Movie Review ~ The Marvels

The Facts:

Synopsis: Carol Danvers gets her powers entangled with those of Kamala Khan and Monica Rambeau, forcing them to work together to save the universe.
Stars: Brie Larson, Teyonah Parris, Iman Vellani, Zawe Ashton, Gary Lewis, Seo-Jun Park, Zenobia Shroff, Mohan Kapur, Saagar Shaikh, Samuel L. Jackson
Director: Nia DaCosta
Rated: PG-13
Running Length: 105 minutes
TMMM Score: (4/10)
Review: This is it. We all knew it was coming, and it’s unfortunate that it had to be The Marvels, but the time has come when Marvel Studios has tipped the scales too far out of whack. The level of content being thrown at audiences has maxed out. With multiple movies and television series released too close together, requiring viewers to cross-watch to make sense of the next installment, it’s almost becoming a part-time job keeping up with the various threads the studio has dangling. The worst thing? Even putting all that work into it isn’t yielding positive results from a studio that also seems exceptionally fatigued.

I recently expressed my thoughts that it’s time for Marvel to stop, take a breather, and let its actors do other work that gives them artistic freedom and fills their cups, giving us a chance to miss these characters and worlds and, most importantly, allow us all time to catch up on what is already out there. There is life outside of Marvel, and we don’t drop everything to watch the newest season of Loki the moment it comes out. I’m so far behind the television shows that I hadn’t even seen Ms. Marvel when the screening for the newest feature film arrived. While it didn’t exclusively preclude me from following the action, I wasn’t able to walk into The Marvels and pick up where the filmmakers wanted me to. (There are characters from other Disney+ series that show up that viewers won’t recognize if they haven’t watched.)

Though Brie Larson was introduced in 2019’s successful Captain Marvel, her character Carol Danvers has primarily been relegated to a utility player in Avengers offshoots in the years following. Part of that has to do with Larson resisting her iconography in the role, and part of it has been the studio attempting to figure out how to continue the story and chock as much IP of their other heroes in as well. Once Iman Vellani was introduced as Kamala Khan/Ms. Marvel in the Disney+ series of the same name and Teyonah Parris proved to be an imposing breakthrough star in WandaVision as Monica Rambeau (the daughter of Carole Danvers best friend), it made gathering the trio for this joint effort a bit easier. Director Nia DaCosta (Candyman) was onboard for a largely female-centered film, the first of its kind in Marvel’s history on the big screen. 

A troubled production history has followed The Marvels since the beginning, with the release date being shifted and news of an early test screening not giving producers much confidence in how well the film would perform. Massive reshoots have been all but confirmed, and with a run time of 105 minutes, by far the shortest Marvel film in ages, one has to assume DaCosta’s film looks a lot different than it did a year ago when it was mostly complete. What’s being released is so far afield of what fans have seen before that it’s almost admirable the studio chose to stick with a theatrical platform and not send this to Disney+, where it likely belongs.

The Marvels wastes no time introducing us to a new villain, Kree leader Dar-Benn (Zawe Ashton, Greta), who finds a Quantum Band on a dead planet. With the ability to harness exceptional power, the Quantum band gives Dar-Benn free rein to jump through space, finding worlds rich in the natural resources her dying ecosystem desperately needs. Dar-Benn’s activation of the Quantum Band sets several other pieces into motion, warping the powers of the Earth-based Kamala Khan (Vellani), astronaut Monica Rambeau (Teyonah Parris, Chi-Raq), and Carol Danvers (Larson, Fast X), who has been on a personal mission to right a wrong that will have its full circle comeuppance shortly.

As the three women understand how their powers have been united, allowing them to switch places anytime their might is unleashed, they will eventually see how this triumvirate is the only one that stands a chance to defeat Dar-Benn.  Kamala possesses the other Quantum Band needed to give Dar-Benn full strength to create massive damage, a wrinkle that the screenplay only hastily tries to smooth out. Aided (somewhat) by Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson, Django Unchained), who operates out of a space station eventually overrun by kittens with special powers, the trio travel across space tracking their enemy, hoping to stop her before she manages to destroy more than just her intended target.

