James Gunn delivers a new classic with ‘Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special’

The MCU’s first holiday special is a ton of fun. PLUS: Don’t expect a Namor standalone, Seth Meyers celebrates a ‘Late Night’ Thanksgiving with his family, and ‘Glass Onion’ belongs in theaters.

James Gunn delivers a new classic with ‘Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special’
Pom Klementieff as Mantis and Dave Bautista as Drax in The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special. / Marvel Studios

I love The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special. So much.

This is going to be spoilery, so skip ahead to the next section if you haven’t watched it yet.

The premise of the Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special is simple: Peter Quill is sad since Gamora is gone. Drax and Mantis decide that they’ll bring Peter his childhood hero, Kevin Bacon, as gift to celebrate the Earth holiday Christmas.

Chris Pratt as Peter Quill/Star-Lord in The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special. / Marvel Studios

With James Gunn as the creative mind behind this special, writing and directing it, it’s full of heart — and a great soundtrack. The special kicks off with the song “I Don’t Know What Christmas Is (But Christmastime Is Here)” by the Old 97’s. The soundtrack also features songs by Low, Fountains of Wayne and The Smashing Pumpkins. There’s even a bit of Julian Casablancas doing his version of Saturday Night Live’s “I Wish It Was Christmas Today.”

While the special is a Guardians of the Galaxy story, it’s a Drax and Mantis story. Dave Bautista and Pom Klementieff are so much fun together, building off the dynamic we saw from them in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. (The second Guardians does play a surprisingly large role in this special, with Peter’s father, Ego, getting a bit more than a mention.)

Kevin Bacon as Kevin Bacon in The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special. / Marvel Studios

The conceit of Kevin Bacon playing Kevin Bacon doesn’t wear out its welcome. It helps that the special is only 40 minutes long, which requires that everything has a purpose and clicks. There are zero references to Bacon playing a role in Fox’s X-Men franchise, which honestly would’ve felt out of place in this special. Not everything in this phase of the Marvel Cinematic Universe needs to build toward a multiversal clash.

That’s not to say that The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special doesn’t lay the groundwork for where this team is going. Groot’s growing up (more on him in a second). The team has a new ship called the Bowie. Peter isn’t over Gamora. And Cosmo, a dog who formerly went into space for the Soviet Union and was briefly featured in the first Guardians movie, is now a full member of the team. (She’s now voiced by Maria Bakalova, the breakout star of Borat Subsequent Moviefilm.)

Groot in The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special. / Marvel Studios

Groot got a makeover for this special, looking much stockier than we’re used to seeing him. I swore this version of the character was a practical costume, but thanks to Gunn, we now know that he’s 100 percent CGI — and that his swollness was a specific choice.

Gunn also reiterated that the current Groot is not the original Groot.

I do need to question where humanity now stands in terms of being surprised to see creatures like Drax and Mantis on Earth (or running into Rocket on Knowhere). Wouldn’t the events of Avengers: Infinity War, Avengers: Endgame and Eternals (alien invasion! the Blip! a frozen Celestial now a permanent part of the ocean!) have killed the novelty of aliens and talking raccoons?

Chris Pratt, Dave Bautista and James Gunn on the set of The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special. / Marvel Studios

The special begins with an animated flashback sequence to a young Peter Quill’s attempt to introduce Christmas to the Ravagers. My initial reaction was that I thought a Bass/Rankin claymation style would’ve been more effective, but Gunn obviously had his reasons for the style he chose.

I’m going to miss Gunn telling stories with these characters. With Gunn taking control of DC Studios for Warner Bros. Discovery, this holiday special is one of two final pieces he has left to add to the MCU. (Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 hits theaters on May 5, 2023.) Fans of the franchise are lucky that Disney and Gunn were able to come back together to finish the story he started with back in 2014. With The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special, Gunn may have created a new holiday classic.

Marvel’s now two for two with these Special Presentations. I can’t wait to see how Kevin Feige uses these to empower other directors to tell future MCU stories.

Gonna end this section with one final thought:

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Tenoch Huerta as Namor in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. / Marvel Studios

Don’t hold your breath for a Namor standalone movie

Brought to life by Tenoch Huerta, Namor was one of the breakout characters in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. No matter how popular he is, though, don’t expect a Namor standalone film. (Or even a standalone poster?)

The cinematic rights to Namor have been murky for a long time. Like the Hulk, he’s technically the property of another studio, which means Marvel Studios (and the Marvel Cinematic Universe proper) can only use Namor in projects where he isn’t the star.

