Saturday, December 3, 2022

The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special

I’m not the first to admit to losing interest in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) following the ending of Phase 3, thanks to the seeming lack of an obvious end goal and the overwhelming amount of content Marvel Studios expects fans to keep up with. As a result, I’ve ended up being very selective with what I watch going forward, no longer caring as much about continuity, though I haven’t really enjoyed whatever I chose to watch from Phase 4 aside from Spider-Man: No Way Home. As a fan of the Guardians of the Galaxy sub-series, I did have an interest in two projects that were announced for the MCU, those being the recently-released The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special (Holiday Special) and the upcoming Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, the former being billed as the conclusion to Phase 4. Although I wasn’t able to watch the former right away when it released on Disney+, due to being away on a Thanksgiving trip at the time, I did watch it as soon as I got back and overall found it to be one of the few things actually worth watching from Phase 4.

As the Guardians work to rebuild Knowhere, Drax (Dave Bautista), Nebula (Karen Gillan) and Mantis (Pom Klemetieff) are told about Peter Quill’s (Chris Pratt) experience with Christmas away from Earth, since the holiday is approaching there. A newly-formed band (Old 97’s) even try to get Peter’s opinion on a song they wrote about the holiday, though they get just about everything about the holiday wrong. Wanting to cheer him up for the holiday, Drax and Mantis set off on a secret mission to Earth to get him the perfect Christmas present: his hero, Kevin Bacon (Himself).

While the plot features some of the same trappings seen in other holiday specials, James Gunn’s style of humor gives it a unique twist, with Drax and Mantis completely oblivious to the crime(s) they commit to get Kevin Bacon to Quill. The 42-minute runtime also works well in Holiday Special’s favor, allowing the pacing and humor to be a lot tighter and better focused, balancing the humor evenly with some more genuinely emotional moments, including one at the end that advances a running subplot of the sub-series. One bit that stands out sees Drax and Mantis in Hollywood interacting with costumed characters mostly dressed as Avengers and Disney characters, with the sequence including a quick reference to Drax’s similar design to Kratos from the God of War series as well as one person prominently and unexpectedly dressed as Cy-Kill from Challenge of the Go-Bots. The returning actors help sell the plot thanks to their experience with their respective characters, with Kraglin (Sean Gunn) and Cosmo (Maria Bakalova) getting more screen time that helps flesh them out. The special is also bookended by a couple brief animated flashback sequences that work for the premise, in addition to showing a creative use of rotoscoping.

Mantis (Pom Klemetieff) and Drax (Dave Bautista) travel to Earth in search of
Kevin Bacon.

Like much of Phase 4, Holiday Special expects you to know some backstory of the characters for the story to make sense. Fortunately, however, it strictly keeps its references to the first two Guardians of the Galaxy films, making those the only prerequisites at the absolute bare minimum. That said, to fully understand other details such as the current roster of the team, the full minimum list of prerequisites looks more like:

1) Guardians of the Galaxy

2) Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

3) Avengers: Infinity War

4) Avengers: Endgame

5) The 9:00 to 26:43 mark of Thor: Love and Thunder

Of course, there’s the entirety of Phases 1 and 2 to contend with if you haven’t seen the two listed Avengers films and want the full emotional impact, but even having only five Guardians of the Galaxy-specific things to worry about still makes Holiday Special one of the more accessible installments of the MCU in recent memory.

In relation to the Phase 4 movies and series that came before it, The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special is a breath of fresh air with tighter pacing and humor that isn’t too overbearing, with its subject matter also making it a must-watch for Guardians of the Galaxy fans. Although whether it’s worthy of being added to your Christmas rotation depends entirely on preference, and even then it won’t be everyone’s favorite, you will still have a good time if you choose to watch this special for the holiday season.

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