Gaming Editor Louis Wright reviews the Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special, finding that it fails to make its mark as a staple of the Marvel Cinematic Universe
As the festive time of the year rolls around, the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) finds itself with its second ‘special presentation’ and its first holiday themed feature in The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special (2022). While the presentation has its flaws, it finds itself to be a passable piece of world-building within the larger Marvel universe.
Continuing on from the other Guardians of the Galaxy films, The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special is heavily character driven as a narrative. Focusing on mainly Mantis (Pom Klementieff) and Drax (Dave Bautista), the special is director James Gunn’s response to the characters being “incredibly sidelined” in other Marvel films, giving them their own chance to shine and develop. However, the way the two characters are handled is mixed.
Mantis, the main character and driving force of the special, finally gets a spotlight within the MCU. As a part of an ensemble cast and only being introduced within Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017), her character has largely been overshadowed by her contemporaries. By giving her a personal motivation and seeing how her character reacts to increasingly outlandish scenarios, she is given depth as a character that she previously never expressed. This helps her relatability to the audience and allows a connection to her character to be formed in the anticipation for the upcoming Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 (2023).
On the other hand, what is done within the special for Drax is disappointing. The “flanderization” of his character from Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) continues, seeing a character who once had incredible depth and nuance in his motivations and personality reduced to nothing more than a one-note comedic relief. Drax’s ‘dumbing down’, for lack of a better term, makes him often insufferable in his unnecessary hindrance both to the plot of the film and development of comedic moments, that are any deeper than basic jokes. While his character, in its current state, can be advantageous in short bursts – seen in Avengers: Infinity War (2018) – it is not strong enough to carry an entire special.
The other members of the Guardians of the Galaxy range in terms of their performance and what they add to the special. Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) is nothing but a simple motivator for the greater narrative, with Pratt feeling as though he is phoning in his performance. Kraglin (Sean Gunn) sees some additional development that helps establish him more as a side character going forward. Groot (Vin Diesel) once again has a new design to reflect his growth to a more mature state, however, the design utilised within the special and the CGI used to bring him to life are downright wretched at best, thanks to it evoking the uncanny valley effect.
Due to its nature as a holiday special and as a comedy, the narrative of The Guardians of the Galaxy Christmas Special is simplistic. This works to its advantage as a more complex narrative would have had an impact on the shorter runtime seen in Marvel’s special presentations as well as the character work it was aiming to do.
The narrative at play is absurd, yet enjoyable, setting up scenarios in which comedic and character moments can naturally occur without feeling obtuse or forced. However, fairly often, it can fall into the realm of being too absurd for what the presentation wants to do, having tonal issues that are almost a staple for the MCU at this point. While not as bad as other films, such as Thor: Love and Thunder (2022), going from comedic scenes featuring Drax and Mantis to more emotionally heavy scenes with Peter Quill can appear as jarring and negatively impact the flow of the film.
Comedic moments throughout the film should also be commented on. For every joke that is successful, many others fail to land for a variety of reasons ranging from being too basic and ‘low-hanging’ to readily support themselves, to falling flat thanks to poor timing or delivery. The comedy of this special is at its strongest when it leans into its absurdity compared to the larger MCU – the Guardians of the Galaxy are a departure from the norms of the franchise and work at their best when this is acknowledged.
The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special is passable as an entry into the Guardians of the Galaxy franchise. While some of the inherent absurdness of the special and the character work with Mantis works to its benefit, a lot of the special fails to deliver in the same way that the films it is associated with do. It is generally strange in its delivery of its narrative, comedy and characters and is unlikely to endure as either a classic holiday special or a staple of the MCU.
The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special is streaming now on Disney+.
For more on Marvel projects, check out these articles from Redbrick Film:
Review: Thor: Love and Thunder