The Marvels arrives with everyone pretty much already having written it off. Ostensibly the sequel to 2019’s $1.1B-grossing Captain Marvel, the film arrives with Marvel knocked on its back foot for the first time. Analyst projections are pretty dire, and that this film is led by by three actresses, not to mention a woman director in Nia DaCosta, a certain toxic segment of the audience already hates it without having seen a single frame. And you know what? To watch The Marvels and its spirited, devil-may-care, take-no-prisoners approach to humor and girl power superheroics is to forget about all of the other outside nonsense. It’s been a long time since a Marvel movie has just been fun for the sake of being fun, and in this case, odd for the sake of being odd.
Because to be perfectly honest, The Marvels is so much better the stranger it gets. The tired old Marvel formula is shot out of the airlock with a Freaky Friday-esque storyline full of laughs, female bonding, kitty cats, and a surprising amount of song. DaCosta instantly captures the infectious vibe of Disney’s Ms. Marvel series with the introduction of that show’s star, Iman Vellani, as teen hero Kamala Khan. The Captain Marvel fanatic finds all of her dreams coming true when her light-based powers get jumbled with that of her idol, Carol Danvers, played once again by star Brie Larson, and Monica Rambeau, who gained her abilities after being pulled through a hex in WandaVision. The result of this mix-up finds the women trading places with one another any time they use their powers at the same moment, which causes lots of headaches and property damage, especially for Kamala’s poor, judgmental family.
The screenplay by DaCosta, Megan McDonnell, and Elissa Krasik is all over the map, which is both a blessing and a curse. While the narrative is out of control, it actually serves well Zawe Ashton as the movie’s villain, Dar-Benn, a Kree warrior with a pretty legit ax to grind against Carol, who she has nicknamed “The Annihilator”. With her Accuser’s hammer and one of the powerful Quantum bangles similar to Kamala’s, she has her sights set on attacking everyone close to Carol. And that leads us on an intergalactic goose chase to some truly weird planets, including one where everyone communicates in song, making this basically Marvel’s first big screen musical? It’s so bizarre, but also colorful and well-choreographed and so unlike anything else in the MCU. Some are going to love it, as I did, while others are going to wonder what the Hell it is they’re watching.
To be fair, The Marvels is going to be very polarizing. For all of the talk that we want Marvel films to be less formulaic, fans don’t always support it when they get it. This is a movie that is at times a teen comedy, a female road movie (set in outer space, obviously), and often looks absolutely nothing like an American superhero film. It’s all the better for being so unpredictable. When the trio of ladies engage in what is basically a slumber party montage (set to the tune of Beastie Boys’ “Intergalactic”), you can already see the toxic dude bros scrambling to lower the film’s Rotten Tomatoes score. But count me in the group that absolutely loved it for not following in Captain Marvel‘s footsteps when it would’ve been easier, and probably more profitable, to just give us more of the same.
This is a true case of the ensemble being more than any one individual performance. Larson, Parris, and Vellani all bring something different to the table and their chemistry is to the moon awesome. I don’t know if there’s an actor more enjoyable to watch right now than Vellani. As Kamala, she brings youthful energy, admiration, and a tiny bit of teen rebellion to the team. Larson’s Carol Danvers is still the self-serious centerpiece but we’re given a pretty good reason why this time, as she’s carrying a burden of universal proportions. We do get to see Carol cut loose and enjoy herself, though, encouraged by the irresistable presence of Kamala. And Parris has the biggest emotional burden to carry as Monica copes with her estrangement from Carol, the death of her mother, her own death during “The Blip”, her crazy light-spectrum powers, and even more. If one character emerges as newly-important to the MCU it’s Monica, and we can see her becoming a bigger factor down the line.
Of course, we can’t forget Samuel L. Jackson who returns as Nick Fury. He spends most of the film in comic relief mode, managing Kamala’s distraught family and literally herding cats..or Flerken, the strange feline species of Carol’s pet Goose. Jackson gets to fire off some crowd-pleasing vulgarities and it’s a role that’s perfectly suited to him at this stage of the MCU. Fury had a major role to play in the not-so-good Secret Invasion series and this is a nice pivot for him.
Clocking in at 105 minutes, The Marvels is easily the shortest MCU movie and that’s a good thing. While some aspects could’ve used a deeper look, it’s actually better that the action and comedy keep moving too fast for us to ponder them. This isn’t going to rank up there with the all-time best Marvel films, but The Marvels is a blast that is sure to surprise those who have an open mind to something that walks confidently on the weird side.
The Marvels opens in theaters on November 10th.
Note: Obviously, you’re sticking around for the post-credits. There’s only one to wait for, and you definitely don’t want to miss it.