WHAT WE’RE WATCHING
The Marvels: A superhero film that is wilder, funnier and brisker
The biggest departure, tonally, from the MCU formula since the first Guardians of the Galaxy, and Thor: Ragnarok, The Marvels is far from perfect. But the wild unpredictability, likeable cast and technical polish of this popcorn superhero film is designed to put a smile on your face.
It used to be, pre-the era-concluding Avengers: Endgame, that one could just sit down and watch a Marvel movie – at least if you were up to date with the film series. However, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has gotten a lot larger since 2019, thanks to various limited series on streamer Disney+. So now, before even talking about a film, you will need to answer the question “What do I need to have seen to understand this one?”
In the case of brand new superheroes-in-space tale The Marvels, you’ll optimally set yourself for a viewing with the Captain Marvel solo film from 2019, last year’s well-received miniseries Ms. Marvel, and, to a lesser extent, the first ever MCU show WandaVision. You could probably skip that last one, but given how bold and groundbreaking it was for a piece of superhero media, it’ll always be recommended.
The Marvels is similar to WandaVision in that way. The film is the biggest departure, tonally, from the MCU formula since the first Guardians of the Galaxy, and Taika Waititi’s Thor: Ragnarok. With Little Woods and Candyman’s Nia DaCosta at the helm, The Marvels is straight-up zany. The destruction of worlds is paired with musical numbers, and there’s a moment of horror comedy set to Andrew Lloyd Webber that Sam Raimi probably now lies awake at night over, regretting that he couldn’t fit it into Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.
In terms of plot, The Marvels sees Carol Danvers, aka Captain Marvel (Brie Larson) finally forced to reunite with her grown-up “niece” Monica Rambeau (Teyonah Parris), an astronaut who uses her powers in service of space defence organisation SABER under Samuel L Jackson’s Nick Fury. They’re brought together, along with Carol’s biggest fan Kamala Khan (Iman Vellani) – a New Jersey teen turned tribute superhero Ms. Marvel – after their similar light-based powers become entangled. Essentially, whenever they use their abilities, they switch places in the universe.
The cause is new Kree leader Dar-Benn (Zawe Ashton), who has found a legendary Quantum Band, the sibling to Kamala’s bangle, and is using it to haphazardly open portals so she can claim resources in order to restore her home world. Importantly, in the tradition of “they’re not actually wrong” MCU villains, Dar-Benn blames Carol for her planet’s civil war and environmental collapse.
All of this takes a little while to establish as The Marvels drops the audience into the frantic action, and only bothers to properly explain what’s going on about thirty minutes later, when the film finally pauses to take a breath. For the record, The Marvels is the shortest-ever MCU film at 105 minutes.
Short length, fast pacing
The film’s shorter length and consistently fast pacing mean that some emotional beats and intriguing themes feel rushed. For example, characters at odds with one another suddenly transform into a tight team after a single hug. And when idealistic Kamala watches her idol Carol tumble off her pedestal, the fact that heroism isn’t so black and white could have been explored more. The same goes for Carol’s own feelings on the matter, which are key here because The Marvels finally explains why she has been so aloof regarding Earth matters, and her loved ones.
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If you’re looking for gravitas, or even for the film to serve as yet another brick in building the next mammoth MCU event, The Marvels isn’t interested. Featuring the same sugar-rush energy as a Saturday morning cartoon, The Marvels is Marvel comic book nonsense dialled up, and it relishes it. Largely due to its briskness, and sketched plot, The Marvels occasionally skitters into hot mess territory. However, it’s never not interesting; instead, it is genuinely warm-hearted and entertaining – which is welcome as viewers struggle with made-by-committee MCU fatigue, which often results in flavourless projects that one can’t remember a week after watching.
No matter where you stand on the film, The Marvels certainly isn’t flavourless. It delivers a popcorn superhero film designed to put a smile on your face. It’s fun and funny, with Vellani the absolute scene stealer as Ms. Marvel, complete with her loveable family, including ever-concerned but supportive matriarch Muneeba (Zenobia Shroff), in tow. Nick Fury enjoys a more comedic turn too, reunited with Goose the Flerken/cat. Meanwhile, Larson plays Carol as a socially awkward lone wolf, and Parris grounds it all as a character who is as comfortable in space as she is dealing with everyday Earth matters. Touched by tragedy, she nonetheless embodies emotional and mental intelligence – and an appreciable dose of Black Girl Magic.
Polish on a tech level
On a technical level, The Marvels is impressive too, with a noticeable amount of polish. The film isn’t short on computer-generated effects but generally eschews CGI ragdolls punching each other in the sky in favour of satisfying fight choreography that takes full advantage of the film’s central gimmick – instantaneous character switches. This is especially true once our Marvel-lous heroines learn to work together, chaining their very different abilities to defeat an opponent with visual flair.
All this said, people who have found the small screen MCU entries inconsequential will probably have the same complaint about The Marvels, which is happy, for the most part, to be a wacky adventure largely divorced from grand narrative and interconnected universe concerns. The film’s final scenes, and a lone mid-credits sequence, however, do have major implications for the future of the MCU.
They’ll also have audiences – whether casual viewers or Marvel fans steeped in comics lore – gasping and cheering. Remember to stay in your seat for the big reveal, and until that moment, just appreciate that you’ve watched something so gleefully idiosyncratic. DM
This story was first published on Pfangirl.com. The Marvels is available in cinemas on 10 November.