As rumors swirl around the Marvel Cinematic Universe, there have been glimmers of hope. For every frustrating dead end, there have been projects that bode well for the long-term viability of the franchise. Few have been more successful than Ms. Marvel, which helped launch Iman Vellani as a star. Her promotion to the big leagues is well deserved, and The Marvels benefits from her rise. With Brie Larson and Teyonah Parris on board, The Marvels brings plenty of comedy and screwball oddity to keep the audience on its toes. However, there are plenty of flaws that peer through the cracks of the latest Marvel feature.
Carol Danvers (Larson) investigates rifts in jump portals across the universe. Meanwhile, Monica Rambo (Parris) works on the S.A.B.E.R. Space Station. Back on Earth, Kamala Khan (Vellani) fantasizes about the day she can work with Captain Marvel. Suddenly, the three find themselves switching places as they use their powers. Forced to come together, they must take on a threat from Carol’s past – a Kree named Dar-Benn (Zarwe Ashten).
Much will be made about the weakness of Dar-Benn as a villain, which deserves criticism. However, the Marvel villain problem stretches far beyond this story. Director Nia DeCosta realizes the obvious monomaniacal approach of Dar-Benn is thin, but that seems to be the purpose. Given the ways Marvel has allowed Carol Danvers to emerge as one of, if not the outright most powerful character on screen, Dar-Benn is no real threat. We realize as much when the team assembles and gets to take her head on. However, the women are thrown out of their comfort zone by introducing the teleport mechanic. On some level, this is frustrating. The heroes can only approach their normal strength after working through emotional hangups, which suggests these women cannot compartmentalize for the greater good. On the other hand, it allows women across religions, races, and upbringings to deliver a more subtle argument toward intersectional support than the first Captain Marvel could dream of.
The Dar-Benn role shows how shallow thought and opposition to a force can create long-running ramifications. It can easily be tied to single-issue voters or advocates, who lose their ability to empathize with a belief or ideal outside their strict code. This approach does Ashten a few favors, but it helps The Marvels showcase the more complicated emotional and philosophical side of its three heroes. There could be more backstory, but cutting out the fluff allows the brisk pace. The Marvels clocks in at 105 minutes, the shortest MCU film to date. There are still asides and montages, with some rough exposition, but the focus on time with our heroes helps the audience embrace the new team.
For the good of the MCU, we need to care about the characters again. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 and Black Panther: Wakana Forever remain two of the most successful post-Endgame flicks. Guardians benefited from focusing on its established characters and delivered an emotional sendoff. Ryan Coogler Wakanda Forever struggled with introducing new pieces to the MCU while accounting for the loss of Chadwick Boseman. The Marvels serves to deepen our relationships with Kamala and Monica, both of whom receive quick introductions to explain their backstory established in Disney+ shows. Having a relationship with WandaVision and Ms. Marvel certainly helps, but it is far from required. There’s enough present to showcase their journey and the road ahead.
It seems clear that Marvel and DeCosta understand that Vellani’s energy becomes the film’s strongest asset. Kamala’s family finds themselves in the path of destruction as their youngest fights her way through the galaxy. Zenobia Shroff, Mohan Kapur, and Saagar Shaikh bring comedic relief to a movie that desperately needs it. There are certainly convenient story beats to help add stakes, but their presence with Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) becomes additive. With Vellani stealing the show from two established actresses, the sky feels like the limit. Unlike Holland, who is bound by Sony contracts, Vellani emerges as Marvel’s first home-grown star since Letitia Wright emerged in Black Panther. Her future, not only in this franchise but across the MCU seems exceptionally bright.
Ultimately, your mileage on The Marvels may depend on two aspects. First, DeCoasta and the team get very weird and very silly with scenes. A boisterous opening fight stuns. A second sequence channels non-American musicals and chants to create a unique and vivid world. Finally, a final act surprise results in one of the funniest sequences to date in the MCU. The makeup and costumes showcased in these scenes are among the best of the last five years in any superhero movie. However, linking these moments together the seams of the picture show. Questionable editing, including an extremely odd costume change, shed light on the issue. This will detract from some, but some of these sequences are so charming and unique, that you love to see the oddball energy showcased.
If you do not enjoy the lighter Marvel movies, The Marvels will not be for you. It’s undeniable that the franchise has had its ups and downs. In the post-Infinity War era, Marvel began leaning into the serious nature of its characters, abandoning some of the charm that made their features stand out. Yet, after a jarring and upsetting event, it’s understandable that we reached this moment. With enough charisma and charm from its leads, The Marvels provides us a glimpse at past MCU entries while genuinely paving a future path for its characters.