When it comes to Marvel Studios lately one saying comes to mind – what goes up, must come down. For over a decade the acclaimed studio has enjoyed their time on top, delivering hit after hit and the success and notoriety that came with it. But with that success comes expectations, both realistic and unrealistic. We expect every film with the Marvel Studios logo and fanfare to be a pop cultural event and easily crash theaters servers, selling out for weeks. We also expect each film to grow in continuity within the ‘saga’ that has been mapped out. Lastly we expect a good story.
Phase’s 1-3 minus a couple of hiccups pulled off the impossible but post Endgame, the load has become too cumbersome to bear. Phase’s 4 and 5 subsequently known as the ‘Multiverse Saga’ hasn’t lived up to the expectations that the studio inexplicably set for itself during the first decade. The funnel has become flooded with numerous projects all with the same burden and unrealistic expectations to connect with each other and eventually lead into the next two Avengers films. And after a while, the weight is too strenuous – The Marvels, the sequel to 2019’s Captain Marvel crumbles under pressure before it gets a chance to prove the forecast wrong.
There was a time at the height of the MCU where you could jump right in with no prior context and easily pick up the narrative thread and not feel lost. Those days are gone with the inclusion of 9 Disney plus shows that all have their own agenda. Characters that get introduced may pop up in a film and The Marvels requires its viewers to do a little extra homework before deciding to jump without looking. Both Wandavision and Ms. Marvel have to be watched to not get lost in the mayhem of the next big screen team up.
The Marvels follows Carol Danvers aka Captain Marvel (Brie Larson), Monica Rambeau (Teyonah Parris), and Kamala Khan aka Ms. Marvel (Iman Vellani) as their similar energy based powers become entangled due to an anomaly in space and the three switch places whenever their powers get used. Written by Megan McDonnell, Elissa Karasik and Nia DaCosta, the latter also directing, The Marvels bites off more than it can chew. For one, similar to a majority of the films and shows, The Marvels suffers from a villain problem with no development, motivations and recycled powers that have been done before.
Opening on Dar-Benn (Zawe Ashton), a Kree revolutionary in her search for the Quantum Bands, one of them already belonging to Kamala, Dar-Benn’s mission is to return the Kree home planet Hala back to its former glory after Carol known to Kree as the Annihilator destroyed the Supreme Intelligence in her 2019 origin story. But that’s where the villain issues start within the scattered narrative the trio of writers lay out – Dar-Benn’s purpose and motivation is never given the same depth that the rare few villains that stand out among the sea of mediocracy have been given. Dar-Benn is just another unremarkable villain that will soon be forgotten once minute 105 wraps up.
An extension of the villain issues the MCU suffers from is the stakes. With the multiverse saga well underway, the stakes have failed to come close to anything that the threat of Thanos promised. There are multiple universes to borrow from if a hero gets lost or killed. Problem solved. But again, this is the MCU, and death never stays final – unless you’re Quicksilver. Since Phase 4, I’ve openly been critical of the lack of stakes – there’s no real danger to any population, heroes always come out unscathed after a boss battle, ready to fight another day. Nothing happens that warrants the anticipation for the next film to get here immediately, that we can’t bear the months long wait.
A marvel film has turned into hoping for the best but expecting the worst.
But The Marvels is not without its redemption. Featuring 3 leads, the chemistry between Larson, Parris and Vellani is unmatched, resembling the early chemistry between Evans, Downey Jr, and Hemsworth. Every interaction between the three ladies hits its mark, delivering on the promise this specific team up teased in the Kamala fan fiction when DaCosta reintroduces us to her. Out of the 3, The Marvels is Iman Vellani’s moment to once again shine and applaud in her casting, she effortlessly soaks up all of the spotlight away from Larson and Parris. To Vellani’s credit, she’s a complete natural with the most sincerest charisma and likability. Even Vellani’s choreography has been upgraded during the few action sequences. How do you not get lost in the energy she brings– she was made for this role.
Not to discredit Parris and Larson who both turn out solid performances as one would expect from their lived-in characters – it’s the further depth to their characters relationship that’s sorely lacking. From the supporting cast, Samuel L. Jackson’s Nicholas J Fury is as reliable as they come in the MVU and for what she’s given Zawe Ashton turns in a well acted MCU debut. Rounding out the supporting cast is a return from Kamala’s overbearing but firm parents and older brother Muneeba (Zenobia Shroff), Yusef (Mohan Kapur) and Aamir (Saagar Shaikh).
The outspoken and under-appreciated delight of The Marvels is still Goose the flerken.
Being an MCU film, the tone stays fairly lighthearted and family friendly with the Khan family offering the majority of the humor that’s come to be expected. The gimmick of power entanglement that leads to the constant switching shines during the action sequences and causes some of the films humor. Outside of the Khan’s, the humor feels forced and gets stale quickly when its left to supporting characters. The 4 family members pick up right where they left off in Ms. Marvel, breaking the tiny bits of tension with hardened looks of disapproval toward the situation Kamala gets roped into. They have grown however as they trust their daughter to save the world. The family aspect and chemistry between the Khan keeps The Marvels grounded, holding the strands together while Nia DaCosta does what she can to keep the film from fully unravelling.
The MCU desperately needs to get back on track. While each new addition to the biggest franchise in film history isn’t doing much to move the needle as of late, it’s at the point where we just want a good film. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 3 excluded. The Marvels has its good qualities and when those qualities are front and center, there is plenty to enjoy. What has plagued a majority of the cinematic universe in phases 4 and 5 remains to be the biggest question mark going forward. But there is hope for moving in the right direction. Whatever plans Feige has for the remained of the Multiverse saga, Iman Vellani should be in the conversation.
Screenplay By: Megan McDonnell, Elissa Karasik & Nia DaCosta
Directed By: Nia DaCosta
Music By: Laura Karpman
Cinematography: Sean Bobbitt
Starring: Brie Larson, Teyonah Parris, Iman Vellani, Zawe Ashton, Gary Lewis, Zenobia Shroff, Mohan Kapur, Saagar Shaikh, Samuel L. Jackson
Edited By: Catrin Hedström
Release Date: November 10, 2023
Running Time: 1 Hour 45 Minutes
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 61%
Based On: Characters by Marvel Comics