By Scott Thomas/Updated: Nov. 26, 2022 6:44 pm EST
Warning: This article contains spoilers for “The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special.”
“The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special” is about Christmas traditions: honoring them, subverting them, and acknowledging they’re great for humanity. Beyond the blatant consumerism that accompanies every November and December on Earth is a genuine spirit of giving. That spirit has a killer soundtrack ranging from ancient carols to modern classics by The Pogues. Even some of the most endearing television ever created has centered around the holidays and Christmas, specifically. James Gunn knows and owns all this. His “Holiday Special” is as close to “A Charlie Brown Christmas” as it is to his own “Guardians” films, and the end product is a remarkable tightrope walk between nice and naughty.
Accordingly, “The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special” is crammed with story, much of it centering around Mantis (Pom Klementieff) and a nipples-covered Drax (Dave Bautista) kidnapping Kevin Bacon to be a Christmas gift for Peter Quill (Chris Pratt). Still, Gunn and his production team found room for a few solid Easter eggs and they, like the holidays, are worth celebrating. Here are the best Easter eggs we found in Disney+’s “The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special.”
James Gunn and the Old 97’s
I wish the Old 97’s were a traditional Easter egg in “The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special.” The cult alternative country band is overdue for mainstream appreciation, one whose discography is as fun and innovative as it is cathartic and moving. The Old 97’s are tasked with writing two new Christmas jams for “The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special” and acting for the first time. They crush both tasks equally. Credit to James Gunn and the entire band (Rhett Miller, Murry Hammond, Ken Bethea, Phillip Peeples) for their monumental work.
What most viewers might not realize, though, is that the Old 97’s have contributed to James Gunn’s filmography before. James Gunn told The Hollywood Reporter, “[The Old 97’s have] been my favorite band since the ’90s, and I’ve seen them in concert a billion times. I met [lead vocalist] Rhett Miller in 2005 because I put an Old 97’s song at the end of ‘Slither,’ my first movie. It plays over the end credits, and Rhett and I have stayed in touch ever since then. And so I started writing this song for the beginning [of the special], ‘I Don’t Know What Christmas Is (But Christmastime Is Here)’ … And finally, I approached Rhett and asked, ‘Will you help me write this song? Because I can’t do it by myself.’ And he said, ‘Absolutely.'” That means that Old 97’s appearance in “The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special” reinforces the special’s themes of found family, and it’s not the only casting decision that reflects it either.
Kevin Bacon calls his actual wife, Kyra Sedgwick
Kevin Bacon’s appearance as himself in the Marvel Cinematic Universe lives up to any wild expectations audiences have for it. In just 44-odd minutes, the 64-year-old actor establishes himself as a self-aware comic dynamo who parodies multiple roles from his filmography, drops a purposefully ridiculous British accent, and sings an excellent original Christmas song. Bacon isn’t the only member of his family who makes an appearance in the special, though.
When we first see Bacon, he’s calling his wife Kyra to let her know that he grabbed all of the Christmas gifts for the kids. The voice of “Kyra” is Bacon’s real-life wife Kyra Sedgwick. For those who don’t know, Sedgwick is a deeply accomplished performer in her own right. The New York City native is best known for her role as Brenda Johnson, the titular closer of TNT’s long-running series “The Closer,” and has appeared in multiple projects with her husband before. (They co-starred on-screen in “The Woodsman” and Sedgwick contributed her voice to Bacon’s excellent thriller “Cop Car.”) It’s a nice Easter egg for fans of either performer, and a casting decision that reinforces the reality of Kevin Bacon as an MCU character.
We find out what’s going on with Kingo
Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Much of “The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special” feels delightfully removed from the MCU. The story is important to the Guardians themselves but has little or no impact on Kang, what’s going on with the multiverse, or whatever the Secret Invasion is. Accordingly, there are very few traditional Marvel Easter eggs or ties to the larger Marvel universe over the special’s 40-plus minutes. One of the few, however, is a good one.
When Drax and Mantis are stumbling around Hollywood, they find a gay bar to frequent in search of Kevin Bacon. Before they enter, a marquee is visible for a cabaret that’s playing on the strip. That show? “Kingo’s Christmas.” Kingo, of course, is the Eternal played by Kumail Nanjiani in Chloe Zhao’s Phase Four epic “Eternals.” When we last saw the Bollywood star Kingo, he excused himself from the Eternals interpersonal conflicts — ones that have ramifications for the entire galaxy — and it wasn’t clear what he’d be getting up to instead. Thanks to the “Holiday Special,” now we know that the answer is “a cabaret of Christmas music.” It’s a hysterical resolution to one of the more surprising plot points in “Eternals” and a great Easter egg to boot.
