Oh, Marvel. Marvel, Marvel, Marvel. (Get it, because it’s the Marvels!)
Once upon a time, the IP delicately tossed us some intriguing solo tales that tested the waters with one of our favorite onscreen superheroes. It experimented with lively tones and dazzling action that spiked our attentiveness to see where it could venture out. The Avengers films (thus far) embodied the collective elements of what preceded and spiked in terms of drawing power and spectacle because of our attachment to these characters and their antagonists’ roles of challenging them. And once Endgame gave the spectacular send-off, it seemed that peak was where Marvel was at its most untouchable point.
However, a year later, COVID times and other variables reared their head, and Disney has gotten to this point where too much seems too little, yet the irony is prevalent that it’s not necessarily working. Since the MCU’s inception (fifteen years ago), we’ve gotten thirty-three films, nine TV shows, and a myriad of lore that even has historians scratching their heads (while more comes the way). It’s so colossal and preposterous that it’s starting to hurt Disney’s latest S-tier branding. Maybe nitpickers will get proven wrong, as there’s still more of a story to tell, but the attitude towards this once-beloved franchise has started to wane significantly in the past few years.
The Marvels, while noble for some innovation thanks to director Nia DaCosta’s kinetic direction and fun, talented chemistry between our three leads, epitomizes the current identity crisis for the MCU. Perhaps that’s the superhero fatigue kicking into yours, indeed. Still, it’s another film that does everything it can yet will become lost in the shuffle once we discuss the next blockbuster feature or wherever Marvel intends to journey. The multiverse concept has become alarmingly atrocious, and while minimal here, doesn’t seem to be a winning formula for Marvel’s Phase Five and soon-to-be Phase Six.
The plot is a follow-up to the events of Captain Marvel and the three TV series, Secret Invasion, Ms. Marvel, and WandaVision (yup, you had to have witnessed all to get a true sense of our characters and their abilities). Still, at least it’s relatively easy to understand. Our three heroes, Captain “Carol Danvers” Marvel (Brie Larson), Captain Rambeau (Teyonah Parris), and Kamala Khan, aka Ms. Marvel (Iman Vellani), abruptly become interlinked as they continue to swap places with one another after utilizing their powers. It’s occurring because the three share light-based powers and swap due to quantum entanglement (ignoring the intricate details makes it less complex), as the villainous Dar-Benn (Zawe Ashton) disrupts their abilities by finding and using a magical bangle (the same one that Kamala uses) and plans to have both in her possession to destroy all jump points and the universe to restore glory to her home planet Hala. At the other end, Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) hangs around in a space station, overseeing the moments while he spends time with Khan’s family and our favorite cat, Goose.
Larson gets to show some more colors to her character, proving that she can work with others instead of flying solo. Parris is earnest and winning as a daughter who tries to mend the relationship with her (former) aunt Carol, as her mother Maria (Lashana Lynch) passed away. And Vellani maintains the Tom Holland Spider-Man-esque deal as she gushes over being with her idol Captain Marvel, yet has to contend with responsibility and keeping her emotions in check. All three combine wonderful flavors and work to figure out their “Switcheroo” abilities to stop Dar-Benn, making this easily the best aspect of this sequel. DaCosta’s peppy energy also makes the feature stand out from the usual Marvel fare (in select moments), and some of the comedy keeps it humming.
But perhaps the fatal flaw is the skittery narrative and jumbled tone, as it has a series of goals leading to an ultimate mission yet leaves the viewer with a “that’s it?” deliberation. It remains unreservedly flat, like a car that never kicks out of first gear, and some scenes could’ve easily been cut out, even for a short runtime of 105 minutes. Combine that with another methodical, underwhelming villain by Marvel standards and mediocre CGI battles, and it doesn’t preach much regarding value or watchability. Yes, it’s a very juvenile work to witness, but so is Thor: Ragnarok, Spider-Man: Homecoming, Ant-Man, and even Guardians of the Galaxy, all films that still retain their goofiness but still maintain a nary sense of heart and structuring.
Long story short, The Marvels is an inoffensive feature. It does its job respectably but doesn’t provide much else regarding wit and pomp. And for such an offbeat year by Marvel’s standards, it somewhat, unfortunately, ends on a limp as it doesn’t have the emotion and density of Black Panther: Wakanda Forever last year or the nostalgia and ambition of No Way Home in 2021. Indubitably, it was a fun, swift time with sparkling chemistry between the three leads and the usual Marvel formula beats. (And yes, one fascinating post-credits scene that might make jaws drop about the future.)
But, when it proclaims the message of “Higher, further, faster,” The Marvels misses the mark to go one step further.