Directed by: James Gunn
Distributed by: Disney+
Written by Anna Harrison
Disney+ has a problem. To be exact, the Marvel Cinematic Universe television series on Disney+ have a problem—the service itself, as seen with the recent and excellent “Andor,” is not anathema to good storytelling. But, as I have said so, so, so many times, the Marvel shows have sunk time and time again to poor structural design: they just try to do too much. There are too many plots, too many cameos, too many world-changing events to contain in six 45-minute episodes, and whatever zany things the showrunners throw at the wall inevitably slide back down to the floor and lie forgotten by episode six.
This is where Marvel’s “Special Presentations,” of which “The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special” is number two (after “Werewolf by Night”), come in. These smaller, largely self-contained specials don’t feel the need to move the greater MCU forward and so have a lot more freedom and a lot less baggage; with Marvel fatigue becoming more and more prominent, they are just the palette cleanser that the MCU needs in order to keep their artistic merit (or, if you don’t believe the MCU has any merit of that sort, then at least it won’t make things worse).
This does not mean that “The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special” is high art, or even that it’s a particularly good Guardians outing, but it feels nice to watch a corner of Marvel that’s not encumbered by its own convoluted mythos. It serves as a reminder that Marvel is capable of competency when they try to be—a reminder that has been sorely needed during Phase Four, which the “Holiday Special” concludes.
Recall, if you will, the first “Guardians of the Galaxy,” which concludes with a dance-off between Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) and Ronan the Barbarian (Lee Pace), the former of whom considers Kevin Bacon in “Footloose”—a movie all about dancing—to be one of the greatest heroes in the world. That’s really all you need to know for “The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special,” which sees Mantis (Pom Klementieff) and Drax (Dave Bautista) attempt to kidnap Earth’s Mightiest Hero, Kevin Bacon (Kevin Bacon), as a Christmas present for a gloomy Peter. That’s it! It’s a refreshingly simple, mostly delightful stocking stuffer for the holiday season and proves once again that the Guardians are the best remaining part of the MCU.
The special, written and directed by “Guardians” helmer James Gunn, is not much to look at—Knowhere, the mining colony the Guardians are now attempting to put back together after roughing it up in earlier films, has never looked more soundstage-y—and the writing is fun without being as clever as Gunn’s earlier entries, but it’s a 45-minute special, so what do you expect? It is still oodles of fun to watch Mantis and Drax, the two best Guardians, wander around Hollywood Boulevard and leap and bound after a terrified Kevin Bacon (who was clearly game for the role); there’s even a joke about a mechanical arm that reminded me that, when these movies are subtle about it, the MCU’s connective tissue can be fun to follow. Even the “big lore reveal” isn’t earth-shattering, and it means more emotionally for our characters than for the world at large. While the rest of Phase Four has failed to connect emotionally, we can always rest assured that the freakish, oddball Guardians will spread a smile across our face. Holiday cheer!
Marvel fatigue has been growing stronger and stronger over the past few years, and the constant slew of new Disney+ shows, even with the solid ones like “Loki” in the mix, has not helped. It has become too laborious to catch up, and yet the diminishing quality of Phase Four means that even diehard fans are becoming less and less enthused about the prospect of sinking another six hours into a middling show or $20 into a just okay movie. Special presentations like “The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special” could be the MCU’s saving grace if they play their cards right, though only time will tell. Until then, I’m just happy to be reminded that there are still pockets of this universe I care about.
“The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special” Trailer