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
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.