The Marvels, the long-awaited follow-up to 2019’s billion-dollar-hit Captain Marvel, has landed in theaters. While the original film was an MCU prequel, this team-up sequel jumps 30 years ahead to the present day to unite an electrifying new team of superheroes. Joined by Ms. Marvel Kamala Khan and Monica Rambeau aka Photon, Captain Marvel is ready to take on a world-destroying enemy. Director Nia DaCosta brings a completely fresh tone to the franchise that genuinely surprises. Unfortunately, despite the film’s strong setup, The Marvels struggles with some basic elements of filmmaking.
[Warning: Spoilers ahead for The Marvels.]
Where The Marvels shines bright
There’s plenty of good in The Marvels. While the beginning feels quite rushed, once our three heroes start fighting the bad guys, the film begins to sing (literally), the standout aspect of this film is the characters and the excellent work of those playing them.
Brie Larson brings some much-needed emotion, humor, and overall personality in her third outing as Carol Danvers. Carol has a much stronger sense of self in this sequel despite still not having all of her memories back. She leads a solitary life in space but has an interesting character arc that forces her to open up and accept help from others.
Teyonah Parris lights up the screen as Monica Rambeau, returning from a strong supporting role in WandaVision. While her character never goes to the depths the streaming series allowed, it’s a joy to see Monica back and working with her mom’s old boss Nick Fury. Her powers are unique and allow for exciting action sequences, but she’s still got plenty of unresolved tension with her Aunt Carol.
Iman Vellani’s Kamala Khan bursts onto the big screen in a kaleidoscope of colors and high-level energy, bringing a freshness the MCU sorely needs 33 movies in. She’s the star of this film through and through, making a stronger impression than anything else during the short 105-minute adventure. Effortlessly nailing every single joke and bringing a warm family dynamic to the film in the form of her brother and parents, Kamala has never seemed more like the future of the MCU.
Kamala’s family has a much larger role in the story than I expected, another refreshingly unique detour given the expectation that supporting characters are left behind at home while the hero goes on their journey. Samuel L. Jackson is back in his prime as Nick Fury after the sloppy mess that was Secret Invasion. Thankfully (though rather confusingly), that series has absolutely no connection to this film despite being a direct sequel to Captain Marvel as well. Fury gets to joke a little more while still remaining a powerful leader, and it’s just wonderful to see him properly back in action after he took a backseat for the entirety of Phase 3’s modern-day stories.
Finally, while Dar-Benn is certainly not winning any villain awards, Zawe Ashton elevates the little material she’s given to make a strong impression nonetheless. Marvel has a well-documented villain problem, and while Dar-Benn doesn’t help solve it, she definitely doesn’t make it any worse. Her backstory is interesting and would have been wonderful to explore further, while Ashton stalks around spaceships with an air of superiority and danger. The performance and backstory alone make Dar-Benn one of the better under-written MCU villains, a step above weak Phases 1 and 2 enemies but far from the heights of Hela, Vulture, and Erik Killmonger.
The film’s action sequences are another standout, operating on a level unlike anything else we’ve seen from Marvel Studios. Each character’s light-based powers are a sight to behold, while the place-swapping works very well during fast-paced fights. The action sequences in the Khan household and on the singing planet Aladna were some of the best in the MCU thanks to some excellent camera work.
Where The Marvels goes wacky
Although this is a superhero movie, The Marvels takes risks that didn’t always work (for me) but were wonderful to see nonetheless. It’s better for a movie to take a big swing and miss instead of playing it safe. That being said, these unique sequences in The Marvels are certainly no miss but may play differently depending on what you like.
Much has been discussed about the singing planet seen in the trailers, ruled by Park Seo-joon’s Prince Yan. While I didn’t love how the scene started, it became a fun and different take on the cosmic side of the MCU. The singing also didn’t overstay its welcome, giving just enough to those who like it but not overpowering those who don’t. In general, The Marvels walks this line well, to bring a distinct flavor to the MCU’s depiction of space civilizations.
In fact, what’s done with the Kree is the most interesting consequence arising from Carol’s offscreen quest for vengeance following the events of Captain Marvel. Hala is dying as a result of a Kree civil war started by the destruction of the Supreme Intelligence, leading the new Supremor Dar-Benn to seek out powerful quantum bands in an effort to blast unstable jump points through the space-time continuum. Created by the bands (or bangles) themselves, the new jump points vacuum up natural resources from planets Carol calls home to restore Hala to its former glory. As far as supervillain motivations go, it’s another different and incredibly interesting direction for the film to take.
