Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special debuts on Disney+ on Nov. 25, 2022. Below is a spoiler-free review.
Leave it to James Gunn to close out Season 4 of the MCU with what could be a Christmas classic. The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special not only shines a welcome spotlight on Pom Klementieff’s Mantis, but also gives us some unabashed Christmas cheer, a few worms, and, well, some Guardian humor. After this and the amazing Werewolf by Night earlier this year, it looks like Marvel is on to something with this special season.
The Holiday Special opens as most Christmas specials do: with animation. The fast-paced, exciting clip gives us the sad story of how Yondu (Michael Rooker) ruined Christmas for Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) and Kraglin (Sean Gunn), and when Kraglin tells the story to the gang, it draws in Mantis. organisms. That’s when a hilariously surprising premise reveals itself: what if Mantis and Drax (Dave Bautista) save Christmas for Peter by giving him the best gift of all… his favorite hero in the world, Kevin Bacon?
Peter and the rest of the Guardians don’t have time to show up in this 43-minute special, even during Pratt’s most heartbreaking moments. But the focus is on Mantis, Drax, and, hilariously, Kevin Bacon, as the two go on a fun and silly trip to Hollywood this Christmas to find Peter’s present. Mantis and Drax’s one-on-one comedy is never boring – in fact, I laugh every time Mantis yells “DRAX!” in anger. And Bacon, playing himself, throws the illusion out of the window. He fully embraces this sense of irony while acting as the audience when necessary. Bacon’s participation also creates a sweet message about the power of story to infiltrate.
But the Holiday Special is Mantis’ time to shine, and Klementieff rises to the occasion. Just as Gunn took a once-despicable character in Peacemaker and turned him into a sympathetic protagonist in his HBO Max series, he takes Mantis — previously a background character — and gives him complexities and layers thanks to Klementieff’s entertaining performance. As mentioned before, he and Bautista are a funny duo, but Klementieff also does a wonderful job as Mantis acts as a timely anchor for the emotions, which are many.
It doesn’t focus on emotion but, thanks to Gunn’s ability to infuse heavy moments with humor without undermining them, it doesn’t get too saccharine. It’s full of pictures that will make you laugh and cry, and it’s just not funny. That lack of cynicism extends to his complete acceptance of the Christmas spirit. From its short animations to its colorful Christmas lights display to its musical moments, it doesn’t hide its inspiration from holiday classics, and it’s all the better for it. And by the way, the musical moments also save; opens with a number that is endlessly poignant and funny.
As for the MCU of it all, don’t expect too many shenanigans. But the Guardians Holiday Special he does He manages to weave in the big reveal without feeling shoehorned in, something the MCU has struggled with in other parts of Season 4. Ironically, it adds to this story on its own rather than taking away from it; It’s hard to talk too much around spoilers, but you’ll know it when you see it.
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