REVIEW | ‘The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special’ is riotously funny and heartwarming

Watching Marvel Studios’ second “Special Presentation” - The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special - feels like a meeting of old friends from Knowhere. While we have seen these space-faring rascals in Thor: Love and Thunder a few months back, we could not get enough of this dysfunctional family on screen. No offense to Taika Waititi and the Russo Brothers, but there’s no better person to helm the Guardians than James Gunn himself - the man who dusted off these C-list characters from comics obscurity. Gunn pens a penultimate story, bridging to Vol. 3 before he leaves the MCU to co-head its Distinguished Competition.

The yuletide short story revisits a hanging subplot from Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, where it was revealed that Mantis (Pom Klementieff) and Peter Quill a.k.a Star-Lord (Chris Pratt) share the same father - Ego, the Living Planet (Kurt Russel). Mantis thought that Quill never had a happy Christmas because of his deceased “daddy” Yondu (Michael Rooker)’s erratic outbursts of anger. Drax (Dave Bautista) could not care less but decided to go anyway with Mantis’ plan to find the perfect present for Peter - his idol Kevin Bacon (Kevin Bacon, duh).

In case you’re living under a rock, it was Kevin Bacon’s dance moves that helped Quill defeat the Power stone-wielding Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace) in the first movie. The only downside in seeing Bacon portray himself is he might never get cast in MCU apart from his pre-Disney X-Men: First Class role as the mutant Sebastian Shaw. This is the unfortunate case unless Marvel Studios decides to do what they did with Gemma Chan, who appeared as Minn-Erva in Captain Marvel before top-billing Eternals as Sersi.

What follows is a riotous journey of Mantis and Drax across Hollywood to look for the celebrity, while learning that their alien appearances could be considered cosplay and finding an affinity for human-sized decors. The banters are reminiscent of Dumb and Dumber and there are bad jokes that you can’t help but laugh at. I hope Mr. Bacon would forgive me that it was hilarious watching him freak out as a hopping insect alien and a grinning monolith chase him around the neighborhood.

The rest of the cast are accessories to Mantis and Drax’s misadventures, with Nebula (Karen Gillan) throwing some hard-hitting one-liners and even giving the best-ever present for Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper). Kraglin (Sean Gunn) likewise returns after his apparent absence in Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame. He gives us an update on his mastery of Yondu’s flying arrow.

And while they are a Guardian short (Zoe Saldaña‘s Gamora is missing - she’s probably in Pandora), Russian telepathic dog Cosmo (voiced by Maria Bakalova) provides the charm it needed. Fur parents would wish they had a space dog like Cosmo who could communicate her love for her masters.

Music is in the DNA of the GOTG franchise so expect to lift your holiday spirits up with some tunes by the alternative country band Old 97’s. The songs also serve as bookends for the special presentation. The catchy but inaccurate “I Don’t Know What Christmas Is (But Christmastime is Here” kicks off the tone of the story. It then answers it with the final song “Here It Is Christmastime” with an awesome montage of kris kringles between the Guardians.

A heartwarming scene meanwhile spotlights Klementieff’s acting prowess, rarely seen in the film. As an empath, Mantis is a character that is more attuned to her emotions and the holiday special shows us that.

As mentioned, The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special is Gunn’s second-to-the-last project for Marvel Studios. Gunn is wrapping the trilogy with Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, set for theatrical release in May 2023. But before he even leaves this universe, he explicitly throws in an inside joke to reference his new role as co-head of DC Studios.

This is why watching the special presentation is a bit bittersweet as saying goodbye to the mad genius that is James Gunn becomes inevitable. The holiday special makes us more excited to see his last hurrah in the Marvel Cinematic Universe next year.

The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special streams on Disney+ starting Nov. 25.

Rating: 8/10

*Stay for one post-credits scene.