of relaxed celebration and folks being nice to each other without worries?

 

 

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