Director: Nia DaCosta
Cast: Brie Larson, Teyonah Parris, Iman Vellani, Zawe Ashton, Samuel L. Jackson, Gary Lewis, Park Seo-joon, Zenobia Shroff, Mohan Kapur, Saagar Shaikh
Running time: 105 mins
Directed by Nia DaCosta (who co-wrote the script with with Megan McDonnell and Elissa Karasik), The Marvels is a direct sequel to both the 2019 Captain Marvel movie and the 2022 Ms Marvel TV series. For those of you keeping count, it’s also the 33rd movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Accordingly, it ticks all the right MCU boxes, delivering an entertaining story with the patented Marvel combination of action, humour and emotion, though it’s also not without a few problems.
The plot kicks off in amusingly chaotic fashion, as Carol Danvers / Captain Marvel (Brie Larson), Captain Monica Rambeau (Teyonah Parris) and Kamala Khan / Ms Marvel (Iman Vellani) find themselves switching places, every time they use their powers. With the help of Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), they discover that revolutionary Kree warrior Dar-Benn (Zawe Ashton) has acquired an identical cosmic bangle to Kamala’s, and is using it to tear apart a hole in space and time, in order to restore her Kree homeworld of Hala to its former glory.
Larson, Parris and Vellani are all excellent in the lead roles, and their enaging and enjoyable onscreen chemistry forms a key part of the film’s success. Similarly, there’s strong support from Jackson (who’s allowed to be a bit lighter than usual, following his appearance in Captain Marvel) and from Zenobia Shroff, Mohan Kapur and Saagar Shaikh, as the members of Kamala Khan’s family, who are dragged into space for some reason and effectively provide a steady stream of comic asides.
Similarly, Zawe Ashton makes a more complex villain than usual (in that she’s doing bad things for good reasons), although the script ultimately shies away from digging into that aspect and the resolution of her character ultimately feels both lazy and disappointing as a result. On a similar note, the script explores some weighty issues of guilt, atonement and fallibility, but isn’t always successful in resolving them.
Having said that, when it comes to the emotional connection between Carol and Monica (whose character was a little girl in Captain Marvel), the film pulls off some genuinely moving scenes, making Larson’s character a lot warmer in the process. Arguably, the film is much stronger on the relationship of the central characters than it is on the main story, at least in terms of emotional investment.
As for the action, there are plenty of fun comic-book moments, including an inspired bit of problem-solving that’s sure to prove a big hit with audiences. The only problem is that some of the set-ups aren’t paid off as well as they could be – for example, there’s an enjoyable training montage sequence showing Carol, Monica and Kamala working out how to use the swapping-places thing to their advantage, but the fight sequence where they actually do that is poorly staged and not as inventive as it should have been.
The same is true when it comes to the comedy set-pieces. The set-up is inspired – such as when Carol takes Monica and Kamala to a planet where everyone communicates in song – but the pay-off falls disappointingly short, which is doubly frustrating because it’s so easy to see the wasted potential. However, that’s not to say there aren’t plenty of comedy moments that do work, even if most of them revolve around Goose the cat.
As is practically par for the course these days, there are also a handful of cameos, all of which it would be churlish to spoil here, even though they are already all over the internets. Suffice it to say that two of them represent very promising future directions for the MCU.
In short, The Marvels isn’t entirely short of problems and frequently undersells its key moments (you never really feel the weight of the stakes, for example), but the engaging chemistry between the leads and DaCosta’s snappy pacing ensure that it’s never less than entertaining. Here’s hoping the central trio are reunited in another Marvel project sooner rather than later.
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