The last time we saw the Guardians, they were serving as a temporary home for the displaced Thor (Chris Hemsworth). However, once Thor needed to have his own adventure in “Thor: Love and Thunder,” they very quickly flew off into space, leaving us to wonder what was next. Well, James Gunn has promised that “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3” is going to be one emotional ride, so I guess it’s fitting he decided to give the team one more fun outing before the tears start flowing.
When we meet the Guardians, they are now slowly starting to rebuild the remains of Knowhere, last seen in “Avengers: Infinity War.” However, the team soon learns that it’s Christmas time on Earth and Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) hasn’t celebrated since he was first abducted by Yondu (Michael Rooker). Mantis (Pom Klementieff) feels the need to make up for all the Christmases Peter has missed out on and recruits Drax (Dave Bautista) to make that dream a reality. The two sneak off to Earth to get the ultimate present: hero and legendary savior of Earth, Kevin Bacon.
Besides the “Captain America” trilogy, the “Guardians” films are some of my absolute favorites to come out of the MCU. However, as much as I love the team, I feel that they haven’t lived up to the immaculate reputation they established in the first and second movies. I feel this is mainly due to James Gunn not being as involved with their guest appearances in the “Avengers” movies. So right away having James Gunn back in full control is terrific as he really knows how to write these characters in a layered and interesting manner.
This 45-minute special is one the funniest things to come out of the MCU. Right from the misguided Christmas song by the Old 97s in the very beginning, the jokes come a mile a minute and they all land. This outing is also boosted by the cast being terrific as always. I really appreciated that James Gunn remembered how great the duo of Mantis and Drax was in “Vol. 2” and decided to make them the main characters. They’re the perfect characters to tell a fish out of water story and they easily get the biggest laughs from the special. You also have a really fun performance from Kevin Bacon as himself. I just always appreciate when actors can take a few jabs at themselves and just have fun.
However, another trait that Gunn brings over from his first two “Guardians” films is the heavier emotion at play here. The special is virtually a comedy, but Gunn knows how to balance all the jokes with some truly great and heartwarming moments. Without giving too much away, Mantis serves as the emotional core of the special and Klementieff pulls it off magnificently. I truly hope that she continues to be a central player in the third movie.
Once again, I really enjoyed this special and seeing how it’s meant to be a fun pastime for the holidays I’m not really judging it as I would a normal MCU property. To be quite honest, I only have two major issues overall, with both being more nitpicks than anything. As mentioned, the special focuses on Mantis and Drax, and while I enjoyed their chemistry and dynamic, I wish that Nebula (Karen Gillan) was more prominently featured. It feels like once Nebula turned good she was used less and less, which is a shame since Gillan is great and I think her stern demeanor would have made for a funny counter to the sillier Drax and Mantis. The other exception I had with this special was its brief length. I would’ve liked to have seen just a few more scenes with the characters on Earth, as it was so enjoyable to view them interacting with our world.
Like I said though, these are mainly nitpicks and I’m willing to overlook them because this special is just plain fun. The actors are great as ever and really get to flex both their comedic and dramatic muscles. Gunn just understands how to write material like this and creates a truly loving and entertaining tribute to Christmas specials of yesteryear. “The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special” proves that the Marvel Special Presentations should be the future for the MCU moving forward. The shorter runtime leaves less room for underwhelming subplots or set ups for future movies and shows, and allows Marvel to tell stories without stretching them out. If you’re in the mood for a new Christmas special to spice up the usual offerings of “The Grinch” or “Rudolph, The Red-Nosed Reindeer,” then this is the perfect one for you and your family.
“The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special” is currently streaming on Disney Plus.
By Adam Beam