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THE MARVELS (2023) review

November 16, 2023


written by: Nia DaCosta, Megan McDonnell and Elissa Karasik
produced by: Kevin Feige
directed by: Nia DaCosta
rating: PG-13 (for action/violence and brief language)
runtime: 105 min.
U.S. release date: November 10, 2023


“The Marvels” is like the equivalent of picking up a comic book for the first time without having read the thirtysomething issues that came before it. If you can easily follow along and you like what you’ve read, then you may feel compelled to search out some back issues. If you’ve watched “Captain Marvel” when the character was introduced back in 2019, but you haven’t seen the Disney+ shows, WandaVision (2021) and Ms. Marvel (20200), then you may or may not feel compelled to check those two shows out. Those two shows are definitely worth checking out. But then again, if “The Marvels”, which is an amalgam sequel of all three of those MCU entries doesn’t do it for you, it’s doubtful you’ll go back and catch up on what you’ve missed. That’s too bad.

Even if you have watched all of the feature films from Marvel Studios since 2008, you may feel that superhero fatigue that everyone is talking about. I don’t feel that yet. For some unknown reason, I remain optimistic that superhero movies can be good, even great. However, the recent theatrical offerings in Phase Five of the MCU, which began last February with “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” and continued in May with “Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 3”, have been a mixed bag – and that’s being generous.

“The Marvels” is directed by Nia DaCosta, who co-wrote the screenplay with Megan McDonnell (“WandaVision”) and Elissa Karasik (“Loki”), and it’s a story that coincidentally revolves around three powerful females with varied experiences in superheroics. The three writers initially spend a fair amount of time catching viewers up to speed on who these three characters are and what they’ve been up to. However, their story doesn’t have time for any character moments (especially when it comes to new ones) since its more concerned with fast-moving action sequences, as it bops from one planet to the next, barely allowing viewers a chance to acclimate themselves to who’s who and what’s what.

As the movie opens, we’re introduced to Dar-Benn (Zawe Ashton), a Kree warrior determined to bring her people into a new age of prosperity after a civil war broke out. To do that, she must find special quantum bands that will provide her with enough power to replenish their homeworld, Hala. How does she plan on doing this? Why, the same way Dark Helmet used Mega Maid in “Spaceballs” back in 1987! If you know, you know.



Dar-Benn has only acquired one of the bands, yet between that and her “Universal Weapon” (it’s actually called a Cosmi-Rod, similar to the warhammer Ronan the Accuser wields in both the comics and the MCU) she winds up tearing open a whole in space. When Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), who has been busy hosting peace talks between the Skrulls and the Kree, while immersed in acronyms in space with intelligence agency S.W.O.R.D. (aka Sentient Weapon Observation and Response Division) at the S.A.B.E.R. space station (Strategic Aerospace Biophysics and Exolinguistic Response, last seen in “Spider-Man: Far from Home” and last summer’s “Secret Invasion” on Disney+) learns of this outer space anomaly, he has Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel (Brie Larson) look into it.

At the same time, Monica Rambeau (Teyonah Parris), an astronaut for S.A.B.E.R, investigates a jump point in space that was affected by Dar-Benn’s actions and when she touches the tear she winds up swapping places with Carol and Kamala Khan (Iman Vellani). Who’s Kamala Khan? A teenage mutant Captain Marvel fangirl in Jersey City (that’s in New Jersey, back on Earth) who goes by Ms. Marvel, and has similar light-based powers as Carol and Monica. Kamala also happens to possess the other quantum band, which she calls a bangle (a gift from her grandmother). The three of them wind up in a quantum entanglement and soon realize this when they change places whenever they use their powers. This is awkward considering Monica hasn’t seen Carol since she was a little girl, because she’s the daughter of Carol’s best friend and fellow U.S. Air Force fighter pilot, Maria Rambeau (Lashana Lynch), who died of cancer during The Blip (again: if you know, you know).

This entanglement requires the three of them to work together and coordinate all of their light-based powers and work as a functional trio to prevent Dar-Benn from sucking resources from other planets to replenish Hala.



Much of the tone of “The Marvels” is light with situational comedy, while its pace moves at a breezy clip. The teleportation action of the three heroes results in some funny situations, the inevitable battle scenes where the three of them go up against Dar-Benn have an overuse of green screen to them. It may not be obvious to some viewers, but I noticed it in the trailers and it’s kind of glaring in the context of the movie. It’s also been quite noticeable in other MCU movies lately. The action doesn’t feel grounded like it’s in a real place. Oh yeah, I know I know…these are superhero movies. What is real? Well, compare the locations and sets of this movie and the last three MCU movies to those of say, “Eternals” or “Shang-Chi” and even the stellar production design of “Loki”, all of which felt like the actors were shooting at an actual location.

That being said, it is fun seeing the three Marvels working together as they figure out how to navigate their powers. Kamala’s giddy teenage presence injects an enjoyable energy into their dynamic, especially when she first meets her hero, Carol Danvers. There’s a funny bit where Kamala runs through a slew of superhero names for Monica, who has absolutely no interest in any of it. Kamala’s excitement is needed, since there’s an awkwardness between Carol and Monica, and she winds up becoming quite proud of herself for naming the trio “The Marvels”, despite the other two not being quite sold on it.

