In the autumn of 2023, as the DC Movie Universe scrambles and regroups and the Marvel Cinematic Universe struggles to regain its prominence in pop culture, two movies hit the screen with far less fanfare than one might expect, and diminishing expectations. DC plunged the depths and brought up Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom, and Marvel took a Hail Mary shot into space and bet on The Marvels.
The results are, let us say, problematic.
Cast and Crew
Director: Nia DaCosta
Writers: Nia DaCosta, Megan McDonnell, Elissa Karasik with, I suspect, a lot of mandated rewrites.
Brie Larson as Carol Danvers / Captain Marvel
Iman Vellani as Kamala Khan / Ms. Marvel
Teyonah Parris as Monica Rambeau
Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury
Zawe Ashton as Dar-Benn
Gary Lewis as Emperor Dro’ge
Park Seo-joon as Prince Yan
Zenobia Shroff as Muneeba Khan
Mohan Kapur as Yusuf Khan
Saagar Shaikh as Aamir Khan
Leila Farzad as Talia
Abraham Popoola as Dag
Daniel Ings as Ty-Rone
Alex Hughes as Kree Announcer
Shardiah Ssagala, Cecily Cleeve, Remi Dabiri-McQuaid, Ffion Jolly as assorted Skrulls.
Kenedy McCallam-Martin as Young Monica
Savannah Skinner-Henry, Rachel John as noteworthy Aladneans
Daniel Monteiro as Royal Attaché
Kya Garwood, Shereen Walker Fikayo Ifarajimi,Shereen Walker, Kamara Benjamin Barnett, Kenny-Lee Mbanefo as various Kree
Tessa Thompson as Valkyrie
Hailee Steinfeld as Kate Bishop
Kelsey Grammer as Hank McCoy / The Beast
The best Marvels have been superhero movies and something else. The first Captain America is a superhero war movie. The second, a jacked-up spy thriller. Ant-man is a superhuman heist comedy. Ms. Marvel is a family-friendly teen coming-of-age series, about a superhero.
This one is an interstellar road movie, Boys on the Side with superheroes. At its heart, however, there’s a villain with a legitimate grudge, a lead hero who has messed up on a planetary scale, and a wannabe sidekick coming to terms with the problems of meeting her hero. Mediating between the two is Captain Rambeau and Nick Fury,
The film has an excellent premise, and actors who could have carried it. Initially, they seem poised to successfully blend the YA/Mid-level family-friendly Ms. Marvel series, the one your buddy’s eleven-year-old daughter loved so much, with a plot involving multiple threatened genocides, and a central hero whose enemies (justifiably) have taken to calling her “the Annihilator.”
These things should have been emphasized, with more character scenes and fewer things going boom. The premise gets lost in the desire to have bigger and better special effects sequences, like, every ten seconds, and Guardians of the Galaxy Cosmic Marvel comic humour. These scenes can and often do work. We have lots of CGI-enhanced battle action. And there’s a bit where the script simply abandons itself to its own absurdities. It won’t please those who take their superheroes too seriously, but I laughed out loud. It’s so good, it justifies Andrew Lloyd Weber. But these set pieces work on an individual level, and not in the context of the larger movie.
This problem of continuity has bedeviled the parent industry for some time. Marvel emphasized continuity from the beginning and, initially, that made readers feel like they were entering a shared universe while allowing Marvel to promote their other titles. Over time, the interconnections became oppressive. Eventually both Marvel and DC comics started including notes along the lines of, “Woah, confused about why Captain Wish-Fulfilment has a foot growing out of his head after page 9? Guess you better check out ish #33 of The Incredible Onanist, now on sale.”
And so with The Marvels. Its already convoluted plot over-relies upon prior knowledge of the Avengers franchise, WandaVision, Thor, and Spider-man: Far From Home. As a bonus, we get references to Disney+’s Hawkeye series and the X-Men franchise. Those last two, at least, are kept to the epilogue and mid-credit sequence, so they don’t really distract. The script also keeps calling attention to its reliance on external material. Instead of being intrigued by the film’s larger reality, the references would drive away anyone who hasn’t been consuming large amounts of Marvel franchise programming.
Originality: 1/6 We have too much of what we’ve seen before and too little of the original elements this film could have offered.
Acting: 5/6 Iman Vellani, in particular, shines. Some of the impressive, established actors, such as Samuel L. Jackson, do well enough, but it’s clear they’re growing a little weary of their roles.
Emotional Response: 3/6
This isn’t a terrible movie, and if you just want superhero mayhem with female leads, you and your popcorn will probably have a passably enjoyable time. But it’s not a particularly good one, it cost a fortune to make, and I found myself continually distracted by the better film that layers of revision, required external continuity, and F/X money shots obscured.
In total, The Marvels receive 27/42.