IMG Via Disney/Marvel
“The Marvels” comes at a critical moment for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. After over a decade of unprecedented good luck, smart choices, and wild success, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has run into some trouble as of late. Whether it be oversaturation of material, declining box office numbers, less favorable feedback from fans and critics, or putting all their chips on stars mired in legal trouble, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has found itself in unprecedented choppy waters as of late.
In many ways, this puts a tremendously unfair burden on Nia DaCosta’s “The Marvels.” This is not a film that was ever designed to carry the weight of a multi-franchise conglomerate on its back; taken on its own terms, all “The Marvels” really needs to be is a light-on-its-feet slice of enjoyable high-concept action-comedy. But conversely, in a bit of truly unfortunate timing, it is a film carrying the literal brand of the studio forging it. In 2019, situated squarely between two massive Avengers films, the title Captain Marvel helped lead that film to over a billion-dollar box-office haul. However, in 2023, “The Marvels” carries a bit of a different connotation.
But does “The Marvels” save the MCU? Does it succeed on its own terms? Is Nia DaCosta’s sequel an improvement over its predecessor?
TOP 5 THINGS ABOUT THE MARVELS
5. Weak Spot: The Story
“The Marvels” is an hour-and-half film that is acting as a follow-up to no less than six other movies and/or TV series: Captain Marvel, Avengers: Endgame, WandaVision, Ms. Marvel, Thor: Love & Thunder, and Secret Invasion all have elements that feature prominently into this film’s story.
In many ways, the film’s tight runtime is a feature, not a bug. Many of Marvel’s most recent outings, whether movies or television, have felt overlong and dragged out to diminishing returns. This makes The Marvels’ brevity occasionally (and ideally) feel like a breath of fresh air. But the story is often so convoluted that it leaves the film feeling messy rather than tight and lean, with story beats gasping for air amidst the unforgiving edit. Between underdeveloped characters, entirely dropped subplots, and underbaked motivations, The Marvels’ biggest hindrance is its own bogged-down story.
On the whole, it feels far more interested in either referencing past material or sewing seeds for future material than it is in telling this story, which is a shame.
4. The Cast
One element of “The Marvels” that truly does soar “higher, further, and faster” this time around is the cast itself. From Brie Larson to Teyonah Parris to Iman Vellani to Samuel L. Jackson, all the main players here are terrific and often infectiously joyous to watch interact onscreen. While lesser elements like the needlessly convoluted story and jagged editing do often serve as obstacles standing in the way of these performances shining as bright as they could (and should), when the film can get out of its own way, these performers shine.
This is especially true of MVPs Iman Vellani and Samuel L. Jackson. To her immense credit, Vellani is able to bring the charisma and charm of her own Ms. Marvel series soaring to the forefront here anytime she is onscreen, with unbridled glee. Simultaneously, Jackson is nothing short of delightful throughout. Uninhibited from the weight of narrative machinations and faux grimness of projects like Secret Invasion, Jackson is truly fun to watch in the role of Nick Fury for what feels like the first time in ages.
3. Nia DaCosta’s Direction
In only a handful of years working in the industry, director Nia DaCosta has proven herself a force to be reckoned with. From the excellent Little Woods to her fantastic Jordan Peele-produced Candyman film, DaCosta has demonstrated a gift for dynamic and singular visual storytelling time and time again. And delightfully, DaCosta undoubtedly brings her A-game to “The Marvels.”
Where Captain Marvel’s action sequences often felt so sterile and utterly uninvolved, DaCosta puts the camera squarely in the middle of nearly every setpiece, giving the action if “The Marvels” a kineticism and impact that is unique for an MCU production. Working alongside Academy Award-nominated cinematographer Sean Bobbitt (Widows, Judas and the Black Messiah), DaCosta and her team work to deliver something that feels fresh within these confines.
Similarly, the film’s greatest moments are when DaCosta and her cast feel free to inject some real personality and life into the proceedings, divorced from any larger mythos or world-building. The team-building montage sequence on the ship, the musical stylings of Aladna, and the sheer unbridled lunacy of a cat-centric sequence in the third act feel entirely like DaCosta and co. truly getting to color outside the lines, and they are great.
2. Weak Spot: Pacing
One of the most befuddling aspects of “The Marvels” is the way in which it fumbles its use of its own screentime. While the obvious beating heart of the film are the titular characters and their interactions, the film routinely chooses to rush through these more intimate character moments and instead marinate elsewhere.
Story elements such as the further evolution of the conflict between the Skrull and Kree (two warring alien races from across the MCU) get way more play than they need to, and the result is less time spent with our central cast. This is only made all the worse in the second act, when the three leads’ time together is all-but-entirely squandered in the name of exposition-dumping all over the audience through blunt dialogue and lackluster flashbacks. Things only grow more dire in the third act, where increasingly muddled big universe-altering narrative developments take precedence over any emotional reactions or fallout with the characters of *this* film. It’s a lot of action but next to no reaction, making it all feel as if the franchise-building machinery is stomping all over this film and these characters.
There is a sequence amid The Marvels’ third act that is so riotously funny, so obscenely entertaining, that it is genuinely worth the price of admission alone. It is a hysterical and thoroughly earned story beat that may just be the funniest sequence in the entirety of the MCU.
Set to a standout song from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cats and fittingly feline-centric, it is truly magnificent.
Overall, “The Marvels” has some refreshingly bright spots but ultimately feels so jumbled and discombobulated in its storytelling and priorities that it can’t help but feel incapable of reaching its full potential. The cast is great and Nia DaCosta brings a deeply admirable verve to the visual and comedic work on display, but the film feels too bogged down in MCU world-building buffoonery to truly soar.
It’s an improvement over Captain Marvel in just about every way, but one that falls short of the homerun Marvel could have really used right about now.