Throughout the MCU's Phase 4 slate, fans have gotten another round of top-notch villains with countless ties to Marvel's past and present.
Spider-Man: No Way Home brought back five iconic antagonists, most notably Willem Dafoe's take on the Green Goblin as he brought another round of chaos for a new Spider-Man to deal with. Before that, Phase 4's first two projects tied back to the MCU's earliest days with the real Mandarin arriving in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings and Dreykov coming into the light in Black Widow.
Disney+ has also had its fair share of iconic big bads, from the powerful witch Agatha Harkness in WandaVision to Vincent D'Onofrio's iconic Kingpin in Hawkeye, with more of those antagonists on the way in Phase 5 as well.
However, as Phase 4 ends with the Guardians' Holiday Special, this new Disney+ entry becomes the first MCU project in history to make the call it makes with regard to a villain.
Disney+ Sets New MCU Mark With No Villain
During an interview with Variety, MCU director James Gunn confirmed that The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special doesn't have a villain, making it the first MCU project in history to go without an antagonist.
Gunn revealed that "there's no bad guy in this one," reminiscing on how every other MCU project has featured at least one nemesis:
"One thing that’s cool about it is there’s no bad guy in this one. There haven’t been any Marvel stories that I can remember where there hasn’t been a bad guy of some type."
A few MCU movies and shows have toed the line of including characters that aren't all-out villains with reasoned arguments. This is particularly the case in the Black Panther franchise, with MCU newcomer Tenoch Huerta arguing that the sequel's Namor isn't really that much of a villain.
Some can even reason with Thanos' motivations, from a certain point of view. However, the Holiday Special now officially becomes the first MCU project to not feature a villainous force at all.
Gunn then explained that he "wrote a treatment" with another bigger threat for the Guardians to face, which even included Kevin Bacon "[jumping] around and...performing action stunts." But in the end, there was no interest for Gunn in that bigger threat, leading him to make something much more personal:
"Before I wrote the screenplay, I wrote a treatment, and in the treatment there was this other threat. I just realized that I wasn’t interested in this other thing. There was an action sequence at the end where Kevin Bacon jumped around and was performing action stunts, which would have been pretty cool, but the threat didn’t interest me at all. What interested me was the interaction between the characters. So I just cut that out and made it a story about people."
Gunn also revealed that he wrote the special "in three days" as he worked on Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, noting how easy it was due to the stakes being so low:
"In all honesty, I wrote the special in three days. Literally, there were no notes from Marvel and nothing changed except for that I occasionally add things while we’re shooting. It was really easy and it stayed easy throughout and that was great because “Vol. 3 is actually very emotional. We shot them both simultaneously, so shooting “Vol. 3” for a few days, which was tough going, and then having a day off to shoot this show was fun. Because the stakes on this were low. It was just goofy."
Gunn has touched on how hard filming the third and final Guardians movie was in prior interviews, previously describing the process as "torture."
Guardians Special Marks Unique MCU Occurrence
Considering the Holiday Special is largely focused on celebrating the holiday season, it's not too much of a shock to see that there is no villain for the Guardians to face.
The special's first trailer teased how the team was looking to give Peter Quill a special Christmas with his thoughts lingering on Gamora after her disappearance. Combine that with the project's nature as a light-hearted story, and it became clear to Gunn that there wasn't a need for a bad guy that the Guardians would have to battle in order to save Christmas.
Thankfully, the team will have no shortage of antagonists moving forward, as Chukwudi Iwuji is set to play arguably their most challenging foe yet, the High Evolutionary, in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3.
That movie will debut in theaters on May 5, 2023.