Christmas movies aren’t for everyone. They’re often overly-silly family adventures with enough cheese to raise your cholesterol. If you can’t tell, I’m in the camp that doesn’t care much for the whole holiday movie genre. However, something I do care for is Marvel, and The Guardians of the Galaxy: Holiday Special gifted me a Christmas movie that I can honestly say I wholeheartedly enjoyed.
Of all the possible Marvel characters to put in a Christmas movie, the Guardians seem like a match made in heaven. Dysfunctional as they may be, they are the closest thing the MCU has to a team that also acts like a family.
In terms of importance to the overall MCU narrative, the GOTG Holiday Special is a largely self-contained affair, but it introduces a few elements that will be important for the team in the upcoming Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 3. Taking place after the events of Avengers: Endgame and Thor: Love and Thunder, the Guardians of the Galaxy have set up shop in Knowhere, but past events are hanging over them.
Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) is still sad over the loss of Gamora, and Mantis (Pom Klementieff) is sitting on a secret she’s worried will only make Quill’s pain even worse. After hearing about the joyful Earth tradition of Christmas and how it was ruined for Quill as a child, Mantis and Drax (Dave Bautista) decide to try and cheer their human friend up by getting him the perfect gift: Footloose star Kevin Bacon.
It’s an obviously silly premise, but one that totally works in the style of James Gunn and his Guardians of the Galaxy movies.
While we do get glimpses at the other Guardians, including Rocket (Bradley Cooper), Nebula (Karen Gillan) and another evolution of Groot (Vin Diesel), the Holiday Special is definitely Drax and Mantis’ adventure.
Given the unlikely and lovable rapport the two characters have built in their previous outings, this actually turns out to be very engaging.
Mantis’ inherent drive to do the right thing and make those around her happy pairs remarkably well with Drax’s offbeat deadpan attitude. Of the two, Klementieff is truly the shining star in this instalment, bringing a performance that is the right balance of heart and humour.
What follows is a classic Christmas romp that is part fish-out-of-water story, part buddy comedy. It incorporates classic festive tropes, like themes of family and the meaning of Christmas, and pairs them with enough heartwarming character moments, music needle drops, and spacefaring superhero action set pieces to make it feel thoroughly Marvel-ified.
There are a couple of moments that do sit dangerously close to the nacho cheese line that I mentioned before, but Gunn is able to imbue them with such nuance and emotion that they actually feel sincere.
Placing this narrative in the Special Presentation format makes it refreshing in a number of ways. Like October’s Werewolf By Night, which asked us what if Marvel did Halloween, The Guardians of the Galaxy: Holiday Special is the same take on Christmas.
The TV movie is nice and short at under 45 minutes and is allowed to completely revel in the fun and silly nature of a Christmas story. This is something this Special Presentation format allows for. It’s a licence to experiment.
We’re at the point of saturation with the MCU that not every single movie or series has to be about saving the world. Instead, we can just see Marvel heroes deal with (somewhat) normal problems and have a sweet little Christmas adventure without it relating to the fate of the cinematic universe. More of this, please.
This isn’t the first MCU title that has set its story at Christmas time, but it is the first to fully embrace the joyful holiday spirit and, as a Marvel fan, this is one Christmas movie I fully intend to unwrap for seasons to come.
Guardians of the Galaxy: Holiday Special review: The verdict
Pros: Short and sweet, a fully Marvel take on Christmas, return of lovable characters.
Cons: Not a lot to complain about. Take it at face value, and you’ll have a good time.
Watch it if you liked: Guardians of the Galaxy, Scooby-Doo: The Movie, Christmas movies in general.
Guardians of the Galaxy: Holiday Special premieres on Disney+ on November 25.
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