"The Marvels" stars Brie Larson, Teyonah Parris, Iman Vellani, Zawe Ashton, Park Seo-joom, and Samuel L. Jackson. Released on November 10, 2023, the film has Carol Danvers teaming up with new allies after beginning to swap places with them.
The film is directed by Nia DaCosta, who also directed "Little Woods" and 2021's "Candyman". It is the sequel to the 2019 film "Captain Marvel" and the 33rd film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It's been a few months since we last revisited the intergalactic side of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. While we have Loki's second venture through time and space on Disney+ to keep ourselves occupied, some of us still yearn to explore more of the universe's surreal galaxies. The Guardians of the Galaxy has disbanded, and Thor is busy being a single father to Gorr's child. So, I guess this leaves us with the most powerful Avenger to help us explore the cosmos again. However, she won't be alone in this latest galactic adventure. 2019's "Captain Marvel" introduced us to Carol Danvers, a former U.S. Air Force fighter pilot turned superhero who became integral to the game-changing fight between the Avengers and Thanos in "Endgame". It not only displayed how powerful she is with her strength and energy-based abilities but also provided a reasonably decent entry in the MCU via an origin story. After being absent from Earth for a few years, Captain Marvel finally returns to the action to kick intergalactic butt and prove the naysayers wrong with a dose of girl power. Does it have enough energy and charm to power through the MCU's recent issues? Let's find out.
The story follows Carol Danvers (Larson), who is spending her days settling intergalactic conflicts in space. Her latest mission has Carol confronting Dar-Benn (Ashton), a Kree warrior revolutionary seeking to restore her homeland with a mysterious bangle called the Quantum Band. When Dar-Benn activates the bangle, its magic comes into contact with Carol's energy-based abilities, causing her to switch places with two other people with similar powers whenever they use them. One of them is Monica Rambeau (Parris), the daughter of Carol's late friend, Maria Rambeau, who can manipulate electromagnetic wavelengths. The other is Kamala Khan (Vellani), a teenager from Jersey City who can harness cosmic energy through a bangle similar to Dar-Benn's. With the help of Nick Fury (Jackson), Carol must cooperate with Monica and Kamala to prevent Dar-Benn from wreaking havoc across the galaxy.
While "The Marvels" continues where "Captain Marvel" left off, most people may not realize that it's also a continuation of the two MCU shows on Disney+: "WandaVision" and "Ms. Marvel". So it left me curious about how they'll provide that much information into "The Marvels", especially since it's less than two hours long. This short runtime is a refreshing change of pace for those who are still annoyed by the excessive lengths of recent superhero blockbusters like "The Flash". At the same time, it gives Nia DaCosta and the crew the challenging task of explaining the streaming shows' backgrounds in that amount of time. After watching the movie, I can say they handled it pretty well. Some of those moments are brief, but they offer just enough for newcomers to understand Captain Marvel's new allies, especially Kamala. However, I would still recommend watching "WandaVision" and "Ms. Marvel" if you want the full context, as they're both great shows for different reasons.
So what about the film itself? Does the latest MCU sequel soar as high as Carol's first solo adventure? Well, let me ask you this. Do you want a superhero movie that's short and fun for the whole family without worrying too much about the bloated runtime? If so, then "The Marvels" will satisfy your comic book fan desires with its delightfully charming and humorous galactic adventure. However, if you want "The Marvels" to have the same emotional thematic storytelling as "Civil War" or "Guardians 3", you probably won't get that here. The film has some enticing ideas in its themes that could work in the plot's favor, such as Carol's struggle to maintain galactic peace and learning to put faith in others for help. There's also her relationship with Monica, whom she left behind when Monica was young. Unfortunately, the execution of those ideas didn't burn as bright as Carol's powers, as they were wasted on an uneven and muddling installment that's heavy on charisma but surprisingly light on emotion.
Going back to the film's runtime, I appreciate that they went back to making an MCU movie that's under two hours long. It would've given the audiences a much easier time sitting through a bombastic CGI festival without flying to the restroom during its climax. However, it also made me wish it was a bit longer regarding the story it wanted to tell. One reason is the pacing, which flew by for the right and wrong reasons. While it keeps things chugging along to keep specific audiences awake, it's also inconsistent to the point where it seems like the movie missed a few elements regarding the plot and character depth. The first half was rushed regarding the buildup, although the rest of the film got better with how it's paced, but not by much. I think if they figured out a solution to expand the characters and its narrative ideas further without going over the two-hour mark, it would've made its middling storytelling more excusable.
Aside from its narrative issues, "The Marvels" maintains the joyfulness and delight of riding a vibrant superhero roller coaster the franchise has been known for. Part of the reason is its refreshing concept involving characters swapping places. While its plot didn't take full advantage of this bizarre scenario, the film manages to find a way to maintain the lovable appeal of superheroes unintentionally switching to different locations. It's like "Freaky Friday" and "Your Name," but without the whole "body-swapping" thing. Then, there are the main leads: Larson, Parris, and Vellani. The MCU movies have been known for providing engaging chemistries between the cast due to the casting choices, heart, and charm, and "The Marvels" is unsurprisingly no exception. Brie Larson continues to shine as Carol Danvers, with her putting more charisma and wholesomeness into the powerful yet flawed and humane heroine. Teyonah Parris also did a good job with her performance as Monica, solidifying herself as another decent addition to the Marvel family.
However, the real shining star is Iman Vellani as Kamala Khan, the teenage super fan of Captain Marvel. She's one of the reasons I adored "Ms. Marvel", along with the family dynamic and intriguing approach to her abilities. Vellani elevated "The Marvels" as she did with the Disney+ series, with her appealing brand of teenage humor and charm. She's another young actress I would love to see more of, whether in the Marvel universe or something else. I also want to mention that Kamala's family was just as entertaining as I expected them to be. Then, there's Dar-Benn, played by Zawe Ashton. Despite Ashton's efforts in her performance and the villain's understandable motives, she comes off as another comic book villain who doesn't quite reach the similar heights as the other great MCU antagonists. She's neither memorable nor terrible. She's just all right. As for Samuel L. Jackson, well, he's Samuel L. Jackson. What else do you expect from the guy?
Another reason for the film's enjoyment is Nia DaCosta's direction. My first exposure to the filmmaker was the 2021 adaptation of "Candyman", which I thought was a solid entry in the slasher franchise. Seeing DaCosta helm a Jordan Peele-produced horror movie with a sense of immersion and visual finesse made me hope she'll keep her streak going with "The Marvels", which is a different beast compared to a low-budget slasher movie. I'm glad to say that DaCosta did just that. She handled its imperfect tone well regarding its comical and heartfelt moments, but her approach to the action scenes is pure radiance. They deliver as much entertainment and intensity in the choreography as other MCU installments. More importantly, they're shot and edited suitably well through Sean Bobbitt's cinematography and the film's decent visual effects.
Overall, "The Marvels" soars high and far with its intergalactic spirit and charisma, even though its save-the-world plot doesn't shine as bright as I hoped. It's short and enjoyable enough to stand out above the recent bloated superhero blockbusters we encountered this year. Not to mention, the cast and Nia DaCosta's direction make for a sublime combination. However, it also comes with the cost of being one of the more middling entries the Marvel Cinematic Universe has to offer regarding its uneven pacing, average storytelling, and lack of strong character depth. It's fun enough to be watchable, especially with its cameos and jaw-dropping hints of what's to come in the future. But it's also not invigorating enough to stand alongside some of the franchise's greatest hits storytelling-wise. If you liked "Captain Marvel," "WandaVision," and "Ms. Marvel," you'll likely have a good time watching this new galaxy-saving team in action.