Captain Marvel is forced to be part of a team when her powers are entangled with two other heroes in Nia DaCosta’s The Marvels.
Many have argued that a lot of homework is involved before watching this film. Two out of its three leads have had major roles in Disney+ TV shows detailing their origin so it may seem daunting for some to accept their presence here if they are unfamiliar with the backstory. Sometimes the folly of a shared universe is casual viewers find it difficult to keep up with developments when they don’t engage with all of the output. For anyone who hasn’t watched WandaVision or Ms. Marvel, the important information is efficiently conveyed in dialogue with extra context being available should the viewer be interested in visiting the prior projects.
The plot of The Marvels involves Carol Danvers aka Captain Marvel (Brie Larson), Monica Rambeau (Teyonah Paris) and Kamala Khan aka Ms. Marvel (Iman Vellani) finding themselves switching places whenever they use their powers at the same time. They come together to figure out how to break the link while dealing with a villain holding a personal grudge against Carol.
Much of the early part of the film is built around the switching gimmick and it’s mostly used to good effect in enjoyably chaotic action sequences where the trio switch places and have to pick up the fight that they weren’t a part of seconds earlier. Each of them seems to adapt to their new surroundings and the threat facing them unrealistically quickly but the unwilling tag team bout works really well. As the film progresses the switching becomes less of an issue and is relegated to a minor almost forgotten inconvenience before being dismissed entirely. As an excuse to bring the characters together, it works well and is used well in one early action sequence but it had a lot more potential as an idea than was utilised.
The Marvels excels when it comes to the dynamic between the three leads. Brie Larson, Teyonah Paris and Iman Vellani have wonderful chemistry that electrifies any scene they share. Each character occupies a particular role within that dynamic with Kamala Khan being a superfan constantly excited to be in the presence of the hero she idolises and helping with a superhero mission, Monica being the scientist trying to puzzle out the situation and Carol being the reluctant leader with more knowledge and experience countered by an aversion to working with others.
Iman Vellani is as endearing as ever as Kamala Khan. She believably plays the giddy fan in the presence of her idol and the compassionate hero with plenty to offer when challenged. Teyonah Paris is saddled with an inconsistently written character who struggles to be properly defined but she’s engaging in the role and feeds into the dynamic well. Brie Larson seems more comfortable playing Carol than she ever has which may be down to more varied material for her to engage with as a performer. Carol is a directionless adventurer who has a desire to help but doesn’t always do the right thing and Brie Larson does a great job conveying the uncertainty at the root of the character.
Their relationship evolves as the narrative progresses and changes each of them. Kamala’s arc is particularly interesting as she is forced to acknowledge the reality of being a superhero while learning an important lesson about treating Carol like a fallible person and not the flawless hero that would be impossible for her to live up to. The tension between Carol and Monica due to Monica feeling abandoned by her favourite aunt when she was a child is an interesting throughline that comes to an organic resolution. Through that and other plot developments, Carol comes to understand the consequences of her actions and learns that accepting help from others doesn’t make her weak. There’s also some time to have some fun getting to grips with the switching problem and generally spending time together bonding.
One of the persistent problems The Marvels has feeds into the central team dynamic. The film has clearly been edited down from a longer cut which means that the pacing feels too quick and there’s no time for the audience to catch their breath before rapidly moving on to something else. As such, nothing really has the chance to solidify as being truly memorable and many things are forgotten once a given scene ends. It all contributes to a sloppy and unfocused structure that prevents The Marvels from being much more than the sum of its parts.
Also letting the film down is the villain Dar-Benn (Zawe Ashton). She’s a forgettable antagonist even by MCU standards and completely fails to rise to any credible threat level. It’s established that she holds a personal grudge against Carol due to a mistake Carol made that had a catastrophic impact on her but it’s something that’s brought up without being developed at all. It’s nothing more than an excuse for them to fight and her plan falls apart when any thought is applied to it.
Despite its flaws, The Marvels succeeds in being a fun entry to the MCU. It’s refreshingly low-stakes and frontloads the dynamic between the three leads while also making great use of Kamala’s family for some strong comedic beats. Brie Larson Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) also appears but doesn’t have much of a purpose beyond the part he plays in getting the story started. He spends most of his screen time participating in a subplot with little connection to the main narrative. It’s another example of how messy The Marvels can be and adds to the abundance of evidence that it’s a film that was massively interfered with.
That said, it’s a perhaps disposable MCU entry in terms of its place in the ongoing tapestry of the shared universe but as a standalone adventure it’s light and unchallenging with a delightful central dynamic, impressive action in places and some strong comedic beats. It’s far from a masterpiece but also far from a waste of time.
A light, fun and unchallenging viewing experience with a delightful central dynamic, impressive action and strong comedic beats. It’s far from a masterpiece but also far from a waste of time.
- the central dynamic between the three leads
- the lead actors all playing their roles well
- impressive action
- strong comedic beats
- a refreshingly low-stakes adventure
- a sloppy and unfocused structure
- pacing that is too fast
- the pointless Nick Fury subplot
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