Carol Danvers gets her powers entangled with those of Kamala Khan and Monica Rambeau, forcing them to work together to save the universe. (from IMDB)
Alas, poor Marvel, I knew them well, Dear Reader. It's unfortunate to find myself utterly befuddled by the studio's latest cinematic entry. The Marvel Cinematic Universe, which launched in 2008 with Iron Man, now sees its 33rd episode with The Marvels. Serving as a sort-of direct sequel to 2019's Captain Marvel, as well as the Disney Plus series Ms. Marvel AND WandaVision, The Marvels has a lot to accomplish in its brisk hour-and-forty-five-minute runtime... and ultimately doesn't seem to accomplish much of anything. You'd think that, with the 2019 movie and two Disney Plus series, not to mention one huge Avengers movie where Captain Marvel makes an impact, that The Marvels would have a staggering impact on the MCU going forward. However, it doesn't seem to. And if it does, everyone responsible for this movie failed miserably at accomplishing that goal.
While many complained about Captain Marvel when it came out, I actually didn't mind it much. Sure, while Brie Larson is an Academy-Award-winning actress, she indeed lacked charisma and charm as the title character, but for the most part, I found the movie to be pretty decent and still quite entertaining. But since the MCU made Carol Danvers' Captain Marvel seemingly the most powerful being in the universe, it started to feel a bit like Marvel was already losing its footing. When a hero is that powerful, one has to wonder what can't they do, and the character no longer seems all that interesting. Even her brief appearances bookending Avengers: Endgame made it seem like there was no contest with her. She didn't even really earn her strength -- she just kinda stumbled onto it.
Still, I want to give Larson and the popular comic book character their fair shake. I admit I avoided the Ms. Marvel show like the plague, mostly because I'm clearly not the target age (or gender) audience for that show, but I decided to binge it right before seeing The Marvels so I could enter in with a frame of reference. As I had worried, I found Ms. Marvel an absolute chore to get through (with its six overlong, drawn-out episodes), but my feelings towards Iman Vellani's performance as Kamala Khan / Ms. Marvel did soften considerably after actually watching the show. In short, her character is basically like watching the biggest teenage fan of a rock band getting to meet their heroes and share the stage with them. She's Captain Marvel's biggest fangirl, which was a little cute and relatable in the show, but when she finally teams with Carol in The Marvels, that wonderment and awe feels oddly unearned for Carol. We've only seen Carol fully as Captain Marvel at the end of her 2019 movie and in Endgame, so we haven't gotten a feel for who she truly is as a superhero yet. Tony Stark meeting a superfan in Iron Man 3 made more sense -- especially since it wasn't just his third feature-length outing, but we also saw him featured in 2012's Avengers. The Marvels steals a page out of the DC Extended Universe's playbook by rushing to the finish line without taking the time to properly setup the pay-off. The Marvels references things Carol has done in the past decades, but we haven't really seen any of it. Then we have Monica Rambeau who was barely even a footnote in the WandaVision series, but she's treated as a valued peer of Captain Marvel in this film. I saw a comment online describing The Marvels as fun, but it felt more like Captain Marvel 3 because there felt like a whole lot of story was missing between the two movies. A true Captain Marvel 2 - featuring Monica Rambeau's character, maybe - and perhaps a second season of Ms. Marvel, would have positioned The Marvels to execute all it sets out to do a lot better. The movie seems to think we've all been clamoring to see these three unite, but it probably is too premature.
But then again, would it really have been better? Most likely in an effort to avoid the superhero genre's typical formula (this is the 33rd Marvel movie in their cinematic universe, after all), director Nia DaCosta (2021's Candyman) doesn't take the time to set up the story of The Marvels from the start. She dives right in without identifying the villains very clearly, and it leaves the viewer trying hard to follow along as if they're watching a foreign film with no subtitles to translate. She does provide exposition to recap Carol's backstory, but she waits far too long to do the same for the far more obscure Monica Rambeau (for those of you reading and still wondering who on earth that is, she was the daughter of Carol's bestie, Maria, who ends up infiltrating Wanda / Scarlet Witch's force-field around her enchanted town in WandaVision. By forcing her way through the impenetrable barrier, she was given light-based powers that allow her to "see" things. Nick Fury then immediately enlists her help and that's where we last see her). And, while a shorter runtime might sound appealing, the movie does feel edited to within an inch of its life. Some scenes take their time to breathe, while others feel like they're being rushed through. (And still others, ironically, feel like filler.)