This film should have come out years ago before the original Avengers team had run its course and completed their initial record-breaking run. If it had, more time would have been spent on shoring up an unruly script filled with so many plot holes and gaffes that you could drive a space shuttle through it. In The Marvels, a character wields a weapon of great power that is often knocked out of their hands, yet with three people fighting that character, does anyone think to pick it up while the other two are holding the owner back? No one fights with any drive or determination; it’s all a slap-happy goof-fest that creates no real stakes. While the special effects aren’t as shoddy as Thor: Love and Thunder, the make-up work is mega-iffy. Several of the prosthetics on actors actually bounce around while they walk and look like the rubber masks they are.

With Candyman, DaCosta demonstrated her confidence as a fearless female filmmaker, and you know that Larson and Parris are no slouches in this department either. I’m all for grrrl power and whatnot, but I was perplexed why the three women were often dressed in clothes more appropriate for a sleepover than universe-saving. I swear, at one point, Larson is wearing a baggy crop top, basketball shorts, and tube socks, while Vellani is lounging with wet hair in an oversized T-shirt and sweatpants, munching on popcorn. Let’s not talk too long about some of the costumes when they are in superhero mode. Parris is dealt an unflattering blow with hers, but the worst offense is during the post-credit sequence when a new character is revealed wearing a costume so ugly/bulky you might think it’s a cardboard cutout they are standing behind.

It’s not a shock to hear rumblings that Larson wants out of playing Captain Marvel in the future; her heart doesn’t seem to be in it, and she often appears like she’s dreaming about being in another movie. Not having seen Ms. Marvel, I tried not to listen to the critics that dinged Vellani’s over earnestness, but she’s an increasingly grating presence in the film, especially when she begins to take center stage over Larson and the infinitely more interesting Parris. You start to wish this was a standalone movie for Parris anytime she gets a moment to shine – here’s hoping someone at Marvel gets wise. Ashton is a regrettably toothless villain, ironically saddled with silver-ringed teeth and a choppy backstory that suggests she’s playing a character far older than she looks. Only Zenobia Shroff (Soul), as Kamala Khan’s overprotective mother, is given any time to shine amongst the poorly written (and broadly performed) supporting characters.

I almost can’t imagine being in a theater with a packed audience when The Marvels delves into its two most bizarre sequences. One of these concerns the women visiting a planet that communicates only in song. Yes, in song. If you ever wanted to know what Larson sounds like singing her lines of exposition, I hope you have a ticket for the Friday night showing lined up. The second passage, sure to leave viewers scratching their heads, is a bizarre montage set to Barbra Streisand’s version of Memory and involves cats (naturally), tentacles, and regurgitation.

I wish that this reckoning for Marvel had come with an equal opportunity chance to disappoint, like on a Guardians of the Galaxy fart of fancy (we all know Vol. 3 was terrible, right?). Still, The Marvels is destined to shoulder the burden of failure. However, this is the movie the studio chose to send into the world, so judge it we must. Despite a humdinger of a post-credit sequence (it’s a jaw-dropper, to be sure), The Marvels is too campy to be cool, too goofy to be taken seriously, and too hastily glued together to be considered alongside the type of blockbuster output fans are expecting. Come to think of it; the output has been going south so much lately that The Marvels may not be that much of a letdown at all.

Movie Review ~ Falling for Figaro


The Facts:

Synopsis: A brilliant young fund manager leaves her unfulfilling job and long-term boyfriend to chase her lifelong dream of becoming an opera singer in the Scottish Highlands.

Stars: Danielle Macdonald, Hugh Skinner, Joanna Lumley, Gary Lewis, Shazad Latif

Director: Ben Lewin

Rated: R

Running Length: 105 minutes

TMMM Score: (3/10)

Review:  I watched Falling for Figaro on a rainy day hoping that it’s frothy premise and appealing stars would bring a little sunshine to an otherwise dreary day.  Here was a film that I would consider a slam dunk on paper.  You have extremely likable star Danielle Macdonald in the lead who has shown in a short amount of time that no matter what role she’s playing, you’re apt to root for her regardless of if you’re supposed to or not.  The Australian actress has a charm about her that’s undeniable and it’s only a matter of time (and, I think, an award nomination) before she’s finally recognized properly.  Supporting her would be the master of dryly detached humor Joanna Lumley and her leading man is scruffy English lad Hugh Skinner.  Throw in the Scottish Highlands as your backdrop and big dreams of opera stardom into the mix and there’s a movie perfect for a pick-me-up kind of mood.