Never underestimate James Gunn’s affection for lesser-known comic book characters. In his 2021 film “The Suicide Squad,” Gunn trotted out Weasel (Sean Gunn) and made Polka-Dot Man (David Dastmalchian) a compelling and emotionally solvent character. Gunn’s HBO Max spinoff series, “Peacemaker,” is the bonafide smash nobody saw coming. It’s not surprising that “The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special” has deep-cut individuals in it, but the GoBots are an obscure strain of non-Marvel IP, even by James Gunn standards.
For context: When Drax and Mantis arrive in Hollywood to find Kevin Bacon, they stumble upon an area where costumed performers are taking photos with tourists. Many of them are Marvel characters audiences recognize (Captain America, Ant-Man, Captain Marvel, etc.). One is not; it’s a man dressed as one of the GoBots. Drax sees him and instantly flies into a rage, one quelled by Mantis. Mantis explains, “GoBots killed his cousin.”
So, apparently, the GoBots — which were a Tonka toy line of vehicles that changed into robots and preceded “Transformers” — exist in the MCU and murdered a member of Drax’s family. If that wasn’t enough, a comic book published by IDW in the year 2018 insinuated that the GoBots invented the Transformers. This would mean that the Transformers and GoBots are potentially all MCU-canon, and while this is highly unlikely, it’s the kind of twist that sets Reddit forums on fire and that’s hysterical enough to make this a good and notable Easter egg.
Ares exists in the MCU?
“Thor: Love and Thunder” confirmed the existence of many ancient gods in the MCU. Audiences learned that Zeus (Russell Crowe) is petty and pretty much over Earth 616’s problems. During the film’s post-credit sequence, Zeus dispatched Hercules (Brett Goldstein) to put a hurting on Thor (Chris Hemsworth) since he, Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson), and Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) embarrassed Zeus by stealing his thunderbolt. It’s not surprising that the MCU would be full of gods we haven’t met yet.
That doesn’t mean that “The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special” potentially confirming Ares’ existence when a tourist refers to Drax (Dave Bautista) as the “god of war” isn’t a fun, potentially thrilling Easter egg. In Marvel Comics lore, Ares is a member of the Olympians. He’s also one of Zeus’s sons. In terms of temperament, though, Ares is closer to Loki than the God of Thunder. Ares attempted to take over Olympus on multiple occasions and is generally villainous and a schemer on every conceivable level. He would be a compelling addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
There’s another possibility where this reference is concerned though. Drax’s massive build and shaved head bear an aesthetic resemblance to Kratos, the protagonist of the “God of War” video game series. It could be that the tourists who call Drax the “god of war” are referring to him and not Ares. Either way, it’s a throwaway line that yields canon-enhancing comedy gold.
The cast includes multiple members of James Gunn’s family
That same sequence isn’t just notable for the GoBots. James Gunn has always cast friends and family in fun or notable roles. Sean Gunn, James Gunn’s brother, reprises his role as Kraglin Obfonteri here, and he’s not the only Gunn who shows up in the special. When Mantis and Drax get roped into taking photos with tourists because they are attired like performers dressed as superheroes, a family rushes to get a snapshot with them. The mother of this family is played by Michelle Gunn, who is James Gunn’s sister-in-law.
She’s not the only interesting bit of casting in the sequence. A performer dressed who’s as a solid-gold living statue is played by Don McLeod. This appears to be the same Don McLeod who played serial killer T.C. Quist in 1981’s “The Howling,” Joe Dante’s legendary horror film about a mysterious colony where werewolves exist. James Gunn cut his teeth making barebones horror movies, so McLeod’s presence in the movie, however minimal, feels like a treat for eagle-eyed viewers. Finally, Flula Borg — who stole scenes as Javelin in James Gunn’s “The Suicide Squad” — makes a brief but chuckle-inducing appearance as a bartender at a gay bar.
Drax and Mantis use a star map to visit real-life, now MCU-canon celebrities
20th Century Fox
Following a joyous drinking session at the previously mentioned gay bar, Drax and Mantis are inebriated and farther behind on their quest to find Kevin Bacon than anticipated. Luckily, a shifty woman (Rusty Schwimmer) sells them a star map for 40 bucks. An illustrated map then flies across the screen, showing Mantis and Drax’s journey to Kevin Bacon’s abode. They stop at, in order, Olivia Wilde, Queen Latifah, John Cena, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Topher Grace’s homes before they reach Mr. Bacon.
