‘The Marvels’ Bring Fun Back to the Marvel Cinematic Universe
Nov 14, 2023   •   Mikhail Lecaros
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Nov 14, 2023   •   Mikhail Lecaros
Captain Marvel returns, and this time, she’s got company in the forms of Monica Rambeau and Kamala Khan! But with 2019’s Captain Marvel proving divisive among fans, and the MCU having lost some of its luster, can The Marvels bring back the glory days of superhero cinema?
Carol Danvers, aka Captain Marvel (Brie Larson, Scott Pilgrim, Room) is in a cosmic bind, as she finds herself linked with S.A.B.E.R. Agent Monica Rambeau (Teyonah Parris, Candyman) or Kamala Khan (the effervescent Iman Vellani, of Disney+’s Ms. Marvel). With the three physically switching places whenever they use their powers at the same time, complications arise as the remnants of the Kree Empire wreak havoc on an unsuspecting universe.
While Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson, The Hitman’s Bodyguard) tries to keep Earth safe, Carol, Monica, and Kamala have to work together to unlink their powers and be the heroes they were always meant to be.
The Marvels arrives at a critical time for the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) – bogged down by a succession of lackluster sequels ranging from banal to outright dire, and multiple lackluster TV offerings (Secret Invasion was a crime against pop culture), we’re a long way from when seeing these things counted as essential viewing.
This isn’t to say that there haven’t been good entries in the years since 2019’s Avengers Endgame (as the likes of Spider-Man: No Way Home, Wakanda Forever, and Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 3 will readily attest), there just hasn’t been any compelling reason to see these movies anymore aside from our pre-existing love of the MCU characters.
Unlike the buildup to the first Avengers film, when we couldn’t wait to see the heroes unite, or Infinity War, which wove a decade’s worth of storylines together, we no longer have an overarching sense of where anything is going. Exacerbating matters is the slew of Disney+ series that only served to dilute the brand, while simultaneously challenging all but the most diehard fans to keep up with it all.
Which, of course, is massively ironic, considering that the entire reason the MCU succeeded at all was its ability to distill Marvel’s most famous characters into audience-friendly blockbusters that didn’t require 80+ years of comic book knowledge to understand what was going on.
It was one thing to watch two to three movies a year, but when Disney decided they needed multiple concurrent live-action series, standalone specials, and an animated series on top of that, they only succeeded in oversaturating the very audience they’d created.
Superhero fatigue, thy name is Disney, and you’ve only yourselves to blame.
All of that being said, The Marvels is a whole lot of fun, building on the foundation of 2019’s Captain Marvel, and injecting the sequel with much-needed levity. The joy here is in seeing the interactions between Carol, Monica, and Kamala; unlike the much-derided bit in Endgame that had everyone with a uterus spontaneously gather for a group shot mid-battle, The Marvels actually gives them a reason to work together.
Larson’s Danvers remains stoic as ever, leaving the comedy in the capable hands of Parris and Vellani, who make wonderful foils to the former’s somewhat aloof performance. Amusingly, it works, as Carol gets to be the stern elder sister of the group, while Monica juggles exploring her new powers with the emotional trauma of being reunited with someone she’d thought lost for decades, and Kamala is just happy to be there.
The interplay between the three elevates every scene they’re in, as Monica and Kamala gush at the intergalactic shenanigans taking place, while Larson struggles to maintain her composure, especially during a memorable (if all-too-brief) sequence with Park Seo-joon’s (Concrete Utopia) alien prince. The primary cast’s chemistry extends to the imaginatively staged fight sequences, where director Nia DaCosta (Candyman) lets the heroes’ personas shine through via the VFX-powered choreography.
While the film scores top Bechdel marks in having three female leads working together towards a common goal, it hits a snag with its main hero and villain. The baddie, Dar-Benn (Zawe Ashton, Velvet Buzzsaw) is as standard-issue as they come, hellbent on a quest for revenge so generic, you’ll forget it the second you leave the cinema. A last-minute attempt to tie her mission into Carol’s character growth falls flat, as Larson doesn’t deliver the emotionality required by the revelation.
While Larson does try to inject more personality into her performance this time around, she never quite shakes the impression that she sees herself as being somehow above everything going on around her. Granted, this is a series with tentacle-mouthed alien cat creatures, so a suspension of disbelief was always going to be a given – one just wonders if anyone ever told Larson that.
Whether you’ve seen the Ms. Marvel TV series or not (and you really should, it’s genuinely good), Iman Vellani straight up steals the show here as Avengers-fangirl-turned-superhero Kamala Khan. The New Jersey-based Pakistani-American daughter of straight-laced immigrants, Kamala has looked up to Carol her entire life, and when she finds herself face to face with her favorite superhero, she reacts in pretty much the way any of us would if we met an Avenger.
The exuberance and excitement of Vellani are infectious, selling just how incredible the worlds these characters inhabit are, and what untapped wonders remain to be experienced. If ever there was a character to introduce a new generation of heroes via their own spinoff movie, may it be Kamala Khan. Narratively and thematically, hers is the story that should have followed in the wake of Endgame, as opposed to whatever the heck Love and Thunder or The Eternals were supposed to be.
The Marvels is a bright, breezy adventure that succeeds at bringing fun back to the MCU. The only trouble is, save for the epilogue and mid-credits scenes, it might prove to be too little, too late, as audiences have been burned one too many times by this once-unstoppable franchise. Coming in the wake of so much disappointment after the triumph of Endgame, the question Disney needs to be asking is whether the promise of future glories will be enough to get audiences interested again.
*Don’t highlight the following text unless you really want to be spoiled*
The first instance of Kelsey Grammer’s (TV’s Frasier, The Simpsons) dulcet tones caused a stir, but the full reveal of Hank McCoy, the hero he was born to play, brought the house down; finally, years after the acquisition that brought Fox under Disney’s umbrella, the X-Men are being introduced into the MCU! While they’re revealed to be in a different universe at this point, the (upcoming) multiversal events of Avengers: Kang Dynasty, Avengers: Secret Wars, and even Deadpool 3 should leave the door wide open for crossovers. In fact, if Loki Season 2’s finale was anything to go by, the sky’s the limit.
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