Aboard the SABER (Strategic Aerospace Biophysics and Exolinguistic Response) space-station, high above the Earth, Nick Fury is trying to get further information about why surges are happening across the jump-point system that should normally allow interstellar travel. Independently both Carol Danvers and Monica Rambeau experience a flux in those portals and the surges have an unusual effect on them. But it also impacts the unknowing Kamala Khan, the fledgling superhero who was minding her own business in the New Jersey home she shares with her over-protective parents. It seems Danvers, Rambeau and Khan’s powers – all based on variations in light energy – are now inexplicably linked, making them swap places whenever one of them uses their powers. At first, it’s utter chaos and a damage to property-values, but once the three women manage to get in the same place at the same time, the origin of the problem – if not the solution – becomes apparent.
Elsewhere in the galaxy Denn-Barr is trying to rebuild the Kree Empire, restoring resources to her homeworld by targeting planets to which Captain Marvel – or known to her as ‘The Annihilator’ – has a connection. Denn-Barr has a powerful wrist-band that gives her a huge power-set… and it appears Kamla Khan has the other half of the matching pair.
The ‘Marvels’ are going to have combine their resources, but how many boundaries are they willing push to save entire worlds?
It’s easy to see why The Marvels will prove divisive because it has definitive strengths and weaknesses and your enjoyment may well depend on your expectations going in. With the SAG-AFTRA strike over only hours before release, Disney has had to rely on trailers to frame and promote its release rather than its assortment of stars at its usual disposal and the House of the Mouse hasn’t really had a handle on how they want to deliver it. The central story is pretty slight, a scattershot and broadstroke revenge story with a villain that’s never really developed and a movie with rather dismissive view of cosmic collateral damage. Look closely and The Marvels delivers ninety minutes of conflict and a rather flippant thirty-second solution. The Marvels is a connecting bridge for multiple arms of the MCU. There’s both lip-service and direct links to the first Captain Marvel (obviously) then WandaVision, Ms. Marvel, Secret Invasion, nods to Avengers: Endgame and more). But amid all that cross-pollination – and somewhat ironically – it’s the sheer lightness of touch and more human aspects of The Marvels that help sell and save the movie, essentially turning an overwrought crusade into a Sisterhood of the Travelling Pranks.
When we’re not ticking-off a bullet list of discussing cosmic genocide, cancer and abandonment, the pace picks up with humour. Music frames some of the most memorable scenes. The Magellanic Galaxy’s Aladna (now forever known as the dance planet where people communicate through song) is a righteously silly idea but well executed with full-on Disney princess irony and with Once More with Feeling levels of energy (there was apparently a lot more of this in the original cut, but the final result is pitched about right, though there’s not enough time to invest in them and the likes of South Korean star Park Seo-joon as Prince Yan). And what more can be said of the Flerken Emergency Evacuation Protocols aboard SABER’s space-station that take place to the CATS soundtrack? (Perhaps ‘Ewwww!‘ ‘Hurrah!‘ and ‘Tardis?‘ in equal measure). Equally, the Khan family majestically dance around the ethnic line of celebration and parody – the embarrassing, over-protective parents but understandably both impressed and non-plussed by the activities of their daughter and the people who may be putting her in danger. I half-expected Zenobia Shroff ‘s Muneeba Khan to wallop Fury with a handbag at the earliest opportunity.
Brie Larson is perfectly good as Carol Danvers / Captain Marvel and yet it’s taken this long to really give her anything decent past her origin story. For such a powerhouse, she sat out most of the Thanos saga and was just a reference points for Ms. Marvel and name-checked in Secret Invasion. Here we see more of the weight she carries on her shoulders, the reasons for staying away and a litany of regrets. The fact that her ‘Annihilator’ status amongst the Kree is well-earned and that there’s every reason for her to be despised for her actions by an entire race of aliens, is addressed here, but there’s really no Jean Grey/Dark Phoenix penalty to pay. Teyonah Parris’ Monica Rambeau is also fleshed out beyond the events of WandaVision and manages to hold her own as a major player (and a pivotal character if you stay until the very end). But it’s really Iman Vellani’s movie with her Kamala Khan earning her place in the Marvel firmament beyond her tv series and very much a victory for both the next generation of Marvel heroes and a solid figure for diversity and representation as a young Muslim superhero without belabouring the point. She’s delightful, fun and the scenes with her fellow female fighters light up the screen with a youthful glee.
