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Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special Review – A Musical Christmas Present to the MCU

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Why am I bringing all this up?

Because The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special manages to encompass all of these elements: a significant celebrity guest star (Kevin Bacon), a sentimental holiday theme, and even in-universe musical numbers. The difference here is that this is no variety show, and indeed feels like a “bottle episode” of Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy universe, as Drax (Dave Bautista) and Mantis (Pom Klementieff) set out to help give Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) a memorable Christmas, despite the fact that they don’t fully grasp anything about the holiday in the first place. Less of a “story” and more “a vibe” (what do you want, it’s only 44 minutes long!) it’s all done with director James Gunn’s eye for madcap antics and ear for soundtrack assembly. But what a genuinely sweet vibe it is, as this crew of spacefaring misfits do all they can to help their leader experience Christmas again, with a genuine sentimentality that could only be achieved with the brilliant character groundwork laid in their first two movie adventures. And even with a scaled back plot that allows some of its key characters to amble around Hollywood for a bit, it still contains all the visual touches you expect from the Guardians’ corner of the MCU.

I’ll confess, there was a part of me that was hoping Gunn and company were going to go full late ’70s TV special with the format and visuals here, much like how Giacchino went in with both arms on his Universal aesthetic for Werewolf by Night. But while that was appropriate for the Halloween special, it would have run the risk of undermining the sincerity of this special with pastiche. The earthbound antics aside, this looks as a Guardians chapter should, and the visual standouts of the films like Rocket Raccoon (who remains one of the great CG character creations of all time) and Groot (who at times appears to be a practical costume in this!) are as perfectly realized here as they are on the big screen.

As for the much-touted appearance of Kevin Bacon, the actor seems to be having the time of his life, just completely down for whatever weirdness is thrown his way, leaning into it with a game enthusiasm that you’d expect from a guest on classic episodes of the original Muppet Show, doing everything and more asked of him. We could use more of this kind of energy in Hollywood these days, although I’m not sure where else it would make as much sense as it does here.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a Guardians of the Galaxy adventure without tunes, and Gunn assembles a suitably cool selection of ’em, from the relatively expected “Fairytale of New York” and “Christmas Wrapping” to deeper cuts by Fountains of Wayne and Julian Casablancas. But the real standout of the bunch is an original song created for this special, which kicks such complete and absolute ass, and is delivered with such a fun in-universe performance, that it’s an instant highlight of all of the MCU’s output over the last year or so and feels destined to become a staple of alternative Christmas playlists for all time and always.

The special is a lightweight affair (which is certainly by design), but it’s also crafted with such earnest care that it’s impossible to not find yourself at least a little charmed. It also speaks once again to how Gunn’s sensibilities managed to take these characters from total obscurity to a level where they can participate in something this offbeat, in a format that has barely even been a thing in years, and make it work. Marvel continues to be at its best when it does the unexpected, and they’ve now done that twice with their holiday specials, which share the distinction of allowing directors to run wild in weird formats. More of this from the MCU going forward would be a gift, indeed.


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