TheWrap broke down Namor’s current status:

The situation around Namor harkens back to the pre-Marvel Studios/pre-Disney era of making movies out of Marvel Comics characters, before the studio streamlined and controlled intellectual property. Before Marvel Studios made Iron Man as its own independently produced film, the company was in the habit of licensing or selling off rights to characters to other studios — the X-Men went to Fox, Spider-Man went to Sony, etc. And Namor is one of those characters that is still controlled by another studio.

For both Namor and the Hulk, Universal Studios is the party holding movie rights to those characters. (A standalone Hulk film exists in the MCU only because Universal produced it before the MCU technically existed. That Tony Stark cameo at the end was groundbreaking in more ways than one.) TheWrap also reports that Marvel Studios can’t even use Namor “by himself in marketing materials, unless it’s part of a series of posters.”

“It honestly affects us more, and not to talk too much out of school, but in how we market the film than it does how we use him in the film,” Wakanda Forever producer Nate Moore told TheWrap. “There weren’t really things we couldn’t do from a character perspective for him, which is good because clearly, we took a ton of inspiration from the source material, but we also made some big changes to really anchor him in that world in a truth that publishing never really landed on, I would argue, in a big way.”

These rights issues didn’t stand in the way of Marvel Studios using Namor as the villain in Wakanda Forever. They won’t stand in the way of the studio using Namor again in the MCU down the road — just not in his own film.

Natalie Portman as Jane Foster and Chris Hemsworth as Thor in Thor: Love and Thunder. / Marvel Studios

Hemsworth wants something ‘drastically different’ for another Thor film

Will there be another Thor film? Nothing is in the works at the moment, but if there ever is one, Chris Hemsworth wants to shake things up.

“I mean you look at [the first two Thor movies], they were quite similar. Ragnarok and Love and Thunder: similar. I think it’s just about re-inventing it,” Hemsworth told the Happy Sad Confused Podcast (via io9). “And I’ve had such a unique opportunity even with Infinity War and Endgame to do very drastic things with the character. I enjoy that, I like keeping people on their toes, it keeps me on my toes, keeps me invested.”

I saw some people reading this as Hemsworth taking a shot at Thor: Ragnarok and Thor: Love and Thunder writer/director Taika Waititi, but I’m pretty sure this is just the actor driving home the point that, if he keeps doing Thor movies, he’s not interested in doing the same thing over and over again.

Waititi and Hemsworth completely rebuilt the character for Ragnarok, a vibe that played through Avengers: Infinity War and reached its natural conclusion in Love and Thunder.

Hemsworth also remarked that he “don’t even know if I’m invited back” for another film. He’s managed to outlive his Tony Stark and Steve Rogers’ time in the MCU, but I’m sure Feige would love to have Thor in the mix when we get to the inevitable insanity of Avengers: Secret Wars.

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Larry Meyers, Josh Meyers, Hilary Meyers and Seth Meyers during the Nov. 24, 2022, episode of Late Night. / NBCUniversal

Late Night

For the ninth year in a row, Seth Meyers welcomed his family as his Thanksgiving Late Night guests. This tradition has become one of my favorite bits in late-night TV. Nothing in the 2022 edition topped Seth introducing his daughter, Adelaide, in 2021, but it’s still fun to see him with his parents, Larry and Hilary, and his brother, Mad TV’s Josh Meyers.

Rick and Morty

Rick and Morty returned to resume its sixth season last weekend. I caught up with “Full Meta Jackrick” on Black Friday. This episode saw the return of Story Lord (from the Season 4 episode “Never Ricking Morty”) — and more importantly for the show, another deep dive into the meta side of Rick and Morty that fans either love or hate.

Dan Harmon’s beloved Story Circle storytelling concept makes an appearance alongside Jesus — “He Bane’d me, Morty. Jesus Bane’d me.” — and Joseph Campbell himself.

Great British Bake Off

I dunno, this season of Great British Bake Off never really clicked for me. The judges are in a rut. The hosts didn’t ever really seemed into it. Even the contestants were kind of bland. (My wife repeatedly reminded me during the finale that they’re actual human beings, not characters.)

But the finale’s closing montage really drove home that this season didn’t have a breakout personality. Where were people like Nadiya Hussain, Candice Brown and Giuseppe Dell’Anno? I’d even take the antipersonality of Rahul Mandal (or definitely the spark that his Series 9 co-semifinalists, Ruby Bhogal and Kim-Joy Hewlett, brought to the show).

Great British Bake Off needs to recalibrate before its next season.

A scene from the Bob’s Burgers episode “What About Job?” / Fox

Bob’s Burgers

After watching the latest Thanksgiving episode earlier in the week, we jumped back to the beginning of Bob’s Burgers thirteenth season and watched the first seven episodes of Season 13 that we had missed.

“What About Job” and “Comet-y of Errors” were the standouts of this bunch for me. (Bonus points to “The Reeky Lake Show” for Teddy realizing that not only had the Belchers not forgotten about him, they had left him a burger in their apartment.)

