Director: Nia DaCosta
Cast: Brie Larson, Teyonah Parris, Iman Vellani, Zawe Ashton, Gary Lewis, Seo Jun Park, Zenobia Shroff, Mohan Kapur, Saagar Shaikh, Samuel L. Jackson
Runtime: 1 hr 45 mins
Rating: PG13 (Some Violence)
Released By: Walt Disney
Opening Day: 9 November 2023
Synopsis: Carol Danvers aka Captain Marvel has reclaimed her identity from the tyrannical Kree and taken revenge on the Supreme Intelligence. But unintended consequences see Carol shouldering the burden of a destabilized universe. When her duties send her to an anomalous wormhole linked to a Kree revolutionary, her powers become entangled with that of Jersey City super-fan, Kamala Khan aka Ms. Marvel, and Carol’s estranged niece, now S.A.B.E.R. astronaut Captain Monica Rambeau. Together, this unlikely trio must team-up and learn to work in concert to save the universe as "The Marvels".
So much negative buzz has preceded ‘The Marvels’ that you wonder if indeed Marvel has hit rock-bottom. The good news is that it is hardly the disaster that some reports have exaggerated it to be; and the bad news is that it still barely matches up to any of the preceding movies in the ‘Infinity Saga’ that defined Marvel as a box office juggernaut. Indeed, the best praise we can offer is that it is an enjoyably diverting action comedy buoyed by the chemistry between its three female leads, namely Brie Larson as Carol Danvers (aka Captain Marvel), Iman Vellani as Kamala Khan (aka Ms Marvel) and Teyonnah Parris as Monica Rambeau (from WandaVision).
Some familiarity with the ‘Ms Marvel’ TV series is essential – after all, ‘The Marvels’ does pick up from the post-credit sequence at the end of its first season, which saw Kamala switch places with her hero Captain Marvel. Those who have seen the season will also recall that Kamala had acquired her powers after discovering an inter-galactic bracelet belonging to her grandmother, which turned this New Jersey-based Avengers superfan into a neighbourhood superhero. That also explains why Kamala cannot quite control gushing over meeting Captain Marvel in the flesh for the first time here, even though the same cannot be said of Monica, who resents Carol for never keeping her promise of returning back home after flying off into space to help the Avengers.
As it turns out, Khan’s bracelet is one of a pair, the other of which is unearthed by Kree warrior Dar-Benn (Zawe Ashton), who wants the power of the bracelet to restore her planet Hala after it was decimated by someone referred to as ‘the Annihilator’. Dar-Benn ends up ripping a hole in the fabric of space and time, which causes Carol, Kamala and Monica to switch places with one another every time they use their respective powers at the same time. Not surprising, that twist of events forces the trio to work together if they are to stop Dar-Benn from splitting the rest of the universe just so to restore Hala to its former glory.
It is a simple, straightforward story, and to her credit, director and co-writer Nia DaCosta keeps the affair zipping along pacily in just under two hours. Leaning in on the dynamics of her heroines, DaCosta lets their bonding take centre stage, whether through a number of cleverly executed fight scenes where they grapple, adapt and finally exploit their body-swapping technique, or through a training montage to exercise their coordination set to the tune of the Beastie Boys’ ‘Intergalatic’, or just plain heart-to-heart talk processing their feelings towards each other. And thanks to the terrific interplay by the actresses, there are genuinely fun and uplifting moments to be had.
Even so, we dare say it is Vellani who does most of the heavy-lifting throughout the movie. Channelling her own enthusiasm of leaping from the small to the big screen, Vellani gives Kamala an infectious giddiness that rubs off nicely on her relatively more dour co-stars. Ditto the other members of the Khan clan – played by Saagar Shaikh, Zenobia Shroff and Mohan Kapur – who alternate hilariously between reverence and resignation to inject both emotion and joy into the proceedings. On the other hand, whether because Captain Marvel was always a bit of a loner or because she is bored with the character, Larson comes off weary and somewhat disengaged, so it is a good thing Vellani has more than enough balls of energy to go around.
Yet we don’t blame Larson for looking disillusioned – whereas the earlier Marvel movies were motion picture blockbusters in their own right, ‘The Marvels’ comes off as a glorified extension of the ‘Ms Marvel’ series. That’s not because the story builds off from where the series left over; rather, the stakes feel smaller, the peril curiously absent and therefore the payoff a lot less satisfying. Sure, it’s still fun, delightful and wacky in parts, but one cannot quite shake off the sense that it is nowhere near the scale, spectacle or significance as its ‘Infinity Saga’ predecessors, even if it tries to be different in tone and treatment.
So even though it is hardly the disaster some critics have quickly made it out to be, there is no denying that ‘The Marvels’ barely matches the glory and grandeur of the best of Marvel. In fact, we dare say it is only because it is coming in the wake of such colossal disappointments like ‘Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantum-mania’ and ‘Thor: Love and Thunder’ that ‘The Marvels’ feels like a triumph; otherwise, viewed against where Marvel has gone before and has accomplished, there is a distinct sense that as diverting as it may be, ‘The Marvels’ shows Marvel is in a creative black-hole that not even three female Marvels will be able to fully pull it out from.
(Thanks to the terrific chemistry between its three female leads and some cleverly executed fight scenes, 'The Marvels' is hardly the disaster some have made it out to be, though it also barely matches up to the best of Marvel from the 'Infinity Saga')
Review by Gabriel Chong