There will be no coal in James Gunn’s inventory this year. His “Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special” is filled with funny, feel-good Christmas cheer, and is some of the best content Marvel Studios has put out in years.
Just like Marvel and Disney+’s Halloween-themed “Werewolf by Night” special, the “Watchmen” short film brings holiday cheer, but this time with elves, candy and…Kevin Bacon. Despite its short runtime, it plays like a “Guardians of the Galaxy” movie, complete with Gunn’s signature, laugh-out-loud, zany style. Not only that, it pays off with nostalgia for those Christmas specials that used to be enjoyed with hot chocolate by the fireplace – and Marvel comic books, because this is the MCU.
It’s a story as old as time that was turned on its head by Guardians of the Galaxy. Peter Quill, aka Star-Lord (Chris Pratt) goes missing while still in space, so his teammates Drax (Dave Bautista) and Mantis (Pom Klementieff) try to cheer him up with one last gift: Peter’s favorite ’80s movie star Kevin Bacon. Drax and Mantis, being aliens from another world, have no knowledge of Christmas, and can’t tell a candy lawn ornament from “the man with the red and white curls.” Still, they’re determined to please their friend, so they fly down to Earth and embark on a funny, fish-out-of-water adventure full of Christmas magic.
In “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, “Avengers: Infinity War” and “Avengers: Endgame,” Bautista and Klementieff have already developed a sweet, side-by-side relationship. Drax, memorable for his sarcasm and speech patterns, is ready to throw the most willing Mantis into danger – sometimes literally – but they are as close-knit as any family. After being relegated to a side character in her previous films, Mantis shines in the holiday special. She lets loose on Earth, gets herself into a fight or two, and uses her mind control powers in creative, funny, and occasionally questionable ways. The other Guardians of the Galaxy each get their moments of fun, but Drax and Mantis stand out here, carrying a lot of emotional weight and lessons learned.
It wouldn’t be a Gunn movie without some great songs and a few amazing cameos, and “Watchmen” delivers within the first few minutes. Without spoiling anything, the memorable opening scene ranks as one of Marvel’s strongest, and some wacky original songs must go down in the Christmas pantheon. The rest of the deep-cut Holiday soundtrack shows just how off-the-wall this “Watchmen” special is, and how masterful Gunn is at his craft.
This is still the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which means there are few obvious ties to Gunn’s upcoming trilogy cap “Galaxy Vol. 3-inch – due out in May – as well as references to previous films that newcomers may not understand. Last seen in “Endgame” and briefly in “Thor: Love and Thunder,” the Guardians buy a new ship named Bowie to pilot Planet Nowhere and are joined by a Russian astronaut dog named Cosmo. Borat 2″ Maria Bakalova). Peter is still torn from losing his girlfriend Gamora (Zoe Saldana), and Mantis has a big secret of her own. But those are stories for another time, namely “Vol. 3”
It’s a Christmas miracle that Gunn was able to pull off this peculiarity and simultaneously make a third “Guardians” movie, switch allegiance from Marvel to DC, and land a gig as CEO of DC Studios in the process. It’s not just a great MCU movie; It’s a great Christmas special that hardcore Marvel fans and newcomers alike will enjoy. 3” is actually the end of Gunn’s run with Marvel, so this holiday special is a near-perfect film adaptation of one of the best of the superhero genre.