There are a lot of fun nuggets to unpack here. For one, Bacon’s house is the sixth stop on Drax and Mantis’s star map journey. That means they are technically six degrees from Kevin Bacon when they begin their L.A.-based search. For another, it makes Wilde, Latifah, Cena, Schwarzenegger, and Grace all Earth 616 MCU canon. That creates no shortage of narrative wrinkles (if John Cena is MCU-canon, does that mean the DCEU James Gunn now oversees is also Marvel canon? More on that in a bit), but it’s also an eclectic and fun arrangement of actors in its own right. If the next five “Guardians” holiday specials are deleted scenes of Mantis and Drax’s encounters with these performers, audiences could do far worse.
Kevin Bacon is watching Santa Claus Conquers the Martians before he gets kidnapped
There’s no shortage of great Christmas horror movies. There are, sadly, far fewer sci-fi and Christmas crossovers. “The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special” is now one of them, and “Santa Claus Conquers the Martians,” an inexplicably real movie directed by Nicholas Webster in 1964, is another.
I am so thrilled to report that “Santa Claus Conquers the Martians” is almost exactly what it sounds like. Jolly ol’ Saint Nick (John Call) is abducted by residents of Mars because they’ve determined their children need fun and freedom to evolve their stymied development. Santa changes martian culture; all are overjoyed. If this sounds insane, rest assured that it is. “Santa Claus Conquers the Martians” is an ode to the power of free thinking, one born of the radical 1960s and all the better for it. It’s a very bizarre blast.
Fittingly, it’s the movie that’s playing on Kevin Bacon’s TV screen seconds before the actor gets kidnapped by extraterrestrials. The use of “Santa Claus Conquers the Martians” is more than a cheeky reference, though. Drax and Mantis are kidnapping Kevin Bacon to break Peter Quill out of his self-imposed sad stasis. That’s an issue of needing Christmas to evolve. What’s more, Kevin Bacon’s arrival in Knowhere transforms the entire city into a proverbial winter wonderland. Drax and Mantis don’t just kidnap Kevin Bacon the way the martians did Santa Claus; Kevin Bacon transforms Peter Quill and Knowhere like Saint Nick did with a whole alien race. It’s a clever, thematically resonant Easter egg.
Henry Winkler and Batman are MCU canon
Once Kevin Bacon is kidnapped and whisked to Knowhere, you would think there’d be fewer Easter eggs to find in “The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special.” You’d be wrong. During an impromptu conversation with Drax and Mantis, Mantis asks Kevin Bacon if he knows The Fonz. Mantis is referring to the legendary character played by Henry Winkler on the television show “Happy Days.” Kevin Bacon confirms that, yes, he knows Henry Winkler and that Henry Winkler is a lovely man. He goes on to confirm the existence of Batman, but only as a character who appears in movies.
The latter point isn’t particularly shocking since “Eternals” also contained a massive DCEU reference. But, still, this raises a ton of brain-melting questions. Henry Winkler recently appeared in the DCEU project “Black Adam.” Does this mean that the DCEU we’re watching in our reality is the same one occupied by the characters of the MCU? (The “She-Hulk” finale would suggest that, yes, this is the case.) If that’s true, do DC movies simply exist as fictional tales about superheroes despite the fact that there are a ton of real, actual Marvel superheroes going about their business each and every day? Does a movie like “Black Adam” feel far less fantastical and silly in a world where The Blip has happened?
In fairness, “Black Adam” would be silly in any permutation across the multiverse. But James Gunn playing fast and loose with the reality of who actors are and what they do in the MCU opens the gateway to a ton of meta-questions and future Easter eggs to come.
Taserface gets a Christmas gift
Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Poor Taserface (Chris Sullivan). Taserface exists to get mocked and bested by Rocket (Bradley Cooper). His name is literally “Taserface,” which feels appropriate, and he is a punching bag for both an anthropomorphic raccoon and the Ravagers at large. If there can be justice for Barb on “Stranger Things,” surely there can be justice for a man whose face looks tasered to shreds?
“The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special” gives Taserface his due. During its heart-shredding conclusion, the audience learns that Yandu didn’t actually smash Peter’s Christmas tree to bits and leave it at that. He corrected his Scrooge-like ways and hooked the Ravagers and Peter up with holiday gifts. Peter’s gift, crucially, is a set of blasters that he will use in both “Guardians” movies. Even more movingly, though, is a gift revealed when Peter retrieves his gift from the pile. There is a tiny gift below it, bearing the inscription “Tazr Face.”
Taserface, like all of us, is deserving of love. That’s the thesis of “The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special.” No matter how cynical we are about the holidays or what family we find ourselves with on December 25th, Christmas offers one day of the year when kindness is the assumed language of human communication. That is worth celebrating no matter what. James Gunn’s special does so through its main story and Easter eggs alike. That makes it worthy of repeat viewings, no matter what you’re looking for.
“The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special” is now streaming on Disney+.