Over the years, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has tapped into various genres. Over the past year alone, fans have seen Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness lean into horror and Thor: Love and Thunder dip its toes into rom-com territory. But few MCU projects have been centered around the holidays, which makes The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special particularly unique. It features all the typical ingredients one would expect from a Christmas movie, and it also stays true to the heart of the franchise. In doing so, the Marvel Studios Special Presentation delivers a win-win by hitting a home run in both aspects.
To start, the special feels like the first time the Guardians have truly been themselves since Avengers: Endgame, if not Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2. The team members appeared in Thor: Love and Thunder, but they were clearly playing second fiddle to the God of Thunder. With James Gunn once again at the helm, the squad is back where it belongs, as they’re being presented by the same person who built them into beloved staples of the MCU. The dynamics of the team and the individual members’ personalities ring true, from Rocket’s temperament as a loose cannon to Drax’s classic sense of humor. Groot continues to grow up, and while he doesn’t say anything other than “I am Groot,” he steals the show with perfectly timed facial expressions and reactions despite his limited role in the program.
The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special also acts as a breakout moment for Mantis, who is prominently featured throughout the story. The viewer gets to see much more of her personality, which had come off as somewhat limited throughout her journey in the MCU up to this point. She also reveals the major news that she’s Peter Quill’s half-sibling, which is bound to bring the duo closer together in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3. They share an emotional moment at the end of the special when Mantis nervously tells Peter, though he is clearly delighted; he responds by saying it’s the best Christmas gift he could ask for. This relationship will likely be a key factor in the series’ third movie, and the progression seen in the special serves as a nice appetizer ahead of the film’s release in May 2023.
Fans can whet their appetite for the next movie by watching the special, but this Marvel Studios Special Presentation has true staying power as a Christmas movie. The musical numbers, particularly Old 97’s “I Don’t Know What Christmas Is (But Christmastime Is Here),” help to ground the story in the holiday season and the plot itself is based around Mantis’ mission to save Christmas for Peter. When she learns that Yondu ruined the holiday for him, Mantis goes well out of her way to give him a Christmas he’ll never forget by kidnapping his favorite actor, Kevin Bacon.
Of course, shenanigans ensue; one highlight includes Drax and Mantis stealing Christmas decorations from Bacon and proceeding to load the spaceship with more décor from a store. Bacon isn’t thrilled when Mantis stops using her empathic powers to make him compliant, but he has a change of heart when he hears about Peter’s sad history with Christmas. Bacon then sings “Here It Is Christmastime” alongside Old 97’s to show Peter what the holiday is all about, and the Guardians exchange gifts in a sweet, funny scene near the end of the special. As it turns out, Mantis didn’t get the full story — as Yondu didn’t actually ruin Christmas for Quill — but he’s still touched that she went out of her way to make him happy. All in all, Gunn delivers a fun exploration of what Christmas is all about.
The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special should join Marvel fans’ list of movies to watch around Christmastime. It doubles as a delightful romp in the MCU while also checking each box on the list for what one could want from a holiday-based program. The story has plenty of heart and laughs abound as Peter and the Guardians celebrate the holiday season while also gearing up for their climactic adventure next year.