Where did it all go so wrong? After several era-defining movies, the Marvel franchise seems to be sputtering. Judging by the ill-conceived and frankly illogical The Marvels, it seems to have run out of ideas for these characters.
The Marvels draws together Captain Marvel (2019), the Disney + mini-series Ms Marvel and a few scattered bits of Marvel lore. But rather than weave them into a coherent narrative tapestry, writers Megan McDonnell (WandaVision) and Elissa Karasik (Loki) with writer-director Nia DaCosta (Candyman) have bolted together a Franken-movie. The result is a puzzling pastel-coloured mish-mash that falls apart the further it goes.
For what it’s worth, the film takes place in the present, so about 30 years after the events in Captain Marvel. It opens with Kree rebel Dar-Benn (Zawe Ashton) locating a mysterious bangle on a distant planet that gives her tremendous power when she puts it on. Dar-Benn then uses that power to create “jump points” in the fabric of space-time, outside of the existing established system of such points. The purpose of these anomalous fissures in the fabric of the universe is murky to begin with, but one of them ensnares Captain Marvel (Brie Larson); Kamala Khan (Iman Vellani) – a.k.a. Ms Marvel; and Monica Rambeau (Teyonah Parris). Monica is the now-adult daughter of Maria Rambeau and works for Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) on the S.A.B.E.R. space station. The rogue jump points mean the three swap places whenever one of them uses their powers. This causes much confusion and more than a little destruction as Kree thugs attack through the portals. But Dar-Benn’s plans are far grander than simply roughing up her enemies. Her designs involve devastating whole worlds. But do complete her plan, she needs unlimited power. And the key to that power lies in finding the other bangle – which Kamala has. But that fact places the teenager in grave danger.
Part of the problem seems to be that the movie relies on events that we haven’t seen before that apparently occurred, in the world of the movie, some time between the events of Captain Marvel and now. So there’s an awful lot of telling, not showing, to try to catch everyone up with the premise. It’s almost like this was meant to be the third in a trilogy, but somehow the second installment was never made. The script also relies heavily on the events from the Ms Marvel series, so if you haven’t seen that, it’s likely to make even less sense.
In lieu of a coherent plot, we get cute kitties, a bonkers (not in a good way) song-and-dance sequence, some very wooden dialogue and some really bizarre special effects. I found it disconcerting that Brie Larson’s character in particular seemed to have CGI effects applied to her, even when she was just talking with other character. Many of the jokes didn’t land, and the thin screenplay couldn’t even support the main plot thread, much less its weird digressions. Even the trademark galactic-level climax seemed to fall flat.
That said, the film seemed to go over much better with the tween and teen audience members at the preview screening. And I suspect there’s something in that. Although the film’s marketing hasn’t been much different from other Marvel properties, this one seems to be deliberately aimed at a pre-adult audience. As usual, stick around through the credits for a hint of where Marvel sees these characters going in the future.
The actors do their best with the material, but much of it is so clunky it’s hard for them to rise above it. And there’s so much CGI, sometimes you can’t tell where the human ends and the CGI begins. Brie Larson (Fast X), Iman Vellani (Ms Marvel) and Teyonah Parris (Candyman) try to punch through the morass but have their work cut out. And poor Samuel L. Jackson seriously deserves better. Zawe Ashton (Greta) has potentially the most interesting character as Dar-Benn, but the script doesn’t give her much chance to explore the character’s motivations.
Having watched and enjoyed both earlier Marvels – Captain and Ms – I had high hopes for this movie. But for me it was a big old misfire.
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David Edwards is the editor of The Blurb and a contributor on film and television