When something is intrinsically a part of your life, it can be almost impossible to see it as might appear to someone lacking with any familiarity with it.
Take Christmas, for example, which is, on the face of it, a holly jolly time of the year when peace and goodwill are supposed to reign, when Santa is making a list and checking it twice (all while his elves work industriously to make toys for all the girls and boys), and when reindeer, eggnog and presents under the tree are everywhere and warmly welcomed.
But what if you were say, an alien, as in an actual alien from the Marvel Cinematic Universe who had never encountered Christmas before and who decided to try and express what it is to someone who knows it intimately such as say, oh I don’t know, Peter Quill / Star-Lord (Chris Pratt)? How might it all get gloriously garbled in translation?
We find out in the opening scenes of The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special, only the second Marvel Studios’ Special Presentation in existence, where a band of alien troubadours, resident in the Nowhere outpost which the Guardians of the Galaxy (GotG) gang bought from the Collector, do their best to sing about Christmas, using Peter as a sounding board for the veracity of their festive tale.
That they get it hilariously and egregiously wrong is funny enough but that in getting it so deliciously, badly twisted they actually touch upon some really strange and lunatic elements of the season which, in the way they’re presented in the song, “I Don’t Know What Christmas Is (But Christmastime Is Here)” actually make you realise how weird much of what we take as standard Christmas lore is.
Certainly Peter, who we find out had Christmas ruined for him when Yondu (Michael Rooker) refused, with decoration-kicking ferocity, to let Kraglin Obfonteri (Sean Gunn) and Peter mark Christmas with gift-giving and a cobbled together tree, is non-plussed by the merry musical tale and goes about the demanding business of keeping an nearly-ruined space outpost open for business.
While Peter brushes it off, Mantis (Pom Klementieff) cannot, so moved by Kraglin’s melancholic recollection of the Christmas that wasn’t, that she decides, roping in Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista), to give Peter back his Christmas gift by going to Earth and bringing back – yeah, it’s in the trailer but still SPOILER ALERT!! – Kevin Bacon whom the GotG mistakenly think is the leader of the planet and a great hero to its people.
As kickoffs for a Christmas special go, this is a giant heart-shaped doozy, a gloriously concoction of the heartfelt and the loopy that really lights up the soul-restorative core of The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special which turns out to be one of the most festive rollercoasters of fun to come along in quite a few seasons.
Having little to no idea what Christmas is really about, nor what — SPOILER ALERT!!!! — Kevin Bacon actually looks like, let alone where he lives, and not really understanding that kidnapping someone, even with the best of intentions is not the sort of thing you should do, Mantis and Drax arrive on Earth and well, create a huge amount of mayhem, the kind that involves way too much alcohol, manipulation of peoples’ thoughts and emotions and a kid nap scene that is an absolute hoot to watch.
With Bacon playing himself and all in on sending up his reputation as an actor, and even going against personal preferences and acting as if he LOVES Christmas (apparently he does not), and Mantis and Drax displaying the kind of chemistry that gives their nascent friendship all kinds of ill-though out but highly entertaining life and vivacity, The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special emerges as an absolute joy to watch, all anarchic merriment and crossed wires about what Christmas actually is that actually ends up being sweet in all the right ways.
Drawing on Christmas specials of old, which includes Santa Claus Conquers the Martians which features in the special, The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special comes alive as a celebration of a season by beings who, by and large, don’t have a clue what any of it means.
At the beginning, anyway; by the end, of course, they really get everything about it, down to the Santa vomited decorations that Hollywood does so well, and which this reviewer really wishes he had the budget to emulate, and the giving of gifts that actually mean something and some festive bonding that actually turns out to be rather revelatory and life changing.
Intended in part as a gateway special for the upcoming Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, which zips into cinemas with action and wise-cracking in May 2023, The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special is very much a part of the GotG mini-universe, filled with witty banter, Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel and Rocket (Bradley Cooper, Nebula (Karen Gillan) and newcomer Cosmos (Maria Bakalova) close by too), with moments (including an hilarious mid-credits scene), just-so music selections and a whimsical approach to sci-fi storytelling that marks the GotG franchise.
All warm and festive and just plain silly in the very best of ways, The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special is a gorgeously quirky gem, all manic misunderstanding and festive faux pas that sticks the heartfelt landing to an absolute, gift-wrapped tee, offering a novel perspective on the season that may make you rethink where elves fit into everything, giving you a chance to hang with characters you love and getting all festively warm and gooey in a thoroughly refreshingly original and highly imaginative way which makes Christmas come alive again in the loopiest but most meaningful of ways.
The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special is currently screening on Disney+