Disappointingly, Falling for Figaro stumbles out of the gate and continues to trip over itself for the next ninety minutes, eventually becoming a staid and painful example of why romantic comedies are so difficult to navigate and how romantic dramadies are almost better left for only the most skilled filmmakers.  Instead of the breezy fun and low commitment this promised to be, the viewer is left increasingly uncomfortable with stars playing opera hopefuls that are clearly not singing and a general lack of overall conviction from anyone.

All Millie (Macdonald, French Exit) has dreamed of is to sing opera but a career in finance took precedence and now she finds herself an American working for a London firm and cozying up with her boss and boyfriend Charlie (Shazad Latif, The Commuter).  Just as she’s being offered a more permanent position with a lucrative pay increase, she chucks it all (but keeps supportive Charlie on retainer) to give opera a shot for a year.  Now, I know several friends who have worked for years in opera, and they’ll tell you what Millie’s professional friend tells her – it’s rare for anyone to start and become a pro so late in life…especially without any training.  Millie’s self-assurance and eye on the prize attitude is a plus and she’ll need it as she dives into a whole new world starting at the ground level.

Her friend advises the best way to fast-track to success is to win a “Singer of Renown” competition and land a part with a major opera company, and a former opera star now teacher like the semi-retired Meghan Geoffrey-Bishop (Lumley, The Wolf of Wall Street) is just the one who could help her do it.  Living in a tiny town at a farmhouse left to her by a fan, the droll diva is already working with Max Thistlewaite (Skinner, Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again) who has been trying to win the same competition for years.  Of course, Millie gets off to a rocky start with both upon her arrival.  Her singing isn’t up to snuff, but her money stream appears never-ending, so Meghan is happy to teach her and take her dough while Max bristles that Meghan’s attention is drifting from him to someone new and less experienced. 

What writer/director Ben Lewin (The Sessions) has forgotten in his script (and direction) is to create any real problems for our lead.  In even the most mundane of romantic comedies, the leading lady must walk through some sort of fire to come out the other side changed but Millie has a wonderful boyfriend and great job at the beginning, can afford to take a whole year off and sing the days away in the countryside, and becomes an opera aficionado quite quickly.  And she nets another paramour in the process (Max, duh).  It makes the character less complex and, therefore, less interesting.  It’s not Macdonald’s fault and credit goes to her for bringing a sliver of energy to the role, but there’s a sense that she knows there’s something missing and it’s not just her own singing voice.

We have to address the vocals in this film because it has some of the absolute worst dubbing I’ve seen outside of Italian horror films or low-budget martial arts movies of the ‘80s.  There’s a lot of opera singing going on in the movie and anytime someone opens their mouth, the music is never convincingly matched to their mouths.  Like, ever.  It’s incredibly distracting and instantly takes you out of whatever mood the filmmakers were trying to convey.  How nice would it have been for Lewin to cast actual opera singers in these roles and then see what happens?  Something tells me the movie would have been improved by a large margin if we believed Millie was getting better by believing the actress playing her was singing.  Again, this is no disrespect to Macdonald because she’s doing her job well.  This is just one of those, “Opera singers can act as well, you know!” kind of moments.

As it rounds the bend to an especially strained and painful final act (and oh, that epilogue…yeesh!), I felt more like running from Figaro than falling for it.  There’s something just all around off with the movie and it’s not just the mismatched vocals.  The comedy isn’t quite sharp enough, the drama isn’t deep enough, and the romance not convincingly established.  All the elements are there…they just brought the curtain up before everyone was truly ready to perform.  I could see Falling for Figaro being re-worked as a stage play/musical and being far more successful and entertaining – at least then you’d get actors that were actually singing.