After two years jam-packed with new movies and shows, The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special marks the end of Phase 4 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. In many ways, despite its short run time and self-contained nature, Marvel’s latest Special Presentation is a microcosm of Phase 4. It contains some of the better elements of the past two years of the MCU, as well as some of the worst. But it’s also undeniably cute.
Picking up quite a while after Avengers: Endgame, The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special takes us back to Knowhere, which is now a thriving metropolis where the Guardians post up between missions. For once, they aren’t facing an existential threat, but the team is worried that Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) might be down in the dumps because he’s missing Christmas. So they decide to travel to Earth and kidnap Kevin Bacon as a gift for Peter.
The hijinks that follow are alternately groan-worthy and hilarious. Mantis (Pom Klementieff) and Drax (Dave Bautista) are our main POV characters for most of the special, and as much fun as they are as part of the larger team, Star-Lord is the heart and soul of the Guardians. Without him to bounce off of, Mantis and Drax are just cartoon characters.
Given that this is a holiday special, I wasn’t expecting a deep, emotional story (though there is one major MCU reveal!). But unlike Werewolf by Night, this Special Presentation didn’t have anything I hadn’t seen before in the MCU.
The real double-edged sword is the soundtrack. Director James Gunn’s conceit of centering every Guardians project around a new mixtape is both clever and endearing, but Gunn is so intent on ramming as many Christmas songs as possible into this special that it becomes a bit exhausting by the end. That said, the special’s original recordings are spectacularly silly, and I will have that Old ’97s tune on my holiday playlist this winter.
If you’re looking to spend 45 minutes or so with everyone’s favorite intergalactic superhero team, you’ll find plenty to enjoy in this special. If you’re looking for clues about the future of the MCU, reset your expectations before you start streaming.
The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special hits Disney Plus on November 25.
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