Simply put, it’s the perfect chemistry of Brie Larson, Teyonah Parris, Iman Vellani, and above all else, director Nia DaCosta’s strong ear for humor in The Marvels, the MCU’s latest team-up movie, that deserves the highest praise.
Though you can mostly skate by refreshing on MCU lore, The Marvels is mostly a sequel to Captain Marvel. After avenging the Supreme Intelligence, Carol Danvers (the cosmic “Annihilator”) unknowingly inserts herself into the Kree/Skrull civil war, bearing the guilt and responsibility of a fight she never intended. In connection to particular Kree events from Captain Marvel, superfan Kamala Khan and S.A.B.R.E. astronaut Monica Rambeau become entangled in an electromagnetic adventure in Captain Marvel’s pursuit of a dangerous Kree revolutionary.
To no one’s surprise, Iman Vellani’s Kamala Khan, aka Ms. Marvel, is a true standout of The Marvels, who elicits the film’s best laugh-out-loud reactions. Vellani perfectly embodies what I imagine a Swiftie’s reaction might be upon meeting the legendary pop star; her hardcore stanning is just that infectious. Considering Vellani’s genuine obsession with the MCU, you must appreciate both the actor’s — and the character’s — genuine glee to be swept into the superhero world. They say “don’t meet your heroes,” but tell that to Kamala Khan, and it’ll absorb through one bangle and out the other.
That’s not to say the other two leads don’t hold their own. For all the unfair, online toxicity hurled Brie Larson’s way, she still portrays Carol Danvers with undeniable charm, with a real talent for turning humor on and off faster than the speed of light. Teyonah Parris also builds more layers upon WandaVision’s Monica Rambeau by further exploring The Blip’s psychological consequences — all while upping the importance of the character for future entries, and fans will be really excited about where the MCU’s headed.
It’s impressive how much past and present MCU lore is stuffed into Marvel’s shortest entry. The Marvels wastes zero time kicking off, with the unstable teleportation seen in the trailers, to the hilarious reactions of the Khan family. As a result, we get a hell of a joyride, and The Marvels is the type of blockbuster you can easily catch yourself casually throwing on TV precisely because of the brisk pacing.
On the other hand, there’s a glaring feeling that The Marvels was caught amid an executive tug of war. Marvel’s ongoing content splurge across film and TV forced a dilemma you’d never think the brand would struggle up against: Recognizing what deserves to be a movie, versus what merits a lengthier television series — a problem raised as far back as The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. Well, The Marvels is another example of indecisiveness, or maybe more precisely, incorrect corporate vision.
The film’s literal core occurs in a blink-and-you-miss-it flashback scene that drives the entire conflict, which should have served more naturally as the film’s cold open. It’s especially confusing if you haven’t done your due diligence MCU homework. Overall, it’s confusing why this flashback wasn’t chosen to establish the film’s context to ground the viewer into the movie from the get-go.
The issue doesn’t end there. Danvers’, Rambeau’s, and Khan’s character arcs fight for screen time in an already thin movie. Consider Carol Danvers and her massive influence within the Kree/Skrull war; Monica Rambeau’s struggle to identify herself as her own hero; and Kamala Khan’s balance of teenagehood and family life while being ushered into a world much more significant than hers. All of this exists in The Marvels, but it’s unfortunately presented more like a list of bullet points instead of plot development, and you can tell someone (or multiple someones) was fighting for a larger canvas.
Which is all more the shame when The Marvels screeches to a halt before revving up again. Midway through, there’s a particular love-it-or-hate-it sequence — you’ll know the one — with no business existing in the film. Granted, it’s a harmless moment played for laughs, yet still a gag that hinges unfortunately on the point of embarrassment for Larson who, we’re well aware, has mixed feelings about the whole gig. It’s a scene that would have fit right at home in an alternate D+ version, but here? How about a sharp lesson of what to cut from an already crisp runtime.
Yes, The Marvels is another example of inconsistent, and at times questionable special effects execution on yet another massive budget. What deserves exceptional praise, however, is the glimmer of B-movie sci-fi cinematography that DaCosta creeps through the temporal cracks, until the film wrestles itself away in favor of passable MCU action schlock. This moment occurs in space during one of the first fights between Captain Marvel and the Kree. The actors, adorned in alien makeup, fool no one about that they’re working off an obvious sound stage, and they enter the scene in sync like they’re in a video game. And I wish The Marvels dug deeper into the classic Doctor Who aesthetic, because those Kree designs are some superb, Grade-A camp.
The Marvels continues the current MCU streak of sloppy storytelling — not to mention a cynical (but still fun) slapped-together mid-credit scene designed purely to sell more tickets — and we’re still trapped in that tug-of-war era of uncertainty with these Marvel projects. And yet, it still succeeds as a primarily standalone project — and who could forget Goose! Despite it all, DaCosta and her three stars wager pure fun above anything else, and The Marvels is a frenetic joyride full of riotous moments that audiences will recite on the walk back to their vehicles.
‘The Marvels’ feels like it should have been developed as a Disney+ project, but Larson, Parris, and Villani’s full commitment promise a nonstop, frenetic team-up movie—and who could forget Goose!