Marvel’s output in the theatres and streaming space is increasing with every passing year. In fact, this year, the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s lineup was so expansive (and quite muddled) that a recent survey by Fandom began reporting a case of “Marvel fatigue” among viewers.
But Marvel’s hegemony is such that no matter how much criticism it gets (from you or directors like Quentin Tarantino), people will still end up watching the latest Marvel offering. While Wakanda Forever still reigns strong on the big screen, writer-director James Gunn has dropped a new Christmas-centric special on Disney+ Hotstar focusing on the band of space vigilantes that made him a mainstream name.
Set in a post-Endgame reality with Gamora dead, a lonely Peter Quill AKA Star-Lord (Chris Pratt) continues travelling through space with the rest of the Guardians of the Galaxy. But this 43-minute special makes Peter a secondary character, putting the spotlight on the duo of Drax (Dave Bautista) and Mantis (Pom Klementieff).
Having spent decades away from his native planet, Peter does miss Earth around Christmas time while Drax and Mantis plan on making his Christmas “special”. Given his 80s-era childhood, it has been established that Peter is a diehard Kevin Bacon fan from the first Gurdians of the Galaxy film. After all, Bacon’s dance musical Footloose doubles as a major plot point in it!
Aiming to get Peter the best Christmas gift, the hilarious duo embark on a quest to kidnap Kevin Bacon for their team leader. Human trafficking goes hand in hand with the Christmas spirit if you believe that Santa Claus relies on the slavery of elves!
The adventure plays out with the expected tones of naivety and festive cheer but still surprisingly doesn’t seem forced. This is new for Marvel given how most of its recent offerings were coming off as forced. For instance, who asked for a series of Groot animated shorts in the first place!
Some of the special’s best moments come from Drax and Mantis exploring Christmas traditions on Earth, and getting drunk at a club. While MCU’s experiments with humour can get a bit too goofy (those who disliked Thor: Love and Thunder would agree), it doesn’t seem out of place here given that James Gunn’s very brand has been satirical meta-humour, be it in the Guardians of the Galaxy franchise or his experiments with DC like The Suicide Squad and Peacemaker.
Klementieff is full of her usual overenthusiasm as Mantis and Batista only seems to get better and better as Drax with every passing film. Maybe, there’s something charming about seeing “alpha male” WWE wrestlers taking on comedic roles that mock toxic masculinity. By this logic, Batista joins the leagues of Dwayne Johnson (when he’s not serious as Black Adam and taking on sillier flicks like Central Intelligence and Jumanji) and John Cena (who has been goofing around to perfection in this year’s Peacemaker series).
And, then of course, the holiday special marks the debut of Kevin Bacon in the MCU. Playing himself, Bacon doesn’t focus on clinging on to his yesteryear hero status (he’s no Tom Cruise who is still stuck in his Top Gun glory) and rather just seems to be improvising his actions throughout the special.
The last we saw him in a superhero film was in X-Men First Class in which he played the menacing antagonist Sebastian Shaw. Contrast that with Bacon smilingly saying, “I’m Batman” in The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special and you can see his sheer versatility as an actor.
Lastly, the biggest highlight is perhaps the original music which serves as a fresh break from the usual Christmas season hullabaloo of Mariah Carey and Michael Buble, singers who hibernate all year round and then suddenly wake up to drop the most “Christmassy” Christmas songs of all time.
Not only does Kevin Bacon himself get a chance to strum the guitar, the opening song I Don't Know What Christmas Is (But Christmastime is Here) is instantly catchy and creatively written and performed by the alternative country band Old 97’s.
Some of the lyrics would show you how Gunn tries to subvert and parody Christmas tropes:
“Santa is a furry freak with epic superpowers.
He flies to every human home in under 14 hours.
He’s a master burglar,
a pro at picking locks.
If you don’t leave milk and cookies out,
He will put dung in your socks.”
At the end of the day, the holiday special is yet another filler in the sea of MCU content. And even though it seems like a breath of fresh air similar to Marvel's stylish black-and-white Halloween special Werewolf By Night, it doesn’t make for any groundbreaking television.
But maybe, that’s the approach that MCU should take at times. One thing's for certain that the Kevin Fiege-fronted universe will not stop in the coming future. Instead of taking itself too seriously and throwing in a barrage of interconnected intergalactic threats, maybe Marvel’s future can have light-hearted segues like this special.
We’re going with 3.5 out of 5 stars for The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special.