Rumors of Marvel’s demise have been greatly exaggerated.
Nov 8, 2023 5:05 pm
Nov 8, 2023 5:00 pm
Comic books are art in hundreds of ways, but perhaps the most undervalued of those ways – particularly in superhero comics – is their ability to make you belly laugh while wildly tragic events are unfolding. Sure, there are sad comic books and serious comic books and somber comic books, and the same can be said for comic book films. But if you love that first kind I mentioned in the same way that I do, I suspect you are going to have a grand time with The Marvels.
With her inaugural outing in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Nia DaCosta directs the kind of film that leaves you grinning well after the credits roll. It’s made up of heart and soul and spirit and all of the piss and vinegar you’d expect from a story featuring three stellar leading ladies. Captain Marvel (Brie Larson) is more human than the franchise has ever allowed before this point, Monica Rambeau (Teyonah Parris) is as bright and bold as ever, and Ms. Marvel (Iman Vellani) predictably steals the show.
The Marvels Gallery
Perhaps what’s most refreshing here is that where Captain Marvel – despite its merits – felt like a living, breathing ad for military recruitment (no, really, there were literal Air Force ads), The Marvels is the antithesis of that. In fact, the primary conflict is centered on Carol Danvers’ wartime mistakes and their fallout. Our villain, Dar-Benn (Zawe Ashton), is a survivor of the Kree civil war that followed Captain Marvel’s destruction of the Supreme Intelligence, the AI that ruled over Dar-Benn’s home planet of Hala. Hala is dying as a result, and Dar-Benn will stop at nothing to save it and her people.
While she’s certainly a sympathetic villain, Dar-Benn is unfortunately one of the weakest parts of The Marvels (through no fault of Ashton’s). Marvel struggled with undeveloped baddies in Phase 1, and it continues to struggle with underdeveloped baddies in Phase 5. She’s simply not given a whole lot to do beyond serving as the reason that Carol, Monica, and Kamala are together. Also, many of the Kree lackeys look pretty cool thanks to makeup and costume designs, but her right hand man is just some dude with a manbun (Ty-Rone, played by Daniel Ings). It’s strange!
As Carol reckons with her mistakes, she is also given the opportunity to be a person. Don’t take that to mean that this is the Captain Marvel show, though: Despite the shift of focus in recent trailers, The Marvels very much centers on all three of its leads. Each member of the ensemble gets a full character arc, with their closing moments giving them the opportunity to find closure, peace, or a way forward. For this chapter, at least.
That’s noteworthy not just because writers DaCosta, Megan McDonnell and Elissa Karasik had the tall task of cramming three complete storylines into the MCU’s shortest movie yet, but because The Marvels matters a great deal to the franchise as a whole. The ending and the post-credits scene set up very consequential happenings in this universe and beyond, and it leaves you just as it should: excitedly wondering where all of this could go next.
Maybe it will be some kind of resolution for the Skrulls, because watching this species get beaten down has gotten kind of tiring. They cannot catch a break, and neither Carol Danvers nor Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) is doing a damn thing about it. In that same vein, there may have been a version of this movie that tied to Secret Invasion, but it’s not the one coming to a theater near you. There is connective tissue to other MCU shows besides Ms. Marvel, but you’re going to have a hard time guessing which – and that’s a compliment.
Fury deserves to be smacked by every Skrull he encounters, but the fact still remains that he is at his best alongside Carol Danvers. The same can now also be said for Monica and Kamala, as he acts as a mentor to the former and a role model to the other. He spends much of his time in The Marvels with Kamala’s family – a surprising and delightful pairing.
The Marvels’ greatest strength is its ensemble, but the comedy is a close second
The Marvels’ greatest strength is most certainly its ensemble, but the comedy is a close second. A team-up to halt an intergalactic revenge plot isn’t a story that screams “hilarious”, but this one is brimming with laughs from start to finish. It evokes the silliness of DC’s Legends of Tomorrow more than once, and even goes slapstick a few times early on, all of which plays quite well and never at the expense of the film’s downbeat moments. The Marvels simply understands that many of the things that unfold in superhero yarns – particularly this one – are deeply silly, or weird, or uncomfortable, and has no interest in self-seriousness in the face of that silliness and discomfort. Sometimes, the answer is to simply stop running from the Flerken.
Speaking of Flerken, the visual effects here look quite solid. It’s amazing what can be accomplished when VFX artists are given time to cook, which is exactly what happened: The Marvels swapped release dates with Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, giving the teams behind this film more runway and their Quantumania counterparts, well… we all saw what happened there. The Marvels does have a couple of less-than-stellar frames but, on the whole, it is a vast improvement on recent MCU fare.
DaCosta delivers a film with no bloat, tons of heart, and endless laughs. You can see bits and pieces of her style sprinkled throughout the film, even if the spots where the Marvel Machine took over are evident. If we’re very lucky, maybe we’ll see her return to the MCU for future projects. But, in the meantime, we can say for sure that this isn’t the end of Carol, Monica, or Kamala’s stories, and The Marvels will leave you wanting more of them immediately.
The Marvels is a triumph. Its depth can be seen not just through its characters, but through its story as it explores war’s complicated fallout; the difficulty of being a human when you are perceived as a monolith; and the hilarious and complicated virtues of family. Both funny and heartfelt, Nia DaCosta’s MCU debut will have you asking when she and her leading ladies are coming back immediately after the credits roll. It’s a pity that the villain isn’t given much to do, though.
The Marvels Review