Carol has spent much of her time since “Avengers: Endgame” roaming outer space with Goose (an alien flerken that only looks like a cat) in her spaceship, trying to piece together the memory gaps from her past. Monica is still dealing with grief from the loss of her mother. Kamala isn’t just a lighter addition to the story, but it also brings an endearing element with the inclusion of her Jersey City family. When Fury and Monica show up at their door to explain their daughter’s manic mix-up, her mother Muneeba (Zenobia Shroff) and father Yusuf (Mohan Kapur) are understandably concerned and perplexed. It’s whacky and funny, but for the life of me I couldn’t figure out why it makes sense for Fury to take Kamala’s parents, and her older brother Aamir (Saagar Shaikh), up to the secret space station. It’s purely for comic relief, but that’s it and that’s not enough.



In fact, the third act of “The Marvels” relegates Fury and Kamala’s family to pure comedy relief, of the Scooby-Doo variety. This is when S.A.B.E.R. goes haywire due to Dar-Benn’s increased use of jump points, causing system failures and universal instability. Just chaos causes flerkens to float to the tune of “Memories” from Andrew Lloyd Weber’s “Cats” as they swallow space station employees to transport them to safety. It’s okay because the mouths of flerkens contain pocket dimensions used to store and hold almost anything or, in this case, anyone – then they just hack them back out to safety, albeit with flerken slime. It’s all done for laughs, only it’s more fun than it is funny.

That’s actually how most of the intended funny scenes are in “The Marvels”. They’re fun, but not all that funny. Fun is fine, but it does kind of lessen the stakes of Dar-Benn’s supposed threat. Most of Dar-Benn’s actions occur before the space station fiasco, wherein she and her crew steal natural resources to replenish Hala. There’s a stop on planet Tarnax, home to a Skrull refugee colony, where The Marvels try to prevent Dar-Benn from sucking the air out of the planet’s atmosphere. For timesake and because of their power entanglement, all that Carol, Monica, and Kamala can do is evacuate the Skrulls. Not much time to establish how the Skrulls are doing on this planet or if all of this is taking place before or after “Secret Invasion”. Note: It would make more sense if it is.

When Carol learns that Dar-Benn has a vendetta with her, due to the events that occurred in “Captain Marvel”, she realizes that the Krull warrior is targeting planets with a personal connection to Carol. Because of this, she takes Monica and Kamala to the water planet Aladna, where Carol has a special (and surprising) connection to Prince Yan (Park Seo-joon), a place where singing is the only form of communication – a good thing Prince Yan is bi-lingual. This is where “The Marvels” goes from a full-on song-and-dance routine to an action sequence when Dar-Benn arrives to steal water from the planet. It’s a herky-jerky tonal jump that may not work for some, and while it’s fun it feels like there should be more to it. Instead, this is one of the movie’s many moments that feel rushed.



“The Marvels” is at its best when the heroic trio are trying to find a balance to their light powers and learn to control the teleporting, allowing them to bond which allows Monica and Carol some time to deal with their history. The best example of this is the montage on Carol’s spaceship when they test how to work with their powers. Within the trio, it’s Vellani’s Kamala who shines with her exuberance, injecting some fun energy into the trio. As Monica, Parris definitely stretches a bit further here than she was able to in “WandaVision” since that’s when she unexpectedly acquired her powers. At times, it feels like Larson is dialing it in, but not as much as Jackson as Fury. Those two had such great chemistry in “Captain Marvel”, but they really don’t spend much time here and separately they’re kind of underwhelming, unfortunately. More time could’ve been spent with Captain Marvel dealing with the repercussions of her actions (from her last movie) that unintentionally left Hala ravaged. But again, everything is moving so fast here.

Director Nia DaCosta (who brought a lot of creativity to the “Candyman” sequel/remake in 2021) indeed gets the most fun out of the trio here, but overall, silly fun doesn’t pair well with worldwide destruction. There’s a tediousness that grows as the story unfolds in the “The Marvels” in a movie that can’t just rely on teamwork alone.

For quite some time now, moviegoers have bemoaned the length of these superhero movies, claiming two-and-a-half to three hours is too long. Well, now we have the shortest MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) entry, the 33rd if we’re keeping track and now some are complaining it’s too short. Granted, that’s not all they’re complaining about, but I actually agree with them here. For the life of me, I still cannot figure out why producer Kevin Feige isn’t hiring Marvel Comics writers to lend their skills to the screenplay of these movies.

As expected, “The Marvels” gives us a tease of things to come in the MCU, but I’m not getting too excited about any of it. After all, they’ve done nothing yet with Clea, The Black Knight, or Starfox, all of whom appeared in end-credit scenes in recent movies and will likely just show up as cameos in one of the upcoming “Avengers” movies. That’s a long time from now.



RATING: **1/2





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