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SYFY WIRE The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special

Critics cheer ‘The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special’ as the merriest MCU story of all

Music, Mantis, and Kevin Bacon compete only with Drax’s big heart to win reviewers over.

By Benjamin Bullard
Marvel Studios’ Special Presentation: The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special

Gamora’s gone, Star-Lord’s sad, and the world just doesn’t feel straight on its axis when even Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) can’t get in the Christmas spirit. In The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special, there’s only one solution for the galactic goofs who form Star-Lord’s functionally-challenged family — and it just so happens to involve a harmless bit of celebrity kidnapping.

With the James Gunn-directed Yuletide caper set to debut at Disney+ this weekend, critics have begun to weigh in on Marvel’s lighthearted finale to the MCU's current Phase 4 story arc, and like tearing into the biggest present under the tree, they’re (mostly) giddy with excitement. Though the Holiday Special clocks in at a tidy 43 minutes, reviewers say Gunn’s svelte Christmas tale doesn’t overstay its brief welcome, shedding fresh light on Mantis (Pom Klementieff) and her big heart…as well as Kevin Bacon’s endearing gift for poking some good-natured fun at himself.

Read on for a sampling of how the critics are cozying up to what most describe as a fun, character-focused romp that serves up plenty of silly fish-out-of-water comedic moments for terrestrial newbies like Mantis and Drax (Dave Bautista). Who knows? You might even pick up on a hint or two about how the Guardians’ sentimental, seasonal one-off foreshadows what's to come when Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 arrives in theaters on May 5 of next year.

There will be no coal in James Gunn’s stocking this year. His Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special is stuffed with funny, feel-good Christmas joy, and it’s one of the best pieces of content Marvel Studios has released in years…It’s a Christmas miracle that Gunn was able to pull off this superb special and simultaneously make the third Guardians film, not to mention switch allegiance from Marvel to DC and land a gig as co-CEO of DC Studios in the process. This is not just a great MCU film; it’s an excellent Christmas special that hardcore Marvel fans and newcomers can delight in. — Jordan Moreau, Variety

Leave it to James Gunn to close out the MCU’s Phase 4 with what could very well be a new Christmas classic…The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special delivers all the Christmas cheer, sentiment, catchy musical numbers, and laugh-out-loud moments you could ask for in a quick 43 minutes. Kevin Bacon is hilarious as he plays himself in an insane situation, as is Dave Bautista’s Drax, but the real star here is Pom Klementieff as Mantis. James Gunn gives this former background character tons of layers, and Klementieff brings it all home with a charming performance. It all makes for a delightful addition to any MCU fan’s annual Christmas rotation. — Alex Stedman, IGN

…[T]o be fair, it’s at least a fun addition to the MCU. The special clocks in at less than an hour and is basically a feel-good Christmas story with some sci-fi shenanigans thrown in…What follows is best described as a Christmas caper in which Drax and Mantis stumble their way through the kidnapping, at various points getting drunk, breaking and entering, taking selfies with tourists, and pining over inflatable holiday decorations. At one point, someone mistakes Drax for Kratos. Bautista and Klementieff have a charmingly alien chemistry, both clueless in the ways of humans but largely trying their best. Bacon also seems like he’s having a blast playing an extremely confused version of himself. It all ends with the kind of heartwarming-yet-silly finale you’d expect, and there is, of course, lots of good music. — Andrew Webster, The Verge

The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special, like the recent Werewolf by Night, shows that the MCU doesn’t necessarily need entire films and Disney+ series to tell the stories of these characters, but rather that one-off specials can be equally as effective and remarkable. A quick reminder of what made these characters so great in the first place is just what this group needed, and does an excellent job of building up the excitement for their return next year in Vol. 3. Gunn’s special is a fantastic holiday present, a heartwarming reminder of how much we enjoy these characters, mixed with Gunn’s great ability to blend humor, touching moments, and friendship. — Ross Bonaime, Collider

Sure, they’re literal aliens so new to the entire concept that they understand Santa to be a flamethrower-wielding freak whose elves want to stab his eyes out, as spelled out in a jaunty original tune over The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special‘s opening credits. But of all the Marvel sub-franchises, none have been more explicitly focused than this one on the holiday-appropriate concepts of family, love and home — and none better at spiking the deep feelings associated with them with just enough irreverence to keep its sweetness from turning cloying…The script is sprinkled with crumbs of awkward (though thankfully easy to ignore) exposition that will surely become relevant once they return to theaters in 2023’s Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3. — Angie Han, The Hollywood Reporter

What, you expected A Charlie Brown Christmas 2.0? The Guardians movies have always operated in the more absurd corners of the Marvel Cinematic Universe — irreverence was built into the group’s onscreen existence from Day One — which gives Gunn a sort of anything-goes hall pass when it comes to the proceedings…It all ends happily, sappily ever after, as such things should. And if you wish it had upped the outrageous ante a tad, pushed a few more Christmas-card envelopes, had a little more of the gonzo spirit that’s made the Guardians of the Galaxy movies a breath of fresh franchise air, look on the bright side. No one grunts a single word in Wookie. — David Fear, Rolling Stone

It is what it is: a bunch of A-holes, learning and laughing and singing about Christmas. If that’s not your bag, then I Am Groot. And we mean it…The odd line about Mrs. Claus and poles aside, perhaps it lacks the acerbic edge of Gunn’s Guardians movies to date, and there’ll be some for whom the whole thing is simply too silly, but even the most hardened of hearts couldn’t fail to be softened a little by Drax beating the living crap out of a man dressed as a robot. Merry freakin’ Christmas. — Chris Hewitt, Empire

Think of it as the start of a new Christmas ritual: The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special debuts Friday, Nov. 25 at Disney+.