'The Marvels' is a Phase Two MCU Movie in the Best Way Possible
We review the new Marvel Studios space adventure and find a damn good time at the movies.
Let's have some fun, higher, further, faster, together. The Marvels recalls feelings I had walking out of a Phase One or Phase Two MCU movie. The heroic characters are a joy to be around. Their conflicts within and without are compelling. The villain propelling the plot is a little dodgy, but they get the job done, and we're not really here for them anyway.
At an hour and forty minutes, The Marvels is much breezier than more recent Marvel Studios ventures. The story engine is roaring so quickly that I had difficulty understanding the technobabble rupturing from the establishing exposition. However, the how and why our three leads are swapping points of space is far less compelling than the action of it.
Here's what I understood. As a result of Dar-Benn (Zawe Ashton) uncovering an ancient bangle similar to the one Kamala Khan (Iman Vellani) sports, something funky occurs with the Jump Points that allow interstellar travel. As Carol Danvers (Brie Larson) comes into conflict with Dar-Benn and her Kree cronies, Monica Rambeau (Teyonah Parris) investigates the space portal above Earth. Their light-based powers become "entangled," and whenever they engage their special abilities, the three women swap positions. Hijinks ensue.
The hijinks are what's important. The sequence in which the body swapping first occurs is ridiculous and executed with precision, dragging Kamala Khan's family and their poor, defenseless home into battle. Director Nia DaCosta delivers "Whoa!" and invention to the scene while highlighting the comedy. It's a moment that wins over the audience and carries them through the rest of the film, even when some of the visual effects and one-liners fall flat.
The motivation driving Dar-Benn is basic but told with a touch more empathy than some of those early two-dimensional MCU baddies. Ashton is solid in the role, but I wish the script allowed her to overcome her blanket badness. As fast as the film is to get to the climactic showdown, it's even faster once the three-on-one brawl occurs. Several cheer-worthy punches land, but the resolution is far too easy and leaves you feeling hollow.
Iman Vellani runs away with this movie. Having become thoroughly acquainted with her Captain Marvel obsession during her Ms. Marvel series, watching Kamala Khan finally come face-to-face with her idol is infectiously giddy. Since she arrived in the MCU, Vellani has been our geek stand-in, and she plays it with passion and perfection. She's The Marvels' emotional core, almost diminishing what should be a powerful reunion between Carol and Rambeau's Lt. Trouble.
We feel a gap between Teyonah Parris and Brie Larson, and that feels accurate. What's missing is the ache of their separation. If the movie had more room to flex, more beats could explore Carol's decision to remain primarily off-world, creating serious abandonment issues in Monica. Instead, we get some lip service to their fracturing and ultimate healing.
Honestly, there's more connection between Monica and Kamala and Kamala and Carol, and that's a little frustrating. Again, with a few more minutes on this movie, Nia DaCosta could have accentuated Carol's ability to give Kamala what she denied Monica. The awkward tension between the three is brief but narratively delicious. You're left wanting more.
Wanting more is my core complaint. More action. More character. More development. And a whole lot more of whatever is going on on Aladna. If you've watched one too many trailers, you probably already know, but as someone who stayed successfully away from spoilers, I will not ruin the joy here. Cuz it is a joy and the whole movie could have occurred on this planet and I would have been more than happy.
We're in a weird moment with Marvel Studios and, indeed, the conversation around it. It seemed like every day last week, a new think-piece reared itself proclaiming the MCU's demise. Those clicks be hungry. But maybe we should all be quiet until after we watch the movies. 2023 gave us three flicks from them: Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, and The Marvels. Plus, some TV too. It's probably too much, but for the most part, I've been satisfied.
I doubt The Marvels will silence the cynicism or cease the click-bait, but I came away with a skip in my step. It's not a flawless film, but flawlessness is rare and likely an imaginary ideal. The Marvels has fun characters to hang with, and it engages your hopes for their future. It presents a universe you're eager to return to and leaves you eagerly anticipating that next entry, and that next Avengers assembly.
Which brings us to the stinger. It's a Marvel movie. You gotta talk about the stinger. Well, you'll get nothing from me about it here. The movie leaves you with several teases, and all of them are tantalizing. This one is designed to elicit a big audible blast from the crowd, and I'll be there on opening night to see it happen. The press "whoop" was loud, but I know it will be deafening on Thursday night. Not to be missed.
Quickie Review: The Marvels is far too short, but it's a great hang, recalling the earliest triumphs of the MCU. Iman Vellani is a star; please give her all the movies and comics she wants. And, yes, this franchise remains vibrant and inviting. Keep 'em coming.