I don’t think many would argue if I said that the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) is going through something of a rocky patch at the moment. Sure, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 3 (2023) done well both critically and commercially, but you couldn’t say the same for Ant-Man & the Wasp: Quantumania (2023) or the recent Secret Invasion (2023) television show, both of which seriously paled in comparison of previous MCU offerings. Even before this, the likes of Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (2022) or Eternals (2021) left me cold.
Clearly Marvel is putting a lot of hope into its latest release, The Marvels. While it may not be the run-away success that fans may have been hoping for, there is still a lot here to enjoy, even if it doesn’t reach the top tier of the MCU’s best. As the MCU has progressed, it has become more clear how for the most part they stick to a true and tried formula, with many of the films having a workmanlike quality to them.
The Marvels works as a sequel to Captain Marvel (2019) as well as picking up threads introduced in WandaVision (2021) and Ms Marvel (2022). Living mostly off-world, Captain Marvel/Carol Danvers (Brie Larson) is tasked by Nick Fury (Samuel L Jackson) to investigate a jump point anomaly which is linked to Dar-Benn (Zawe Ashton), the new leader of the Kree.
While Danvers investigates the source of the anomaly, her estranged niece Monica Rambeau (Teyonah Parris) is in space where she comes into contact with the anomaly, resulting in her switching places with both Danvers and Kamala Khan/Ms Marvel (Iman Vellani) in quick succession. Their teleportations cause the three of them to face off against several Kree enemies, with them switching places whenever they use their powers.
They quickly realize that upon touching the anomaly their light based powers have become somehow entangled, with them switching places whenever using their powers at the same time.
This is going to make their fight against Dar-Benn extremely difficult, with the new Kree leader deciding to destroy multiple worlds in order to restore her own home planet to its former glory. Now these three “Marvels” must learn how to work together, with the entire multiverse being at stake if they fail.
I say this as a fan, but it is obvious producer Kevin Feige has more of a voice on set than any of the directors involved. Only the likes of James Gunn or Taika Waititi have been able to imbue their MCU outings with their unique voice. Whether this is to the film’s detriment is another question.
While she initially praised the creative freedom she had, director Nia DaCosta later addressed some of her difficulties in helming The Marvels, and how she didn’t have the kind of creative control that she would have liked. She even stated that she went in knowing that it would be a Kevin Feige movie more than a Nia DaCosta film.
Upon watching the completed film, I would have to agree with DaCosta’s comments. Other than the strong performances, it doesn’t have much in common from her other two features, crime drama Little Woods (2018) and horror sequel Candyman (2021). Where those were relatively small scale features, The Marvels is the polar opposite, with a budget well over $200 million, so it isn’t surprising that DaCosta wasn’t able to inject more of her own style into proceedings.
This is not to say that The Marvels isn’t well made. It’s a well shot and staged sci-fi actioner. It mostly has a similar look to the majority of MCU’s output, although there are some nice quirky touches that make it somewhat distinctive. An early scene showing Kamala’s comic book come to life as she narrates is especially memorable, with it eschewing the visual styling of the Ms Marvel series.
Like many big budget blockbusters, It’s more than likely that the 2nd unit would have dealt with the more action orientated scenes, but DaCosta still manages to get several good performances from her cast that makes The Marvels more worthwhile than what it could have been. Having input into the script probably didn’t hurt either, with DaCosta being a credited writer alongside Megan McDonnell and Elissa Karasik.
Brie Larson once again does well as Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel. She seems a lot more relaxed here than her first outing, with her having great chemistry with co-stars Teyonah Parris and Iman Vellani. Delving more into Danvers’ backstory allows Larson to stretch her acting muscles as well as getting to kick ass in her many action scenes.
Teyonah Parris builds on her solid work in WandaVision, with her getting more of an opportunity to round out her character and her strained relationship with Carol. The Marvels marks Parris’ second movie with DaCosta with her previously starring in Candyman.
As good as Larson and Parris are, they are both overshadowed by their young co-star Iman Vellani, whose Kamala Khan/Ms Marvel is the real heart of the film. This isn’t surprising considering how great she was in Ms Marvel, with her quickly becoming a fan favorite. The film allows her to get fully involved in the action and increases her importance in the MCU as it moves forward.
MCU stalwart Samuel L. Jackson does solid work as expected. It was nice to see him in an MCU vehicle more worthy of his talents after the disappointing Secret Invasion. He doesn’t get involved in as much of the action as I would like, but he still gets some memorable moments throughout.
As the majority of MCU fans know, their films typically have an issue when it comes to their villains. On occasion some manage to impress, but for the most part are lackluster. The tradition doesn’t change with The Marvels, with Zawe Ashton’s Dar-Benn being one of the weakest villains to appear in the MCU since it began. It’s nothing to do with Ashton’s acting, more to do with how the character is written, with her coming across as a poor man’s Ronan the Accuser. I would put her on par with Christopher Eccleston’s Malekith from Thor: The Dark World (2013) in how forgettable they are.
Another disappointment was the appearance of Park Seo-joon. I wasn’t disappointed he appeared, more that his screen time didn’t even make up five minutes. While he does appear in one of the most memorable scenes of the film, I did hope for more. After seeing him kick ass in the likes of Midnight Runners (2017) and The Divine Fury (2019), I really hoped to get more of the same here, but other than a few sword slashes I was left wanting more. Any fans of the actor would be better served checking out the recent Concrete Utopia (2023) where he is given more than enough screen time.
Slightly making up for Park’s limited screen time was an appearance from character actor Gary Lewis as Emperor Dro’ge, the leader of the Skrull colony. I found it amusing that even under all those prosthetics the actor was able to shine through, partly to do with the fact the he is the only Skrull who appears to hail from Scotland.
Aside from the performances, a particularly swift run time of 105 minutes also helps matters immensely, with The Marvels having a much swifter pace than some of the MCU’s more bloated outings. Being the shortest MCU film to date may sound like a detriment but there is less of a tendency to get bogged down with unnecessary exposition, wasting no time in getting to the action.
Regarding the action, for the most part it’s well shot and choreographed. The standout for me was an early fight scene featuring Danvers, Rambeau and Khan with the three of them constantly switching places through teleporting. This causes each of them having to fight off each other’s opponent as they constantly switch, with Khan’s house getting destroyed as the fight progresses.
Only the end fight with our three heroes facing off against Ashton’s Dar-Benn was slightly disappointing, with it paling in comparison to the action that had come before. However, while the fight could have been better, I was thankful that it resisted the MCU’s tendency to get overblown come the finale.
It is doubtful that The Marvels will be the success that Disney were hoping for, but this has more to do with superhero fatigue than the overall quality of the film. As mentioned, this may not be top tier MCU material but I found The Marvels to be a thoroughly enjoyable galactic adventure filled with quality action and humor. Additionally the post credits sequence opens up further exciting opportunities which should bring about the introduction of some of Marvel’s most popular characters.
Plot: 3/5 Acting: 4/5 Action: 3.5/5 Overall: 3.5/5