Samuel L. Jackson is always welcome, but the more comedic and sardonic Nick Fury beats are in contrast to his recent experiences in Secret Invasion. Though Zawe Ashton gives it her all with the material she’s got as Denn-Barr, but she’s a disposable antagonist whose actions are that of a megalomaniacal cosmic bad-guy bent on revenge but whose actual motivations are driven by a fairly reasonable reaction to having Carol Danvers casually annihilate her planet’s resources. It’s a shame more time couldn’t have been given to flesh her out and make us see her position, but in the end it’s just fodder for fist-fights. It’s likely just cosmic coincidence that she and husband Tom Hiddleston (aka Loki) have pivotal Marvel milestones arriving in the same week.
The Skrulls were originally a fascinating addition to the MCU-lore and there was much potential in deviating from the baddies of the comics. But since their introduction they’ve been subsequently mishandled with no-one really knowing how to move their story forward. The recent Secret Invasion started to address the abandonment they felt after being inexplicably let down by Carol Danvers and Nick Fury (because, seriously, you couldn’t find them a planet for thirty years when it seems so easy in this film?) but then squandered its storyline. Here they are once again inconvenient refugees and once again shuffled around and shuttled away once they’ve provided some pointed dialogue and target-practice. You may recognise Gary Lewis as Emperor Dro’ge but we don’t get to see much of him. Timely stories of cultural and religious animosity could have been addressed, but maybe that would have been awkward as well. (The idea that The Marvels might once have been released ahead of Secret Invasion might also explain the inclusive status of SABER and the Skrulls which would surely have been quite different after the xenophobic ‘aliens not welcome‘ sign hung out after the series).
And, yes, those ‘epilogues’.
FURTHER SPOILER ALERT…
After a long while we get some pay-off in the evolution of the Young Avengers concept, with Kamala seeking out Hailee Steinfeld’s Kate Bishop and neatly echoing Fury’s original call-to-arms, if more politely. I’m not sure when this will continue, but it’s good to see it hasn’t been discarded. And then – post credits… THAT scene. Yes, the one that leaked earlier this week and revealing how the X-Men get introduced to the MCU (or, is it the other way around). Monica was trapped on the wrong side of the galactic tear and she wakes up to find her mother Maria Rambeau (Lashana Lynch) is still alive in this other universe and (like in Multiverse of Madness‘ Illuminati sequence) it seems the elder Rambeau beat Danvers to the superhero punch and has followed one of the trajectories that Carol did in the comics – here as ‘Binary’. And, heeeeere’s Beast, (the blue-hued professorial version not the darker genocidal McCoy of the recent comics). It’s mere seconds of screen-time, but once again voiced by Kelsey Grammer though with a somewhat questionable CGI visage. It’s a pivotal Marvel moment, though, again, the pay-off could be some time away.
Though director Nia DaCosta delivers a fun slice of superhero derring-do, early projections for the release suggest an all-time low for a Marvel opening-weekend. That’s a shame because though it’s not a powerhouse production, nor is it an early Thanksgiving turkey – there’s plenty to enjoy here and it deserves a better response. There’s no real MCU presence at the multiplex for another year (late 2024 will see the adjacent Deadpool 3) so, once again, Marvel will have to decide how they keep the multiversal momentum going… but with all its brickbats and bouquets that can be offered, The Marvels will do for now.
- Production Design / VFX8