Early Guardians Holiday Special Reviews Praise the Light, Festive Humor

When Marvel announced that the Guardians of the Galaxy would be starring in their very own Christmas special almost two years ago, a lot of fans probably rolled their eyes. After all, holiday specials can often be seen as “jumping the shark” in a number of different ways. Plus, many detractors already consider the MCU to be way too “corporate” as it is. So critics likely saw the news as nothing more than a shameless cash grab to boost Disney+ subscriptions. But at the same time, the Guardians seemed like the perfect Marvel characters to help spread holiday cheer. And who better to run the show than writer/director James Gunn?

Luckily, the studio’s gamble seems to have paid off. Although The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special is still two days away, critics (including our own Luke Y. Thompson) have begun sharing their thoughts on the team’s latest adventure. And it sounds like Marvel’s second venture into holiday-themed programming is a largely smooth sleigh ride brimming with heart and laughs. But at the end of the day, it might not be for everyone. You can check out a few highlights below.

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The special mainly concentrates on Drax and Mantis, with Dave Bautista and Pom Klementieff reprising their respective big-screen roles. So it’s no surprise that most of the praise is directed at them. According to /Film’s Chris Evangelista, the actors “are a great pair here, and I wouldn’t mind seeing them team up for a more consequential adventure.” Evangelista also singled out Klementieff’s performance, adding that she “gets more to do here than she’s had to do in any of her previous appearances. She makes Mantis sweet, funny, and even occasionally scary when she loses her calm demeanor, usually because of something Drax has done or said.”

Collider’s Ross Bonaime adds that the special is “a lovely way to wrap up Phase 4” of the MCU. Its key strength is that Gunn “doesn’t have to set up future projects, or necessarily tie into a larger story.” Instead, the story “can remain its own weird little thing.” But it also acts as “a great prequel of sorts to next year’s Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3.”

Unlike Bonaime, however, The Verge’s Andrew Webster claims the special does boast its fair share of MCU references. These range from “throwaway gags” to “integral” plot points. But one particular reveal near the end “seems like it’ll be a big deal” in setting up Vol. 3. Webster even went so far in calling the special “a holiday-themed prologue” to the Guardians’ next movie, which makes it feel “a little less special” in the long run. Regardless, he still called it “a fun addition to the MCU. He also praised Kevin Bacon, who “seems like he’s having a blast playing an extremely confused version of himself.”

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Writing for IGN, Alex Stedman applauded Gunn’s ongoing knack for balancing more than one tone. She noted that the special “certainly doesn’t skimp on sentiment but, thanks to Gunn’s ability to punctuate weighty moments with humor without undermining them, it never gets too saccharine. It’s filled with scenes that garner both laughs and potential tears, and it’s delightfully uncynical.” Stedman likewise praised the soundtrack, teasing that the special’s opening song is “both endlessly catchy and funny.”

In his own three-star review for Empire, Chris Hewitt noted that the special, “is not an entry-level MCU effort.” Although he appreciated Bautista and Klementieff’s chemistry, Hewitt warned that some might dismiss the presentation as “an indulgence too far.” He also found the Kevin Bacon scenes to be “disappointingly toothless.” But overall, it’s “so frothy, and fun, and so clearly not intended to be taken seriously.”

The other Guardians don’t get as much screen time as Drax and Mantis. But according to Yahoo’s Liz Shannon Miller, there are other characters who are worth tuning in for. Namely, Karen Gillan’s Nebula and Maria Bakalova’s Cosmo the Spacedog, the latter of whom “charms” in her MCU debut. On the flip side, Miller also felt the running gag of Peter Quill’s Kevin Bacon fandom didn’t need to be stretched into a 44-minute TV special. Still, the end result delivers “a sweet, if slight, morsel of holiday cheer.”

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Rodrigo Perez acknowledged that the special “isn’t going to change anyone’s life” and does feel “a little disposable” at times. But in his write-up for The Playlist, he also confessed his surprise at how moving it was. Specifically, because it stays true to the Guardians formula, invoking themes of “loneliness, loss, and found family togetherness,” to create “a lovely, very moving little bauble that will melt any cynics’ cold heart.”

The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special hits Disney+ this Friday, November 25.

What do you make of these early reactions to the special? Let us know in the comment section below!

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