Marvel Studios’ 33rd full-length feature film Nia DaCosta directed The Marvels is about to hit theaters. For the unfamiliar, The Marvels is the name given to what is effectively known as the sequel to the massively successful Captain Marvel film released in 2019 in the run-up to Avengers: Endgame. It’s worth doubling down on that last point, as the first film in this sub series of the Marvel Cinematic Universe did over 1.1 billion dollars at the box office, perhaps riding the wave of the monster success of Avengers: Infinity War. But it’s also worth pointing out, the character Captain Marvel / Carol Danvers at that point had become immensely popular. Danvers was a character as strong as the Hulk in a time where comic and comic movie fans were craving strong, credible, female superhero characters. Breakout Room Oscar winner Brie Larson’s performance embodied the ultra confident and plucky Captain Marvel to near perfect in the 2019 film and Endgame when it dropped later that year. So it was a surprising move when the seemingly ever more overloaded Marvel Studios (now including nine different shows made for Disney+, Loki already having gotten to a second season) announced the inevitable Captain Marvel sequel would be titled The Marvels and prominently feature the characters Monica Rambeau and Ms. Marvel / Kamala Khan introduced in the Disney+ shows WandaVision and Ms. Marvel respectively.
The original film ended implying a giant story involving the shape changing Skrulls and the Kree empire was to come (possibly even the legendary comic book story “The Kree Skrull War”). All signs pointed to—including the story of the surprisingly disappointing Secret Invasion show this year—that this giant story was fully being abandoned and perhaps not fleshed out at all. Doubly surprising as one would think that a sequel to a billion dollar grossing movie, even in the post COVID-19 pandemic-era, would be a bit of a slam dunk? Why derail the story everyone’s been prepared for, and the moniker you fought so hard to build? All signs pointed to a new superstar in the making with Larson’s turn as Captain Marvel. Recent reports (truly only guesstimates to be fair) have had this potentially being the lowest domestic box office opening for any Marvel Studios film. It doesn’t help that aside from the excellent Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 numerous MCU movies and shows have been regarded as lackluster these last couple of years.
The good news for Carol Corps. fans of the red and blue costumed Carol Danvers character is that the popularity of the talent and the charismatic performances of the film’s three main stars, Larson, Teyonah Parris and Iman Vellani easily carry this film over the finish line. Some warts aside, it’s an overall super entertaining and funny movie, and it works best when either the interplay of the three stars is front and center or the film’s numerous playful oddities (think the colorful inventiveness of the 1990 Arnold Schwarzenegger vehicle Total Recall) are running wild across the screen. We can’t go into detail here for risk of major spoilers, but fans of Goose the flerken cat are going to be elated by what they see in this film. But once the much pointed out premise of the film of how Vellani’s Ms. Marvel and Parris’ Monica Rambeau become strangely entangled to the powers of each other and Captain Marvel is depicted, the film is a high-speed ride through colorful locations and witty humor. Odds are, once people realize how good this movie is, it will probably grow in box office performance later than expected on word-of-mouth buzz, if not outperform expectations.
Zenobia Shroff, Mohan Kapur and Saagar Shaikh reprise their roles from Ms. Marvel of Kamala’s family Muneeba, Yusuf and Aamir Khan all to hilarious effect. The great Samuel L. Jackson again returns for his role as Nick Fury and is given the screen time to do everything the character is famous for, expertly leading, convincingly kicking butt and making perfectly timed sarcastic quips. This is particularly fascinating, as this year’s positively confusing Secret Invasion Disney+ show portrayed Fury as a sad, old, beaten down version of the character. The character in this film feels like it has no connection whatsoever to what everyone just saw no more than five months ago in that show. Detractors of this film’s potential for success are discounting that the Ms. Marvel character and the show that bore its name is more popular with young people than adults might realize. Iman Vellani deserves special note for her performance, as she exhibits the most charisma of anyone in the film, believably lost in the excitable fangirl turned superhero herself, constantly fawning over Carol Danvers in a charmingly dehumanizing way. Vellani channeling perhaps her own downright elation for being a part of this into the character nails the spirit of Kamala Khan, providing a credible way to stand out against the other heavyweight talent present.
When there are fight scenes, especially ones where the three stars are all playing off each other, they look genuinely impressive. Perhaps not on the level of the Captain America or Shang Chi films, but satisfyingly good nonetheless. Thankfully, the plot holes mentioned earlier revolving around just what Captain Marvel herself was up to since the end of the first film (outside of her return in Avengers: Endgame) are at least filled in and appropriately explained. There’s still not much screen time devoted to them, but it all at least adds up now. Perhaps Marvel Studios means to revisit those plot points fully in another adaptation down the line, but The Marvels almost feels like it would’ve presented even better as a Captain Marvel 3 rather than 2.
On the negative side Zawe Ashton’s depiction of the film’s main villain Kree leader Dar-Benn leaves a bit to be desired. The film jumps in missing the background to foster and appreciate the character’s presence. Dar-Benn’s motives are adequately explained, but everything is happening almost too fast to understand and feel threatened by what she is plotting. The Marvels is now famously the shortest Marvel Cinematic Universe movie, clocking in at a hyper lean one hour forty-five minutes. Even Christian Bale’s Gorr the God Butcher was given more screentime to explain his origin in Thor: Love and Thunder. Curiously, something about the audio mix meant Dar-Benn’s name wasn’t audible until near the last twenty minutes of the film. Also, Dar-Benn appears to utilize the same hammer-like weapon Ronan the Accuser did in the first Guardians of the Galaxy film (the Universal Weapon), but no effort is given to explain if Dar-Benn has assumed Ronan’s former role as Accuser or how the weapon came into her possession. Furthermore, rumors have persisted that the film underwent extensive reshoots in the run-up to conclusion. However much was actually reshot and cut we may never know, but there are sequences that while effective seem noticeably inserted into the film. Any scene like that feels like exactly what the film needed to be good, so if they were added it was a good choice to add them in, but something in the framing takes you a little out of the fantasy each time it happens.
Score: 4 out of 5
The Marvels is a worthy inclusion in the massive canon of MCU films. The three stars of the film bring the charisma and skill needed to make this a super entertaining feature, continuing the course correction that Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 began. Like any Marvel movie, there are some big surprises, and if you’re a fan of these movies, you’re not going to want to miss them as they set the stage for several really big things to come.