‘The Marvels’ Review: Oh Yeah, MCU Movies Can Be Fun!
The Big Picture
- The Marvels manages to provide a quick refresher on key details from previous MCU projects, allowing viewers to enjoy the film without feeling overwhelmed by the extensive backstory.
- The film focuses on the dynamic between Carol Danvers, Monica Rambeau, and Kamala Khan, with Brie Larson, Teyonah Parris, and Iman Vellani delivering joyful performances that elevate the movie to new heights.
- Director Nia DaCosta brings a refreshing and playful tone to the MCU, creating an exciting and impactful film that stands out from recent Marvel releases.
In recent years, as the MCU has grown with a never-ending stream of movies and Disney+ shows, this universe has grown incredibly dense—much like the comics they’re based on. Especially on paper, it sounds like the latest MCU film, The Marvels, almost has too much to remember for the uninitiated—and even for those who have followed this world since 2008. Consider that given its three leads, The Marvels implies that viewers must have watched 2021’s WandaVision and 2022’s Ms. Marvel series, as well as remember the details of Captain Marvel from pre-snap 2019. It’s a lot, even for fans, to keep straight. But with The Marvels, director Nia DaCosta (who also co-wrote the film with Loki writer Elissa Karasik and WandaVision writer Megan McDonnell), shows that an MCU film can exist with characters that are packed with backstory and still be a hell of a lot of fun.
Carol Danvers gets her powers entangled with those of Kamala Khan and Monica Rambeau, forcing them to work together to save the universe.
- Release Date
- November 10, 2023
- Nia DaCosta
- Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, Iman Vellani, Zawe Ashton, Teyonah Parris
- 105 minutes
- Main Genre
- Superhero, Action, Adventure
And frankly, what do we really need to remember from these projects anyway? DaCosta, Karasik, and McDonnell do an excellent job of giving us a quick refresher on the details we need to know: Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel (Brie Larson) has been attempting to hold the universe’s problems on her shoulders and hers alone, spending years patrolling space; Monica Rambeau (Teyonah Parris) is still frustrated at Carol for leaving her when she was a kid, after saying she’s come back soon (oh, and she got powers from walking through a witch’s hex); and Kamala Khan/Ms. Marvel (Iman Vellani) is a teenager who recently discovered her powers and is a bit too obsessed with Captain Marvel. Boom, those are the details, and The Marvels manages to get these points out of the way to spend more time having an amusing time with these characters.
What Is ‘The Marvels’ About?
In The Marvels, we find that Dar-Benn (Zawe Ashton), a Kree warrior, has discovered a bangle identical to Kamala’s, and is using its powers to rip holes in space-time jump points to restore her dying planet, Hala. As Carol and Monica find these rifts at the same time—and for some reason, decide to touch them—they soon discover that whenever they or Kamala use their powers, they will swap positions, regardless of where they are in the galaxy. Together, with the help of Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and, of course, their cat Goose, this trio attempts to stop Dar-Benn before her search for resources ends up destroying all of space-time.
But for the most part, Dar-Benn mostly feels like MacGuffin just to get these three heroes together, and that’s honestly completely fine, considering she’s not the most interesting villain, and The Marvels has its focus on its three leads instead. Larson, Parris, and Vellani are a joy together, and watching their dynamics throughout The Marvels is all this film needs. While it is delightful to watch as this group plays around with their powers, or explore strange planets that allow them to show off their comedic skills (one location in particular manages to embrace the inherent weirdness of the MCU’s intergalactic possibilities), DaCosta, McDonnell and Karasik evolve these characters in intriguing ways. Carol has to reckon with working within a team and quit running away from how she let down Monica, while Kamala realizes that her hero/hopeful BFF is also an actual human. This all ebbs and flows nicely together in a way that always maximizes entertainment, but never undermines the character development going on.
Much like how this triumvirate plays around with their newfound connection, DaCosta has a ball with having these characters swap—especially in one scene early on that switches characters within a fight scene that constantly jumps from Kamala’s home to a deserted planet to Fury’s SABER station in space. This could’ve easily been a mess, but DaCosta reminds us that over-the-top action sequences in the MCU can actually be exciting and not nonsensical. DaCosta has a fantastic handle on comedic timing—a skill she hasn’t had the opportunity to show off in films like 2018’s Little Woods and 2021’s Candyman. The humor always feels natural to the scene, even when it’s ridiculous, and despite the story largely revolving around the civil war between the Kree and the Skrulls, The Marvels always manages to stay light.
Larson, Parris, and Vellani Elevate ‘The Marvels’ to New Heights
Yet this doesn’t work without Larson, Parris, and Vellani and all three are having a blast—which is palpable. By uniting these three, they’re able to let loose in a way we’ve never seen before. Sure, Kamala never has a filter, but it’s a delight to watch Larson’s Captain Marvel having a good time, or Parris’ Rambeau get lost in a dance on a musical planet. The way these three play off each other is satisfying, and especially for Larson and Parris, it’s great they have an opportunity to embrace the delight of this odd cinematic universe. The Marvels also gets weird in its B-plot, which mostly puts Nick Fury in charge of Kamala’s family (played by Zenobia Shroff, Mohan Kapur, and Saagar Shaikh) and Goose, which leads to plenty of wild and wonderful moments—a nice respite after the slog of Secret Invasion.
Unfortunately, getting the short end of the stick is Ashton’s Dar-Benn, a villain who doesn’t get enough time—beyond presenting her conflict with Captain Marvel. The Marvels is far more interested in its playful nature, and that works here, but at the cost of giving us a truly compelling antagonist. We are shown the implications of Dar-Benn’s actions and her plan to save her people, yet the stakes never feel all that high. This also leads to a final battle that once again tries to get rid of Dar-Benn in order to focus on other things, and while she is little more than a way to get this trio together, it’s a bit of a shame The Marvels couldn’t have its fun and an intriguing villain at the same time.
But fun is what makes The Marvels feel so refreshing in the MCU at this point. So many of the films and shows recently have been caught up in setting up future stories, blowing audiences away with shocking cameos, or have become wrapped up in morose narratives. We can’t say goodbye to the Guardians of the Galaxy without animal torture and wondering who is going to die, or watch an episode of Loki without focusing on the implications of films three years in the future. And while The Marvels absolutely sets up upcoming projects in truly exciting ways, and does still manage a cameo or two, it never feels like the focus in a way that many of these stories have recently.
The Marvels is the shortest film in the MCU so far, and it’s great that DaCosta has made a movie that is short, sweet, and yet, ends up being more impactful and playful than most Marvel films. In a universe that often feels suffocated by the amount of history, dense storytelling, and character awareness needed to enjoy these films, DaCosta figures out how to handle all of that in one of the most fun Marvel films in years. It’s kind of a marvel.
The Marvels comes to theaters in the U.S. on November 10. Click here for showtimes near you.