The Guardians of the Galaxy: Holiday Special Review (Spoiler Free)
Marvel’s second TV special is all about the Christmas season. It also is a surprisingly emotional short story that focuses on Mantis.
Genre: Adventure / Christmas/ Comedy / Sci-Fi
Director: James Gunn
Cast: Pom Klementieff, Dave Bautista, Chris Pratt, Kevin Bacon, Karen Gillian, Bradley Cooper, Vin Diesel, Sean Gunn, Maria Bakalove & Michael Rooker.
Run Time: 42 min.
US Release: 25 November 2022 (Disney+)
UK Release: 25 November 2022 (Disney+)
German Release: 25 November 2022 (Disney+)
I never checked out the release date of Gunn’s The Guardians of the Galaxy: Holiday Special, so I was totally unprepared when I saw it on Disney+ last weekend, since I thought it would be released further along in December. That said, it was nice to have something that put me into a Christmas mood that Saturday, as the first of Advent was rolling up the day after. This holiday special does pack quite a few surprises, which I didn’t expect from a forty-minute short. So throw on your Christmas sweaters and dig into my review!
Star-Lord, Mantis, Drax, Nebula, Rocket and Groot engage in spirited shenanigans, as well as pulling some funny holiday pranks on Kevin Bacon in an all-new original special.
The plot is a natural extension of the Guardians movies, with specific side characters obtaining more screen time, to flesh them out further. This holiday-themed short film was shot back-to-back, during the production of Volume 3. Something that wasn’t expected from this short, is the amount of sentimentality it brings to the table, as the Guardians try to cheer up their leader Star-Lord, who has been going through a rough patch since he lost Yondu, Gomorra, as well as being left by Thor.
It is a fish out of water story, as Mantis together with Drax fly to Earth to find the legendary actor Kevin Bacon and give him as a present to Peter Quill. Their little knowledge about earthly customs makes for some funny encounters. Unfortunately, those are limited moments in the short runtime. A couple of musical bits are implemented between the narrative, which takes up valuable minutes. Impressive is that with all that is going on, it still manages to spread come cheerful Christmas spirit in a restricted amount of time!
A lot of the humour is conveyed through conversations. The miscommunication, or misunderstandings through wrongful communication, create truly hilarious out-of-control events. The biggest laughter came during a revelation that required a fair amount of ironic comments about actors. However, it is also through dialogue that a real emotional bond is built.
Casting-wise, the usual crew is seen back together, minus Zoe Saldana as Gamora. Though as stated before, the focus lies on two of the Guardians’ minor characters plus also introducing us fully to Cosmo the Spacedog, voiced by Maria Bakalova.
Chris Pratt as Peter Quill, a.k.a Star-Lord, is once again fantastic. The audience experiences Peter from a very different side, being more serious and less quirky. Pratt sold the character’s feelings of loneliness plus melancholy, as he not only lost his adoptive father in a previous adventure but also the love of his life during the incident in Infinity War. Thus, his facial expression of joyful disbelief, when the group comes together to give Peter the Christmas he hasn’t had for years, is that much sweeter.
Pom Klementieff returns as Mantis, obtaining much more screen time than expected. While the plot revolves around giving Quill the perfect holiday, to make him happy again, it is Mantis’ story, exploring her persona, who is keeping a secret from Peter. Her idea is to travel to Earth, simply to find Kevin Bacon, dragging Drax along with her. The final sequence with her and Quill is some of the sweetest in all the GotG pictures. Klementieff really gets to shine in this special.
Drax, played by Dave Bautista, also gets more focus. He has a cute buddy relationship with Mantis, as well as being once again the comedic anchor. He still takes everything literally that is said, prefers to use brute strength over brain matter, and sometimes makes selfish decisions to have some fun. That said he is also a good friend. Bautista's chemistry with Klementieff was fantastic, helping to sell their comradery.
The cinematography is mostly fine, although there are a few flimsy shots that do look cheap. The colour palette is bright, using multicoloured facettes, however, focusing more on the green, red, white theme of the holidays.
The short opens with an animated scene, as Kraglin is telling the others about the time Peter tried to introduce Yondu to Christmas. The animation style is very much a callback to an animated segment of The Star Wars Holiday Special. Other than that, the make-up/prosthetics look once again fantastic, the sets look mostly practical and the visual effects look good.
The music, composed by John Murphy, is a typical Christmas movie score, including a lot of bells, triangles and xylophones. It pays much homage to John Williams' Home Alone plus Elfman’s A Nightmare Before Christmas. The original song “I Don't Know What Christmas Is (But Christmastime Is Here)” was written by James Gunn in collaboration with the group Old 97’s, who make a cameo as the alien rock band in Nowhere. The song retells a twisted view of the holiday, but has the potential to become a modern Christmas classic!
That said, while I enjoyed the two “live” songs, which spread some holiday feeling, I also thought that one would have sufficed, as they took up a lot of runtime.
Verdict: James Gunn’s Christmas-themed TV special turned out to be better than expected, spreading a new type of intergalactic holiday spirit, as well as being more emotional than initially anticipated. Positive aspects are that it focuses more on secondary characters, giving them some time to shine, exploring their backstories more. The dialogue carries most of the humour, with a great recurring joke, in which the cast makes fun of their profession. Kevin Bacon playing himself is brilliant. Pom Klementieff as Mantis is very touching and sweet, while Dave Bautista nails it once again as Drax. Chris Pratt plays Peter Quill from a new angle. The cinematography has a couple of wonky shots, which cheapen the look a little, but the colour palette does feel Christmassy. The effects are once again great. Finally, the music was amazing, even if it took more of the runtime than expected. The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special deserves an 8.0 out of 10.
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