The Marvel Cinematic Universe has been consistently impressing me with both the variety and quality of their projects. Even the “worst” of their productions have been pretty good, and they’ve brought a lot of characters to the screen I didn’t think I’d see in the theater. The Disney+ series and specials have continued that trend. They did something really fun with their Halloween special “Werewolf by Night.” Now they’ve added the Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special.
The special, from the opening title sequence forward, combined the feel of the tv specials from my childhood with telling another story in the ever-expanding MCU. If it feels like a stretch to have a Christmas special with space-based characters, you have to remember how Star-Lord Peter Quill mythologizes his decades-old memories of Earth. And that he really, really likes to talk, and the Guardians are trapped in a small space with him on long trips fairly often.
The show opens with a deliberately old-fashioned cartoon segment showing the young Star-Lord, Kraglin, and Yondu. It’s a scene with a fairly classic Christmas set-up, although they don’t go where it seems like they might. Cutting back to live-action, we see the Guardians, who now run Knowhere, trying to get the giant head/space station in running order. Mantis and Drax reflect on Christmas, as they’ve heard it from Peter, and we see that one of the end scene characters from previous Guardians movies has joined the crew, at least at Knowhere. This leads into the theme song for the special, which was a very entertaining number about Santa Claus, as described through one of those games of Telephone where things drift off course. Not knowing how to react to this, Peter shakes his head and walks off.
Mantis and Drax bicker about snacks and what to do to cheer Peter up, and then hit on a truly out-there scheme. A few times now in the movies, which means it must be a LOT more for the folks spending time with him, Peter has talked about the great Earth hero, Kevin Bacon. Even if you haven’t seen the trailers, you can probably imagine where this is going…
Our heroes, for lack of a better term, come to Hollywood and have a few bizarre adventures, including some of those “pose with heroes for money” guys and a “blink and you’ll miss it” Mark Hamill cameo. Then, as my wife so wonderfully put it, a real Christmas miracle happens, and one of those “Maps to the Stars’ Homes” ends up being accurate. Ever imagined a chase scene between a movie star and two alien warriors? Well, now you don’t have to.
The trip back to Knowhere shows some of the interesting side effects of Mantis’ powers. Once they get back, there’s clearly some “Let’s put on a show!” energy going on as Star-Lord just tries to grab a quiet meal. He gets lured out to the street (I think it’s a street? A corridor? A synapse, since it’s in a giant head?) and everyone has gotten in on the act, although clearly with different levels of enthusiasm. The star who is literally out among the stars has an interesting talk with Kraglin, is surprised to hear about what his work has inspired, and we get another musical number. During this, there’s a great series of gift exchanges that are fun to watch and have several callbacks to earlier moments from the Guardians’ other appearances. The Guardians’ guest/victim gets a happy ending, and Star-Lord fills in Mantis on some important things she missed, cueing up another cartoon flashback. This ends with a surprising revelation that thrills Star-Lord, some fun play with Rocket and his new friend, and hints that there just might be another special next year.
What I Liked: Almost everything. This was goofy fun, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that for a holiday special. Mantis and Drax are often more or less secondary characters, and seeing them get the majority of the screen time was fun. They also pulled off an impressive decorating job, and I’m really curious how they talked one of the team who clearly wanted nothing to do with it into participating. The cartoon bits were really well done, and I liked the reveal at the end.
What I Didn’t: On the one hand, I get that in this time frame (between Thor: Love and Thunder and Guardians 3 according to IMDB) Gamora isn’t around. But if they managed to bring back a dead one for a flashback, it seems like they should have been able to get her in for a scene or two. Maybe she was being blue instead of green with the Avatar folks.
This was surprisingly fun, and I was impressed at the music. There were a lot of ways for this to go wrong, and it didn’t. I’ll give this a 4 out of 5. If they do another one, I’m along for the ride.
The Guardians of the Galaxy will return in Guardians of the Galaxy, Volume 3, which is either the last Guardians movie, or at least the end for some of the characters. Or both.