The Marvels (2023, dir. Nia DaCosta)

by | Nov 11, 2023

Certificate: 12A

Running Time: 105 mins

UK Distributor: Marvel Studios

UK Release Date: 10 November 2023

WHO’S IN THE MARVELS?

Brie Larson, Teyonah Parris, Iman Vellani, Zawe Ashton, Park Seo-joon, Samuel L. Jackson, Zenobia Shroff, Mohan Kapur, Saagar Shaikh, Lashana Lynch, Daniel Ings, Gary Lewis, Leila Farzad, Abraham Popoola

WHO’S BEHIND THE CAMERA?

Nia DaCosta (director, writer), Megan McDonnell and Elissa Karasik (writers), Kevin Feige (producer), Laura Karpman (composer), Sean Bobbitt (cinematographer), Catrin Hedström and Evan Schiff (editors)

WHAT’S IT ABOUT?

Carol Danvers (Larson), Monica Rambeau (Parris) and Kamala Khan (Vellani) find themselves unexpectedly connected…

WHAT ARE MY THOUGHTS ON [TITLE]?

Blame whatever you want, whether it’s superhero fatigue, or the recently-ended actors’ strike, or an increasingly complex cinematic universe that feels like the film equivalent of homework, or just a bunch of woman-hating commentors on the internet, but the lack of hype surrounding The Marvels is still quite alarming.

While it is true that the Marvel franchise hasn’t been as consistent with its quality as it used to be, not to mention the fact that the first Captain Marvel movie received a mixed feedback from critics and audiences (though, again, those misogynist cry-babies might have led that consensus), that doesn’t automatically make it okay to wish failure onto a project that a lot of clearly talented people still poured their hearts and souls into, especially before the film is even released. And yet, toxic fandom seems to have once again dealt its ugly hand, as it is now currently on-track to be one of the lowest-grossing films in the entire franchise, all because nobody outside of the dedicated and more positive fanbase seems to care.

That is quite a shame, because while it is certainly not without its flaws, The Marvels is actually quite a good bit of fun. Dare I say it, it’s perhaps the most fun that a Marvel movie has been in a good long while, all without an ounce of pretension in its body.

The film, directed and co-written by Nia DaCosta, sees three established heroes of the Marvel Cinematic Universe – Carol Danvers aka Captain Marvel (Brie Larson), Monica Rambeau (Teyonah Parris) who now possesses superhuman abilities after the events of WandaVision, and Kamala Khan (Iman Vellani) who idolises Captain Marvel and has her own set of cosmic powers – suddenly switching places when they use their powers at the same time. Though initially a hinderance, the heroes soon find that the switching could come in handy if they team up to defeat Dar-Benn (Zawe Ashton), a member of the Kree race who seeks to restore her planet’s resources, no matter the destruction caused to other planets.

Plenty of superhero action ensues, as it tends to do in a Marvel film, but DaCosta isn’t content with just delivering the same kind of CG-filled sequences we’ve seen time and time again in this franchise. Here, the filmmaker adds a much-needed spark of energy to the action, finding some creative ways of working in the constant switching of places to the choreography, while also giving them a nice flow that allows you to tell who has switched where and how they go from there. Admittedly, it does take a bit of time to get used to this kind of hyperactive approach, for some of the editing in the earlier sequences can make it confusing to follow, but it eventually settles into something more digestible as our heroes start working together more and using their new connection to their benefit.

DaCosta, along with co-writers Megan McDonnell and Elissa Karasik, also lends that zippy pace to a script which doesn’t bog itself down as much with MCU road-mapping as some of the more recent films and shows, probably because there isn’t enough time for that. At 105 minutes, it’s the shortest film in the MCU thus far, which ends up working in its favour as it gives the film a stronger focus than other recent entries, which tended to fill up their runtimes with setting up future projects and some divisive stabs at humour. Both of those things are still present in The Marvels, but they do not detract from the central narrative in the same ways that, say, Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania did; in fact, when something new is introduced or a joke happens, they land far better here than in some of the ones that were more outlandishly comedic (looking at you, Thor: Love and Thunder).

That’s because the script knows who to focus on, and when to drop something light into the mix, with not just endearing heroes but also comedy that is genuinely funny. Regarding the heroes, their chemistry is very likeable and feels natural to their shared situation, while they each stand well enough on their own. For one, Brie Larson gets to have a lot more fun with her character here than in previous appearances, and while I feel that Carol Danvers, and Larson’s portrayal of her, has sadly been overshadowed by the negative incel backlash against her, at the end of the day this is a hero who can destroy spaceships and ignite suns just by flying into them, which is just a really cool power to have. Teyonah Parris is good here too, though it is the ever-delightful Iman Vellani who walks away with the entire film, which for anyone who had the pleasure of seeing this actor headline the Ms. Marvel series shouldn’t be that much of a shock.

As for the film’s handling of comedy, which has become a common criticism of Marvel lately, it works well here because, again, DaCosta and her co-writers have a clear enough idea of who their characters are and how to work in those lighter moments without disrupting the overall tone. Vellani’s Kamala Khan is certainly a much more comedic character than her idol Captain Marvel is, but she isn’t dropping misplaced one-liners in every other scene, nor does the film stop in its tracks to allow her and other actors to ramble their way through improvised back-and-forths.

The film knows and respects that Kamala is a well-rounded and three-dimensional character by this point, and not just a source for light relief (which she does still manage to provide, as she is given some of the funnier moments out of the main trio). Elsewhere, the film has some inspired set-pieces that score a lot of earned laughs, including one set on a planet where everything is basically a musical, and a later one that contains perhaps the year’s funniest needle-drop. These moments, and many others, had me laughing much harder than in other Marvel movies that have identified more as comedies, which once more is a sign of strong writing and even more caring direction.

It’s certainly not a perfect film, for it has some of the same problems that even a number of the better Marvel movies tend to have, namely a throwaway villain-of-the-week whose lack of motivation and menace – through no fault of Zawe Ashton, who does fine with what she’s been given – sadly makes her one of the least effective MCU baddies in some time. In addition to the editing problems that I mentioned earlier, there are also times when the film relies a bit too hard on its kinetic pacing, especially as the film starts wrapping up its main storyline.

Though it does still carry those familiar Marvel flaws, The Marvels just happens to work better with them than others have managed, and they do not take away from how much fun the film is to watch. I am not ashamed to say that I had a blast throughout most of it, from the opening scenes to the rather exciting credit sequences that set up a very promising future for this universe, and was pleased to find that Marvel still has plenty of life left in it, even if everyone else is starting to jump ship (though call it a hunch, but I have a feeling that all will be forgiven once Deadpool 3 comes about).

SO, TO SUM UP…

The Marvels is a fun and light-hearted entry in the MCU that has plenty of love and respect for its main heroes, a number of creative and even funny set-pieces, and a real spark of energy that soars it past many of its narrative flaws.

Four of of five stars

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