REVIEW: The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special (2022) dir. James Gunn

If the DCU’s new “Kevin Feige” approaches his new role as co-CEO with as much heart, joy, and originality as he does with his The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special—at the precise moment in which Marvel appears to be losing some steam—then Hollywood might have a new champion of the comic book movie. MCU director turned DC creative executive James Gunn’s Guardian of the Galaxy movies juggle themes and tones better than most other entries in the MCU’s catalog—an almost necessary skill for any worthwhile Christmas movie. From How the Grinch Stole Christmas! to Jingle All the Way, to be a Christmas movie is to be both joyous and difficult, life-giving and reflective of what life has taken. The 44-minute direct-to-streaming Holiday Special does just that.

As the Earth date of Christmas approaches, Kraglin (Sean Gunn) reminisces on a childhood memory of Yondu (Michael Rooker) ruining Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) and his attempt to replicate the holiday on a spaceship. Convinced from Kraglin’s story that Yondu ruined Christmas for Peter, Mantis (Pom Klementieff) and Drax (Dave Bautista) decide to bring an Earth to Knowhere (the planet where the Guardians live)… by kidnapping Kevin Bacon (um, played by Kevin Bacon). 

Gunn’s third GOTG film is really as excellent or dreadful as that sounds. If fish-out-of-water humor and Kevin Bacon jokes aren’t your thing, you might want to skip this one. Otherwise, it’s certain to be 44 minutes well spent. From the unexpected animated bookends to the side character showcase to the pure sacrificial gist, the Special provides a breath of fresh air from the duller superhero movies of 2022: Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, Black Adam, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, etc…

Oddly enough, The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special reminds me of C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe. They share an intriguing sibling plot, philosophical musings about gift-giving, kidnapping or near-kidnapping, and an appearance from Santa Claus (real vs paraphernalia). Moreover, both have a quintessential winter emotionality, much like hot chocolate or outdoor hockey—the simple fact of the time of the year gives enough reason to celebrate and feel a certain way. Literary scholar and British theologian Michael Ward convincingly argues that each of the Narnia books is embodied by the “dongeality” of one of the seven planets in the Western medieval imagination. “By dongeality we mean to denote the spiritual essence or quiddity of a work of art as intended by the artist and inhabited unconsciously by the reader,” Ward writes. It’s the unified emotional air that a particular story unified around a single “essence” breathes. And like the first Narnia book, the Holiday Special coalesces around a jovial tone more than any plot or story. 

Klementieff gets her first true Marvel lead performance, complemented by Bautista’s already beloved Drax. Avoiding spoilers, she delivers the film’s big heart-stirring moment with her typically perfect innocence and affection. The pair’s banter narrowly avoids a “Who can be dumber” pissing contest, remaining both unpredictable and ludicrous. My stomach hurt from laughing—a rarity, I assure you—before the two even return to Knowhere. 

That said, there is something a bit sinister about the way Mantis uses her powers to bypass Bacon’s consent. In previous appearances, she uses her empathy-telepathy to put to sleep the bad god Ego (Kurt Russell) and world-ending Thanos (Josh Brolin + VFX)—but here, she uses them on the crime-less and presumably peace-loving Kevin Bacon to manipulate his willingness to be abducted by aliens and be a Christmas present. Other than a brief and inconsequential scolding by Peter, she faces no repercussions (or even retribution). It by no means ruins the special, but a stronger moral reckoning would have tied the knot on the sure-to-be instant holiday classic.

The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special
dir. James Gunn
44 min.

Now on Disney+.

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