The Marvels

I don’t think I can provide a more succinct review of The Marvels than what I posted on Mastodon after we came out of the theater yesterday:

#TheMarvels was 1000% better than I’d expected.

If you enjoy Marvel movies, you should go see it. And if, like me, you were a big fan of #CaptainMarvel and are, like I was, worried that it’s not the sequel you wanted, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Promotional poster for The Marvels

This was a really fun film. When I first heard it announced I was disappointed because I had wanted a sequel to Captain Marvel (one of my top three films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe) which explained what she’d been up to for the 23 years between that film and her return in Avengers: Endgame. But with two other characters sharing top billing, and therefore clearly taking place in the “present” of the MCU (which I suspect is about 2025 right now, though I forget what made me think that, other than that Endgame concluded in 2023 and it’s clearly been at least a couple of years since then), it seems doubtful that we’d get that.

In fact the film gave me everything I’d hoped for, and while it was a lighter film than Captain Marvel, it had plenty of serious moments, and while I could (and will) quibble with some parts of the story, overall it worked for me. I would say it’s on about the same level as the first Avengers film.

The film has been performing poorly at the box office, which I suspect is due to a confluence of factors: The post-Endgame MCU seems to be considered pretty disappointing, Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania in particular was panned and did poorly, and The Marvels looks like another team-up crossover film – which it is, but also isn’t, and it in particular doesn’t play into the ongoing “Multiverse Saga” story arc the series is working through, but is just a straight-up continuation of the stories of its main characters. Which for most of these films is what I want. Indeed, when they do a big crossover story in what should be a story focusing on its main characters, that’s when you get garbage like Captain America: Civil War.

All of which is a long-winded way to say: Unless you just don’t like these characters, don’t let any of that dissuade you from seeing The Marvels. It’s a fun film with good action scenes, some broad humor, and plenty of character development.

(And if you hate it because you find the dialogue to be stilted or contrived, well, then I assume you hated the first Avengers film for the same reason, because it was way worse on that count.)

Spoilery thoughts after the cut:

This film could have been subtitled “How Kamala Got Her Other Bangle”, but I guess that would have been a spoiler.

Iman Vellani’s turn as Kamala Khan/Ms. Marvel has stolen much of what positive press The Marvels has received, and she is a delight and a vivid contrast to Brie Larson’s super-serious Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel, but make no mistake: This is a Captain Marvel film. The whole plot is driven by Carol’s past actions, and most of the character development is experienced by Carol.

While I had hoped for a film which covered Carol’s years away from Earth, I thought what they gave us delivered that quite well: She destroyed the Supreme Intelligence, which touched off a Kree civil war which ravaged Hala and its sun, is known as the Annihilator to the Kree, and she didn’t come back to Earth until Endgame. She was also present when Monica Rambeau’s (Teyonah Parris) mother died (and we learned that Maria had been caring for Goose). Oh, and she got married! Sort of!

(But, uh, what the heck happened to Aladna after Dar-Benn drained its oceans? Is it a dying desert world now? Leaving that point hanging is rather troubling.)

Carol clearly is professional, is very tired, and feels all kinds of guilt over her past actions and inactions, and Larson does a fine job conveying all of this. Character-wise, Monica fills the role of helping her work through some of her guilt, while Kamala inspires her not to give in to depression or hopelessness. Neither of them really have story arcs of their own, although Kamala’s actions demonstrating the importance of her being a hero to her family was an important development in her ongoing story.

I appreciated that the characters generally acted like adults in the character bits, as there were plenty of ways the dialogue could have been written to leave them shouting at each other or otherwise going down the “there’s no possible way we can be a team because we’re all too different” cliche. Carol and Monica of course are adults, with lots of experience in high-stakes situations, and to some extent we see Kamala learning from watching them (so hey, maybe she does have a little story arc).

The plot has plenty of contrivances, which will annoy different people to different degrees. For myself, I’m willing to allow them a lot of latitude after Endgame carefully set up smart rules of time travel, and then broke them left and right in the film’s big climax. In The Marvels I mainly think the film could have used another few script revisions to work things out.

The biggest story problem was the clunker of the way Dar-Benn was dispatched, torn apart by the bands as she ripped the hole to the parallel reality… an act which didn’t really make any sense. Workshopping this climactic moment would have made for a stronger finish. For example, having Kamala’s existing affinity with her own bangle allowing her to override Dar-Benn’s control of both of them would have been right in line with the rest of the story. It could have led to Carol returning Dar-Benn to Hala, and then going to reignite its sun, while Dar-Benn looks on, surely with deeply mixed feelings about the event.

Dar-Benn has been criticized as being an ineffective, unmemorable villain, but I thought she was quite good. She has a strong backstory, a compelling motivation both for her actions and to hate Captain Marvel specifically, and Zawe Ashton convincingly portrays her as a grim, determined figure. There are many close-ups of her face in the film, which I think was a good choice because her expression always seemed to suggest there was a lot going on in her head, much of it not good, but you could understand why she was doing what she was doing.

The highlight of the film for me was the first big fight scene, where the trio were switching places between Kamala’s house, the space elevator to the S.A.B.E.R. space station, and Dar-Benn’s ship. I know very little about film production, but this seems like it must have been a bear to produce.

Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury gets most of the best lines, as usual. He was way more fun here than in the dour Secret Invasion (which some people say likely takes place after The Marvels, although it doesn’t really matter as Secret Invasion was rife with story and character development issues itself).

I don’t know how the Rescue Cats sequence has been received, but I found it hilarious.

One other detail – which is not new – which they don’t grapple with here is that Carol is well over 50, but looks like she did 30 years ago. Is she immortal? Aging very slowly? Almost no one other than Fury and Monica would know this about her. I suspect this isn’t something they plan to use in the MCU, but it does open up some interesting story angles, especially with the X-Men and their history of time travel stories on the verge of coming into continuity.

Overall, I thought this was a fun, exciting, funny, and meaty film, easily in the top quarter of MCU films for me. It doesn’t deserve the fate it’s experiencing at the box office, and I am definitely in for another Captain Marvel film.

(Though since Carol just moved to Louisiana, I wonder if she’s going to appear in the upcoming film from another Avenger who calls Louisiana home? Her powers dwarf anything anyone who’s likely to appear in that film brings to the table, though.)

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