Charlie von Peterffy / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
The Marvels is another choppy, lackluster entry in the once-mighty Marvel Cinematic Universe. Though much of that old Marvel magic is apparent here––quippy dialogue, heartfelt characterization, and stellar personability from the entire main trio––it is mainly a rushed, two-dimensional retread of the original Guardians of the Galaxy. The concept behind the core cast’s power connections is unique and played nicely. Their chemistry is bubblingly kinetic, and the visuals are a bit more convincing again, but it is too fast to make meaning or feel satisfactorily entertained.
The film serves as a sequel to 2019’s moderately more succinct Captain Marvel starring Brie Larson as Carol Danvers and a direct follow-up to the events of 2022’s elastic Ms. Marvel starring Iman Vellani as Kamala Khan. The two Marvels and special agent Monica Rambeau (Teyonah Parris) realize they change places whenever one uses their powers after Captain Marvel and Rambeau touch mysterious jump point anomalies in space. They realize these are creations of the Kree, an intergalactic species with whom Danvers has a complicated history. Having tried and failed at ceasing a Kree civil war, the Kree fight each other to the point where their home is entirely desolate and barren. Under their new leader, Dar-Benn (Zawe Ashton), they obtained one of two Quantum bands (the other being possessed by Ms. Marvel) to tear holes through space-time and invade other planets rich with resources for them to thrive. The Marvels, as coined by Ms. Marvel upon meeting her other co-stars, must disentangle their power problems, learn to work as a team, and stop Dar-Benn from destroying Earth or the universe—and the Skrull population, a rival space race seeking refuge on Earth.
The story is underwhelming, too fast, and too familiar. The universe is yet again in dire straits because of a dictatorial Kree leader who seeks vengeance on her enemies. Only this time, the Infinity Stones are gone with the Quantum Bands in their place. It unfolds and ends much the same way as Guardians of the Galaxy does, only much faster and less focused. This makes the film feel like a bland redo that so happens to feature the Marvels and Monica Rambeau. Plus, the leading trio has no time actually to grow, as they spend most of the time arguing with each other or fighting bad guys to reflect and learn. Dar-Benn is a line-by-line rip-off of Guardian’s Ronan, further dampening the film’s appeal. The magic of Marvel’s classic quippy tones and meaningful character growth flicker occasionally, but only enough to make the movie palatable.
There are also too many franchise-wide plot holes, as sequences presented here directly contradict events from earlier entries like this year’s Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) showcase, Secret Invasion. Fury seems much more cheery than at the end of Invasion, going from a battle-hardened veteran to a funny, charismatic guy like nothing ever happened. This is merely one of the many plot holes present, further hampering The Marvels’ need for existence.
The cast itself is fantastic and easily the best part of the film. Larson as Danvers is much better than her first go-round, acting more as an experienced mentor than an unemotional kid like in the first Captain Marvel. Parris as Agent Rambeau is flamboyant, inserting energy into a character who could otherwise come off as stiff. The biggest star of the trio, though, is Vellani as Ms. Marvel. She is purely electric in every scene. Whether laughing, fangirling, panicking, or fighting, she fills her character with a boisterous cheeriness that encapsulates the best of Marvel’s works, as she is the epitome of being jokingly courageous in the face of life-ending doom. Her presence dramatically elevates the film and the cast’s chemistry, though not enough to save it.
The general production design is much better than in other recent Marvel works. Things look and sound much more natural here than in recent years, making the film more enjoyable. There are still some apparent rendering issues (especially in space sequences), but The Marvels provides pretty good eye and ear candy.
The Marvels is another MCU dud. It certainly provides rudimentary fun through action and jokes, but it’s too break-neck, indistinct, and simplistic to muster. Unless these stories are more fine-tuned and there is a more definitive picture of the franchise’s future, the MCU may teeter around and die out.