It was also fantastic to see a Disney+ series being an integral part of MCU films. While viewers who haven’t seen the shows will certainly enjoy the movie regardless, the consistency between the series and the movie is something we haven’t seen before. Kamala’s unique comic-inspired daydreaming is beautifully brought to life on film and of course, her family is just as great here as they were on Disney+. Footage from WandaVision and Ms. Marvel is even shown during flashbacks for Monica and Kamala! And speaking of flashbacks, it was a real pleasure to see Lashana Lynch return for a short time as Maria Rambeau.
Where The Marvels falters
Unfortunately, while most of the movie was operating at a high level, The Marvels falls flat during the third act. While glimpses of interesting storylines and emotional depth are given throughout the film, the characters never have the time to truly develop strong bonds. The three of them work excellently as a team, but they don’t feel like they’ve spent enough time together to know or truly care about each other by the end. This may be due to the editing process that clearly cut many scenes out of the film.
It feels like a solid 20-30 minutes of the movie are just missing entirely. When Monica finally confronts Carol about how she abandoned her and Maria, it’s an emotional scene that is undercut less than 30 seconds later when Monica completely moves on from her emotions in a split second. Many of the emotional scenes feel like this, such as an interesting exchange between Kamala and Carol takes place on Skrull Emperor Drogge’s planet that seems to set up a “don’t meet your heroes”-type storyline for Kamala.
However, this thread goes nowhere for the next 30 minutes only to be abruptly brought up again after Kamala acts similarly to Carol and apologizes for “not seeing her as a real person”. This exchange in particular felt out of place because it seemed to hint at an arc for Kamala when she realizes Carol is a flawed person. But the only indication of this sentiment is two scenes about Carol leaving Monica rather than any discussion or interaction between Carol and Kamala themselves stemming from the exchange at the beginning of the film.
While this may be an indication of sloppy writing (which the MCU has in droves nowadays), it may be attributable to editing out much of the story. The short runtime doesn’t help either, because it stunts these developments and gives them no room to breathe. This is most clearly seen in the finale, one of the weakest in the MCU to date. The anticlimactic resolution to Dar-Benn’s storyline feels like the writer chucked something random at the wall because they had no idea where to take the story next, as the villain is immediately written out of the film to introduce a completely disconnected problem that seemingly exists only to set up future films.
Similarly, the final scene of the film is a funny callback to the very first Iron Man. But the entire scene and setup feels extremely forced and tacked on as if the editors realized the Dar-Benn plot was going nowhere and needed to throw some cameos and Multiverse Saga connections into the pot to distract fans somehow.
The mid-credits scene reads exactly the same, providing some much-needed emotion which is immediately wiped out by a cameo that sets up a story far more interesting than the one we just watched.
The ending feels unfinished in a glaring way, with supposedly dramatic moments carrying very little weight due to the suddenness with which they develop. It feels as if the finale was chopped up from a dramatic, emotional 20-minute conclusion to a rushed and underbaked 10-minute sequence in which characters are shuffled off your screen in the quickest and most unceremonious way possible.
My conclusions on The Marvels and the current state of the MCU
Overall, The Marvels suffers from the exact same problems plaguing many Phase Four and Phase Five projects. Its exciting new characters are undercut by sloppy writing that prioritizes future setup over the story currently being told. The MCU feels stuck in a perpetual state of introducing new characters and setting up stories that won’t be circled back around to for several years (if ever). The Marvels only adds to the ridiculously long list of dangling threads the MCU needs to pick up, without using its runtime to tell a truly engaging Captain Marvel story.
That’s the movie’s biggest problem. The most interesting plot, the Kree trying to save their dying planet, is relegated to short flashbacks instead of actually being explored like Captain Marvel set up. Secret Invasion was heavily tied into the original film, but its characters are nowhere to be seen here (despite obvious connections like Fury’s wife Priscilla going to the S.A.B.E.R. space station with him in the series’ finale).
The Skrulls, the most interesting part of Captain Marvel, are shortchanged here with throwaway lines that once again hint at a much more interesting plot happening behind the scenes. It would have been great to dive into these alien civilizations and see a true sequel to Captain Marvel that involved her ending the Kree-Skrull War, even if it did take her 30 years to do so.
My rating for this film:
While most of The Marvels is truly excellent and definitely worth the two-hour trip to theaters, half-baked storylines, and the flat, downright awkward ending may leave you with a bad taste in your mouth. I’m still excited to see The Marvels return one day, but hopefully they’ll arrive with a more coherent plot and finished ending.
You can now catch The Marvels in theaters. Are you going to check it out over the weekend? Let us know what you think of the movie on social media @mycosmiccircus or in The Cosmic Circus Discord. While you’re here, check out some of our comics reading guides for The Marvels linked below!