The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special (Review) – Bringing Home The Bacon

DIRECTOR: James Gunn

CAST: Chris Pratt, Dave Bautista, Pom Klementieff, Karen Gillan, Sean Gunn, Kevin Bacon, Michael Rooker, Bradley Cooper, Vin Diesel, Maria Bakalova

RUNNING TIME: 45 mins

CERTIFICATE: 12A

BASICALLY…: The Guardians of the Galaxy head to Earth to get Peter Quill (Pratt) the best Christmas gift ever…

NOW FOR THE REVIEW…

Of all the things that James Gunn takes inspiration from with his festive adventure with the Guardians of the Galaxy, it’s another and much more infamous holiday special that also happens to take place in a galaxy far, far away. The Star Wars Holiday Special – that legendary slice of WTF television programming from 1978, which has never been re-aired or made available anywhere since its disastrous first broadcast – is one of the naffest, silliest, and most decisively ill-conceived things to ever be associated with that franchise (and that’s saying a lot, since it also gave us Gungans, Ewoks, and clone Palpatines), but it’s still frightfully entertaining, albeit for the wrong reasons, and for Gunn it’s clearly a source of light-hearted nonsense that he lovingly replicates for his own made-for-TV special.

The difference between both specials, though, is that The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special more or less earns its right to go completely nuts, because it has a sweet and charming nature that makes it intentionally enjoyable for most viewers (also, given its release on Disney+, it’s guaranteed to have far greater longevity than the never-again-aired Star Wars one).

In writer-director Gunn’s special, we find that the space-dwelling Guardians have made a home for themselves on the Celestial skull of Knowhere, but their leader Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) is down in the dumps because it’s nearly Christmas, a holiday that was ruined for him as a child by Yondu (Michael Rooker, showing up in an animated flashback). Determined to cheer up their friend, Drax (Dave Bautista) and Mantis (Pom Klementieff) decide to head toward Earth and bring back the ultimate Christmas present, which happens to be in the form of Kevin Bacon (playing himself), the legendary “hero” that Quill enchanted them with stories about. Of course, convincing a Hollywood actor to drop everything and fly with them into outer space is easier said than done, and as you can probably imagine all sorts of hijinks ensue.

Those expecting a fully-formed Guardians action-adventure might be surprised to find that The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special is, oddly enough, more concerned about spreading festive joy than blowing up enemies in space. Action-lite though it may be, there’s plenty of fun to still be had with the lovingly mismatched duo Drax and Mantis who more or less take centre stage here, particularly the latter who really comes into her own as more than just a pawn for Drax. Some of the funniest moments of the special revolve around these two, whether they’re getting drunk in a bar or beating up people dressed as robots on Hollywood Boulevard, but also some of the most sincere parts, since you do feel their genuine nature shining through even when they’re conducting their otherwise misguided mission. As for franchise newcomer Bacon, he’s clearly having fun playing himself, but he too takes a back seat along with the other Guardians to give these two their moment in the spotlight, and it’s joyful enough to warrant the lesser roles that they all play in this special.

Sure, you can make the argument that this special solely serves as a placeholder for next year’s Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, even introducing players such as the adorable Cosmo the Space Dog (voiced by Maria Bakalova with appropriate Labrador energy) who are lined up for even bigger roles in the upcoming film, but this special was never intended to be about bringing sensational new developments to the Guardians’ story. Like virtually every other holiday special in existence, it’s all to do with spreading the festive spirit through trees, decorations, presents, snow, and just being kind to your fellow human (or, in this case, alien creature), and The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special successfully manages to embed itself in all things Christmas whilst retaining a level of sincerity in itself. Gunn’s trademark sense of humour is very much intact, ensuring that you’ll be laughing as well as feeling genuinely moved by the sweetness that exists between these bunch of a-holes, as has been the case throughout all of their appearances in the MCU up to this point.

As the official end point for Phase Four, which has certainly felt uneven at times but still entertaining and engaging enough to keep you hooked through the next few phases, this is a nicely light-hearted one to go out on (especially after the emotional ride of Black Panther: Wakanda Forever). However, it’s also a bittersweet reminder that the next time we see these characters, it’ll be theirs and Gunn’s last ride together before they all move on to broader horizons – at least they all were able to celebrate the Christmas season with each other before the inevitable strikes.

SO, TO SUM UP…

The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special is a fun and light-hearted festive tale that puts Drax and Mantis in the spotlight, often to hilarious and genuinely sweet effect, and under writer-director James Gunn’s sincere watch it’s also a moving, even bittersweet ode to the holidays which really helps to put you in the Christmas mood.

The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special is now available to stream on Disney+

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