Preceded by a string of hit-or-miss entries from the Marvel Cinematic Universe and following a marketing campaign unable to utilize the film’s stars, The Marvels had a hard road ahead. Coupled with a toxic fanbase hellbent on review-bombing Brie Larson, prospects for the film were bleak. However, all the pre-release negativity proved unwarranted. The Marvels scales back on both runtime and drama to deliver a fun and refreshing MCU entry. Filled to the brim with wacky situations, a straightforward standalone story, and a strong lead trio, the film breathes new life into the tired multiverse saga.  For the better, this sequel to Captain Marvel goes higher, further, faster than its predecessor in nearly every way.

While Carol Danvers (Larson) investigates anomalies in universe jump portals, Monica Rambeau (Teyonah Parris) works under Nick Fury’s (Samuel L. Jackson) watchful eye at S.A.B.E.R. Kamala Kahn (Iman Vellani) meanwhile daydreams about one day meeting and becoming BFFs with her hero, Captain Marvel. When their powers entangle, the trio find that they have inadvertently swapped places. They work together to unentwine their powers while working to stop the villainous Kree Dar-Benn (Zawe Ashton).

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Iman Vellani as Ms. Marvel/Kamala Khan in Marvel Studios’ THE MARVELS. Photo by Laura Radford. © 2023 MARVEL.

Director Nia DaCosta wastes none of the film’s short runtime. She quickly establishes where each character is and briefly introduces those who may not have watched the Disney+ series WandaVision or Ms. Marvel. The script cuts out the homework for those already overwhelmed by the magnitude of MCU offerings. The shows are not necessary to understand the characters or the plot. Instead, they serve as supplemental content for those wanting more of these characters. Writer’s comment: Both shows represent the best of Marvel television and deserve to be watched on their own merit.

Despite being solely focused on Nick Fury and the Skrulls, the characters and events of this summer’s Secret Invasion have absolutely zero bearing on The Marvels. Secret Invasion can be skipped with a vengeance. Perhaps more so than any other post-Endgame feature, The Marvels exists as a solid standalone film. This makes the film more accessible for audiences daunted by the 32 other films in the franchise.

DaCosta also brings a lightness to the film that recalls much of the charm of the early Marvel films. There are many zany situations that are befitting of a comic book movie. While certain sequences are downright silly, the position-swapping leads to the most dynamic and original fight scenes in the MCU. The editing during these sequences demonstrates a smoothness that stands out as remarkable. DaCosta had a clear vision, and that vision makes for a fun ride.

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Teyonah Parris as Captain Monica Rambeau in Marvel Studios’ THE MARVELS. Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios. © 2023 MARVEL.

The Marvels does not offer a rebuttal to criticism that MCU villains are weak. Dar-Benn’s single-minded quest for revenge is not unique, and Ashton fails to dig any deeper to make the character stand out. However, this almost seems like a deliberate choice by the filmmakers. The heart and dynamic of the story are the interactions and relationships between Carol, Kamala, and Monica. By centering the focus on the trio, the inter- and intra-personal conflict of those characters allows them to grow and blossom unlike any other Marvel team. The chemistry between the three is outstanding but Vellani stands out as the strongest of the group in her first-ever feature film. The focus on the characters instead of the overarching saga storyline has been missed and makes a welcome return in this film.

Another welcome return are clean visuals. While CGI remains a point of contention for Marvel, The Marvels improves at least on Quantumania. Here, the various planets portrayed feel like real, visitable locations. Likewise, Danver’s first appearance underwhelmed due to video game-caliber depictions of her powers. While still not perfect, the visual team has improved on what was first seen in 2019.

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(Center, L-R): Zawe Ashton as Dar-Benn and Daniel Ings as Ty-Rone in Marvel Studios’ THE MARVELS. Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios. © 2023 MARVEL.

The Marvels does what many other Marvel films cannot and presents a jumping-on point for new audiences. It is a light, fun movie that can serve as an introduction to a larger cinematic universe. DaCosta capitalizes on her trio’s chemistry to tell a character-driven story rather than simply setting the stage for upcoming films. Larson gives her best depiction of Carol Danvers, yet Vellani turns a star-making performance that makes her the film’s standout performer. While Dar-Benn fills in as little more than a forgettable antagonists, the power-bending fight scenes are among the MCU’s best. Against all odds, The Marvels rises above its prerelease drama to be one of Marvel’s strongest post-Endgame offerings.

Josh’s Rating: 8/10

Watch The Marvels exclusively in theaters. Read Alan’s review of The Marvels here. Disney/Marvel distribute.

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