The Guardians of the Galaxy save Christmas, and revive Marvel

James Gunn has delivered a hilarious and moving modern Christmas comic book classic

If you need to boost your Christmas spirit, are suffering from Superhero fatigue, or just need something fun to watch, the Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special will tick all these boxes.

In the post-Endgame world, Marvel Studio has attempted to continue its momentum while building a new cinematic universe without its flagship heroes. The ambitions [and budgets] have been huge, but the results have been mixed.

Following the ever-expanding and increasingly complex Marvel Cinematic Universe through its various sequels, spinoffs, and Disney + series is starting to feel like homework.

Dr Strange and the Multiverse of Madness would have been barely comprehensible if you had not watched all nine episodes of WandaVision.

A return to The Guardians of the Galaxy characters is an enjoyable reminder of what this studio is capable of. It is the most enjoyable Marvel production since Spiderman No Way Home.

James Gunn helms the short film, which clocks in at a perfect 44 minutes. It is the director's second small-screen triumph of 2022. His Suicide Squad spinoff Peacemaker was a surprise hit for HBO Max.

The plot is simple, yet suitably bonkers. Peter Quill [Chris Pratt] is irritable around Christmas time. There is a possible reason given in a touching prologue. However, it is far more likely that he misses Gamora.

In their typical style, the Guardians take action before thinking things through and hatch a plan to get him the best Christmas gift possible.

Drax and Mantis are off to kidnap earth’s greatest hero, Kevin Bacon.

What follows is an enjoyable screwball comedy where the mismatched pair roam Los Angeles searching for Quill’s favourite actor.

There are some brilliant visual and character gags. Although this is purely a comedy, their behaviour or personality does not change from the films. Gunn avoids straying into sketch or parody territory by keeping true to the central theme of The Guardians. They do not fit in anywhere, but are basically unaware of that, and will do anything for each other.

When they surprise Quill with his gift, the scene is moving in the way the best Christmas films are. The mood shifts perfectly when a terrified Kevin Bacon realises where he is.

It is a Guardians story, and all of them excluding Gamora feature, [Rocket has a new friend], but mostly this is the Drax and Mantis show. Dave Bautista and Pom Klementieff have a delightful comic chemistry. The eternally insensitive Drax seems to be slowly driving the Empath to madness. She loses her patience with him frequently while he barely seems to notice.

The one big action sequence centres around them chasing after Bacon and dealing with the police while he flees. It is short but memorable. Their behaviour by this point, erratic even by Drax's standards, makes sense given they have consumed plenty of “libations’ at a nightclub detour.

Kevin Bacon is excellent as himself, the icon of the 80s has rarely ventured into comedy However, he bounces off the Guardian’s energy with ease.

If there is one downside to the Kevin Bacon casting, it is that he does not dance. Peacemaker fans will be aware that Gunn knows how to film a memorable dance sequence, and Footloose is referenced in a pivotal monologue. It feels like a missed opportunity given that the climax of the first Guardians film rests on Quill’s admiration of the actor's moves.

The Guardians of the Galaxy: Holiday Special had no right to be this good. Gunn has made something that is far from a cynical cash grab. It has heart and humour making it reminiscent of the better Simpsons Christmas efforts or South Park's Red Sleigh Down.

This is a crowd-pleaser, and suitable for family viewing. It is Marvel back to what it does best, and a good teaser for Guardians Vol 3.

The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special is now streaming on Disney Plus.