'The Marvels' Review
November 8, 2023
The Marvels comes to us suffering from a clear case of the “yes… buts.” It’s a rapidly progressive disease that’s been plaguing many MCU projects now that we’ve reached the middle age of this mega-franchise. Let’s run down all the places this disease is showing.
Yes, the special effects look better than the unfinished slop within Black Panther: Wakanda Forever and Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania… but they still somehow look worse than the majority of what's come before. Yes, the central trio of Brie Larson, Teyonah Parris, and Iman Vellani share great chemistry together… but much of their time is spent delivering inanely convoluted exposition about why this movie needs to exist. Yes, the fight choreography is pretty creative when the heroes fully harness their powers… but it gets pretty choppy whenever the camera isn’t in a wide shot. Yes, the main villain has a semi-compelling justification for her actions… but that reasoning happens offscreen and her plan involves yet another skybeam. This list could fill the rest of this review… but that would be as interesting as having yet another debate over whether superhero fatigue is real or not (see what I did there?).
I hope you aced your Kree and Skrull history exams because you’re going to need all your knowledge to understand the machinations of what’s happening here. I'm not up to date on current events (a symptom of not caring about the television shows), so there may be some tiny gaps in this retelling. But I doubt there are many people left that could fully comprehend and connect the dots anymore. There’s been a war between the Kree and Skrull that has left both sides in ruin: The Kree’s homeworld is desolate and the Skrull are discriminated refugees. The leader of the Kree, Dar-Benn (Zawe Ashton), has come upon a powerful bengal that gives her the strength of a god, more than enough to rally her armies and steal the natural resources of the neighboring planets.
The uncovering of this bengal has created a wormhole in time and space, entangling the powers of Carol Danvers aka Captain Marvel (Brie Larson), Kamala Khan aka Ms. Marvel (Iman Vellani), and Monica Rambeau (Teyonah Parris). This trio must overcome the learning curve and work together if they want to stop Dar-Benn and save the countless lives being affected by her reign.
Talented indie director Nia DaCosta takes over from duo Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, who always seemed out of their element in a $150+ million behemoth. DaCosta fares a little better at the helm, keeping things zippy as we move from one planet to another, some of which I would have liked to spend a little more time at. She does have the benefit of a warmly welcomed shortened runtime (105 minutes) and no need to tell a boilerplate origin story for any of these characters.
Even with all those “character building” requirements out of the way, the character of Captain Marvel still remains blandly two-dimensional. She has the same curse as DC’s Superman: Too powerful to feel like any villain is a threat, which forces the writers (DaCosta, Megan McDonnell, Elissa Karasik) to create a potential universe-ending catastrophe, which has become so tiring at this point. Larson has a clear grasp on the smaller character moments, even overcoming some of the shoddy greenscreens that she’s forced to deliver them on. But her attempts at humorous quips and iconic lines feel forced, almost as if she’s still not comfortable fully embracing this persona.
Someone who has welcomed her cape is Iman Vellani. She’s Peter Parker to Larson’s Tony Stark, a bright young hero who wants to do good in the world, but just doesn’t know what her place is. There are a few moments clearly inspired by her show, a necessary boost of youthful energy to lift the spirits of the more professional adults. Parris (reuniting with DaCosta after Candyman) greatly benefits from the work she put into WandaVision, with this being a further fleshing out of her character.
All that can be said about The Marvels is that it is passably fine. It’s not bad enough to be a catalyst in the downfall of the MCU, nor it is good enough to be its savior (not that one movie should bear that unfathomable struggle). It inoffensively slots in with the rest of the forgettable middle-of-the-pack entries, rarely to be talked about again. Mission accomplished, I guess?