Writer: James Gunn
Director: James Gunn
Cast: Chris Pratt, Pom Klementieff, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Karen Gillan, Sean Gunn, Kevin Bacon, Maria Bakalova
Over the past two years, seven films and eight shows, the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) output can only be described as wildly uneven at best. In a pleasant twist, however, it’s hit a more consistent stride with the introduction of its special presentations. These are installments that, at less than an hour long, are tight enough that they don’t overstay their welcome, and yet allow their creators to flex a looser, more creative muscle, unrestrained by the need to tie into the larger shared universe or adhere to the templates of either blockbuster storytelling or a standard six-episode arc. Halloween special Werewolf By Night was a spooky, black-and-white homage to Hammer Horror, dousing the camera lens in a liberal amount of blood while still compelling audiences everywhere to fall in love with a (dare I say, adorable) seven-foot-tall swamp monster. Now, The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special, arriving a month before Christmas, is a shot of festive cheer that’s equal parts incredibly moving and just mischievous enough to keep it light.
Setting a Christmas special around a group of alien characters who have no concept of the festival allows writer-director James Gunn to stack his emotional gauntlet with arcs that span the range from resigned heartbreak to cheeky obliviousness. The animated opening prologue, in which Yondu (Michael Rooker) crushes young Peter Quill’s (Chris Pratt) hopes of celebrating the holidays gives way to the opening credits, set in present day, to a folk rock song with the lyrics, “Santa is a furry freak with epic superpowers”. The tune builds into an increasingly unhinged diatribe against the fictional character, written by an alien whose sources of information about Christmas are dubious at best. Saddened by the details of Peter’s rough childhood, Mantis (Pom Klementieff) comes up with a plan to cheer him up — she and Drax (Dave Bautista) will kidnap actor Kevin Bacon, who they believe to be the ruler of all Earth, “or at least some people.” He’d be the perfect present for Peter, who’s narrated tales of his exploits for years, they reason. What could possibly go wrong?