And then there's some absolutely nonsensical story elements. In the 90's and early 00's, it seemed common for movies to take a side character that stole the show in a movie and expand their role into something far too long in the franchise's sequel (Men In Black II with Frank the pug, and Sam Witwicky's parents in Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen immediately come to mind). For The Marvels, it's Goose the cat...errr... "Flerkin." It's an alien race that resembles Earth cats but are really something far more menacing. In Captain Marvel, Goose had melted the stoney heart of Nick Fury and shocked audiences when it'd open its mouth for huge tentacles to come launching out to snare and consume hostiles. This time around, while it's awesome at first to see Goose accompany Carol on her quest, the filmmakers never get a clue as to when they have too much of a good thing, and they massively abuse Goose's abilities, and the Flerkin in general, before the end of the movie. And while Kamala's Pakistani family were a warm and likeable presence in Ms. Marvel, they're shoehorned into this story, and taken along for the ride, just in order to keep having them show up here and there for no significant reason. And much like Sam's parents in Transformers, they wear out their welcome much too early in the story. (It would have been plenty if we last saw them at their house, let's put it that way.)
And if that all wasn't bad enough, the heroic trio find themselves on a water planet where the natives sing as their primary form of communication. It's cringy to begin with, but when there's an unnecessary ballroom dance sequence with "Queen" Carol Danvers (Yup...), it turns into a full on Disney-style musical number. Monica and Kamala look on in bewilderment asking the same thing we're all thinking - what the heck is going on? - but even acknowledging its randomness doesn't alleviate its squirm-inducing awkwardness.
But what keeps me from slapping a 1-star rating on this one is that there are some entertaining moments that creep into the hot mess that is The Marvels. Larson does her best to loosen Carol up a lot more this time around, even if it doesn't always work. And the fact she's playing third fiddle in her own movie makes it tough to get close to her character in the process. Teyonah Parris is fine as Monica Rambeau, but she carries such bitterness towards Carol for "not being there" in her life that it actually hinders the likeability of her character -- right when we need to be investing ourselves in her development. When Iman's Kamala isn't awkwardly squealing at being in the presence of Carol, she's still a likeable and relatable kid. Perhaps younger audiences can connect with her better than the older ones, but her immature and childish behavior isn't always as cute or endearing as the filmmakers think it is.
Samuel L. Jackson follows up his gloomy and brooding Fury from Secret Invasion with a far more fun and wisecracking Nick Fury here. It screams inconsistency, but his character ends up being a bright spot in the movie. A couple other female cameos pop up here and there - some that make very little sense contextually (right now, at least), but they also feel like important scenes are missing that explain these interactions. (One in particular towards the end is especially weird when a character seems to be taking up Fury's mantle in a similar role of recruitment.)
The most memorable moments in the movie are undoubtedly the body-swapping action scenes early on, which, while dizzying to follow, offer some amusing and entertaining fisticuffs where one hero using their powers causes another to just show up in their place -- no matter where they are. Sure, it's hard to keep track of visually at times, but it is something fresh and new for the franchise at least.
The content for The Marvels is honestly barely PG-13. I think this might be the lightest of the MCU movies so far. There is some mild language, specifically 3 uses of the "S" word, and about 14 uses of "Oh my G-d" as an exclamation (which might ALL be from Kamala?), but the only other caution is the violence. Some is lethal, but most of it isn't, and it's rather bloodless. The action scenes get pretty violent, but we also find that some seemingly fatal moments are actually anything but. (I shouldn't spoil it.) And, at the risk of spoiling a very brief cameo, Tessa Thompson's Valkyrie from the Thor sequels shows up to lend a hand in one scene. While it's ever-so-brief, she shares a little intimate moment with Carol where she holds her hands and encourages her. And before Valkyrie departs, she plants a friendly kiss on Carol's cheek and then leaves. Now, in all honesty, I think it feels like just a warm, friendly moment of sisterhood between the two, but I've already seen people freaking out in favor of a full-blown romance between the two. That isn't just unnecessary, but it really continues the trend of devaluing same-sex friendships, which can be some of the most meaningful friendships in our lives. Guys can actually have close guy friends and girls can actually have close girl friends without there having to be something romantic between them. After seeing the scene for myself, I feel it's safe to say that - for now, at least - although it's been established in Thor: Love and Thunder that Valkyrie is a lesbian, there didn't seem to be anything more between her and Carol to make a fuss about.
When all is said and done, I think it's safe to say that The Marvels may just be the absolute lowest point in the MCU so far -- although Eternals is right there at the bottom, too. (I always even forget that movie exists, which tells you something about it right there.) I can say with certainty, The Marvels' shortcomings have nothing really to do with having strong female leads - it tries its best to be a light and fun movie; it's just a poorly directed, poorly edited, and poorly written one. (I haven't even mentioned how forgettable this movie's villain is... mostly because I forgot her completely when writing the first draft of this review.) It may be time for the MCU to take a break to restructure and rethink their path, because as it stands, it looks as though as this Marvel Cinematic Universe - which, at one time, was something to really get excited about - has finally run its course.
(If you're wondering, there is one bonus scene during the credits, but there isn't anything else after the credits finish rolling.)
Disclaimer: All reviews are based solely on the opinions of the reviewer. Most reviews are rated on how the reviewer enjoyed the film overall, not exclusively on content. However, if the content really affects the reviewer's opinion and experience of the film, it will definitely affect the reviewer's overall rating.
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