The Pitch: Did you know that in Britain, there’s a long and proud tradition of ongoing series putting out special episodes for the holidays? More often than not, they’re even broadcast on Christmas Day, when it seems that entire nation turns into couch potatoes. In America, though, our more couch potato-y holiday happens to be Thanksgiving, and our biggest ongoing series happens to be the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Thus, this week’s release of The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special feels pretty apt.
Clocking in at 42 minutes (including post-credits scene), James Gunn’s breezy holiday confection offers a little bit of set-up as to where the titular Guardians, including Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), Mantis (Pom Klementieff), Drax (Dave Bautista), Nebula (Karen Gillen), Rocket (Bradley Cooper), and Groot (Vin Diesel), might be at the beginning of the forthcoming third Guardians of the Galaxy film. But it more importantly answers that question which has haunted us all — in the alternate reality known as the Marvel Cinematic Universe, can Kevin Bacon still rock the mike right?
Christmas Eve in the Drunk Tank: The set-up of this special is clean and simple — out there in the universe, the Guardians have taken over the mining colony and trading post known as Knowhere, but Peter’s feeling bummed due to the absence of his star-crossed love Gamora. So Mantis and Drax come up with a plan they think will make Peter happy — go to Earth and abduct his number one hero Kevin Bacon (Kevin Bacon).
Yes, the premise of this entire special hinges on a running joke from the first two Guardians films, and accordingly has about as much plot as you’d expect. The bulk of the screen time focuses on Mantix and Drax’s adventures on Earth, as they wander around Hollywood Boulevard in an effort to locate Kevin Bacon (fortunately for them, if there’s one resource Hollywood Boulevard has in abundance, it’s maps to where the stars live).
There are both expected and unexpected comedy curveballs in the mix before Ren McCormack himself enters the scene, and once he does, the ensuing mayhem certainly keeps the stunt team busy. Bacon, for the record, proves to be extremely game for whatever Gunn’s script throws at him, which is good news: This running joke has only been eight years in the making, after all.
All the Drunks, They Were Singing: Given the brief runtime and aforementioned mayhem, not to mention the fact that the other characters are only briefly involved in the narrative, the focus really lands on Bautista and Klementieff, and the latter proves quite capable of carrying the entire story. When Mantis was originally introduced, she felt very much like a supporting character, more often than not shoved into the role of comic relief. But here, Mantis has personal reasons for wanting to give Peter a happy Christmas, and Klementieff brings remarkable range to a previously under-explored role, proving her ability to anchor further installments.
The rest of the supporting cast shows up with remarkable commitment — Gillen in particular really seems to be having fun with Nebula’s edge, and Borat Subsequent Moviefilm breakout star Maria Bakalova charms in her first appearance as the voice of Cosmo the Space-Dog (the character will also appear in Guardians 3.
The other major thing to note is how music-driven the holiday special is, with alt-country band The Old 97s donning full alien makeup to play extraterrestrial musicians who seem to have mastered Earth-based instruments remarkably quickly. Also, if you wanted to bet on the likelihood of an unconventional holiday special like this leaning hard on The Pogues’ “Fairytale of New York”… no bet.
The Verdict: Yes, we’re talking about what’s pretty much a one-joke premise that didn’t need all 42 minutes of its screen time. But it’s fun to see the MCU’s continued use of Disney+ to explore one-off opportunities like this. It may not move the overall MCU narrative forward all that much, but it does deliver a sweet, if slight, morsel of holiday cheer.
Where to Watch: The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special arrives under the Disney+ tree on Friday, November 25th.