I’m sure this has something to do with me watching Bob’s Burgers really for the first time since becoming a father, but I found Bob’s version of Children of Men (and his message to Louise that sometimes life will be boring but he believed in her) to be kind of beautiful. (I also appreciated that Louise recognized that “now if you find treasure, you’re supposed to give it back to the country it’s from” after the Louisiana Jones segment.)

I also need a full version of the credits song from “Ready Player Gene.”

Christmas Vacation

“You serious, Clark?”

Thanksgiving is over, so you can watch Christmas Vacation and watch it often. I don’t know how I spent my first 28 Christmases without seeing this movie. (I hadn’t even seen it when the contributors of the original Popculturology voted it the No. 1 in our Top 10 Christmas Movies and Specials rankings.)

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Letitia Wright as Shuri in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. / Marvel Studios

Weekend of Nov. 25-27, 2022

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (1)
Weekend gross: $45.9M / Total domestic gross: $367.7M / Percent drop: -31

Wakanda Forever slides up to No. 56 on the all-time domestic release rankings and No. 13 among MCU movies.

Strange World (N)
Weekend gross: $11.9M / Total domestic gross: $18.6M / Percent drop: NA

Disney, what’s going on? What happened with Strange World? I think I caught one trailer (maybe even the first teaser?) for this one. Strange World was at a 73 percent on Rotten Tomatoes on Saturday (only a 59 percent for its audience score, but I’m guessing we can thank reviews from people angry that the film has an LGBTQ character for that), so it’s doesn’t seem like it a bad movie. It’s been a rough go for a lot of these pandemic-era Walt Disney Animation/Pixar Studios films. (Frozen II opened to $130.1 million just three years ago.) Bob Iger is going to have to decide if these animated films deserve proper theatrical treatment or if they’re just fodder for Disney+.

Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery (N)
Weekend gross: $9.2M / Total domestic gross: $13.3M / Percent drop: NA

I don’t understand the logic behind Netflix giving Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery a tiny theatrical release before making it exclusively available on the streamer in a month. This film grossed more than $13 million over the five-day holiday weekend — why wouldn’t Netflix want to keep that money train rolling? Is Glass Onion really going to drive signups for Netflix? Who out there isn’t already subscribed to the streamer? I know Netflix is OK burying movie after movie after movie on its platform, but maybe Rian Johnson shouldn’t be OK with that too. There are a few theaters around me playing Glass Onion. I’d love to see it in theaters, but between the holiday weekend and *waves arms toward 11-month-old baby and a dog recovering from double ACL surgery* it’s not easy to catch a movie in theaters.

  1. Devotion (N)
    Weekend gross: $6M / Total domestic gross: $9M / Percent drop: NA
  2. The Menu (2)
    Weekend gross: $5.2M / Total domestic gross: $18.7M / Percent drop: -42

Box office stats via The Numbers.

How SNL recreated House of the Dragon

Saturday Night Live did a fantastic job recreating the costumes and sets of House of the Dragon for its most recent episode. (All that work was unfortunately wasted on a “hey, you guys remember those characters from Chappelle’s Show?” premise.) The SNL crew has long been great at turning around bits like this in almost zero time, but their House of the Dragon work — CGI dragons, the Painted Table, turning James Austin Johnson into a decaying Viserys Targaryen — is on another level.

Avatar sequel tracking for a $150M-$175M opening weekend

Avatar: The Way of Water hits theaters in a month, which means it’s time to start talking about how big of an opening weekend it’ll have. Variety reports that the Avatar sequel is on track for a domestic debut between $150 million and $175 million.

An opening in that range would put The Way of Water somewhere between the 26th best opening weekend and the 16th best opening weekend. Any number in that range would blow away the original Avatar’s opening weekend. That film grossed $77 million when it premiered in 2009 but was such a huge theatrical attraction (this was before 3D became just another gimmick to jack up ticket prices) that it went on to gross $749.8 million during its original run.

Power Rangers pays tribute to Jason David Frank

A few days after Jason David Frank died, the official Power Rangers YouTube channel released a tribute to the actor, honoring the decades he spent playing Tommy Oliver.

DreamWorks Animation’s new opening

DreamWorks Animation unveiled a new opening sequence last week. The boy-in-the-moon opener has long been a classic, which makes the studio revising the sequence a risky move.

Does it work? Well, I guess that depends on how much you think almost every single character in DreamWorks Animation history needs to be in the sequence. Loved seeing Toothless from the How to Train Your Dragon soar by, but using the Shrek characters as the closer seems like a desperate reach back about two decades for glory. (Especially when you leave out the films that got the studio started …)

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