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Review – “The Marvels” Excels When It Embraces Being a Comedy of Errors

The MCU seems to be righting itself, finally

By Monita MohanPublished 7 months ago 7 min read
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(L-R): Iman Vellani as Ms. Marvel/Kamala Khan, Brie Larson as Captain Marvel/Carol Danvers, and Teyonah Parris as Captain Monica Rambeau in Marvel Studios' THE MARVELS. Photo by Laura Radford. © 2023 MARVEL.

The doom and gloom about the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been constant ever since the Infinity Saga ended in 2019. And there’s been an uptick of concern as rumours about behind-the-scenes trouble and release date issues surrounding “The Marvels” came to light. But, it’s not like Captain Marvel’s first outing was without issues—little of which had to do with the film. So “The Marvels” was certainly fighting against the odds as it made its much-delayed release.

THE MARVELS. © 2023 MARVEL.

The film brings together three characters, Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel (Brie Larson), Captain Monica Rambeau (Teyonah Parris), and Kamala Khan/Ms Marvel (Iman Vellani)—all three of them are connected but Carol and adult Monica have yet to interact in the MCU, while Kamala is the world’s biggest Captain Marvel fan but hadn’t yet met her idol. The interplay among the three characters plays a significant role in the film—after all, how does a veteran intergalactic superhero (Carol), an abandoned scientist with newly acquired superpowers (Monica), and a teenaged rookie with extraordinary abilities (Kamala) find common ground and save the day?

What is “The Marvels” About?

©Marvel Studios 2020. All Rights Reserved.

The film takes off from the end of “Ms Marvel”, the show that introduced Kamala to the franchise. Kamala is just living her life, fantasizing about fighting alongside her hero, Captain Marvel. Meanwhile, Monica is now a S.A.B.E.R. astronaut but is still battling with her life post-Blip, as well as the superpowers she gained during her encounter with Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) as seen in “WandaVision”. Finally, we see Carol, who’s been namedropped a lot since we last saw her in action in “Avengers: Endgame”, but not seen much of her since. Both Monica and Carol work with Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) but do not interact with one another.

Things take a turn when Kree leader, Dar-Benn (Zawe Ashton), appears on the scene causing havoc. Suddenly, these three superheroes find their lives intertwined, in space, and facing off against Dar-Benn’s Kree army. All the while, Fury tries to keep his space station, and its crew, alive, along with some of the most memorable passengers he’ll ever encounter.

“The Marvels” is the MCU Back in Form

(L-R): Brie Larson as Captain Marvel/Carol Danvers and Iman Vellani as Ms. Marvel/Kamala Khan in Marvel Studios' THE MARVELS. Photo by Laura Radford. © 2023 MARVEL.

I saw the film at a press screening, and there were a lot of laughs and hoots throughout the film. “The Marvels” is far removed from the worrisome start to Phase 5 (I’m still upset about how disappointing “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” was, and let’s not even talk about the trauma of watching “Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 3”). “The Marvels” wholeheartedly embraces what it is—a science-fiction film about three characters who we’ve been waiting to come together. So, expect some technobabble, a little bit of exposition, some silliness, great action, and a lot of heart. This is the kind of light-hearted sweetness we need from escapist cinema. The film isn’t trying to break the MCU mould; though the three central heroes are all women, and they’re also battling another woman, which is a huge improvement for the franchise (we can count on one finger how many MCU properties have multiple women in lead roles).

But those are nit-picks in a film that is otherwise thoroughly enjoyable. I know that the end product is not exactly what writer-director Nia DaCosta was aiming for. That’s evident in how the film feels like a Marvel film and doesn’t have a unique tone or look. I’m sure DaCosta would have made a unique version of this film, but what we get is a really fun romp, one that veers away from ham-fisted ‘girl power’ sentiments to actually showcase the many women in the film as, you know, people.

“The Marvels” is Shorter Than Expected

Teyonah Parris as Captain Monica Rambeau in Marvel Studios' THE MARVELS. Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios. © 2023 MARVEL.

The film is a brisk 100-minute space adventure. The pacing is brilliant, which has become a real issue across the film industry since the pandemic. The editing is precise—there were probably a grand total of three scenes that I felt needed a re-edit.

While I loved the shorter runtime, this was one of the rare occasions I felt we could have done with five or ten more minutes. There’s a significant incident from the past that I felt needed more fleshing out—it’s clear what happened, but the aftermath deserved to be explored further.

If you’re wondering how many Marvel properties you need to watch and read up about before watching “The Marvels”, you’re in luck—the filmmakers ensure that each of the main characters’ backstories is shown in this film, so no one is left in the dark. While that’s a smart move, given just how many properties there are in the franchise, and how impenetrable many franchises are becoming for newcomers, I don’t know how I feel about this decision. What does it say about the MCU that the one film with three women from three different women-led properties needs to include so much context, while the male-led properties have never had to think about that? Marvel Studios obviously assumes that the majority of filmgoers haven’t invested the time in these female characters. They’re unfortunately right, but it’s an insult to the filmmakers’ vision that those minutes were spent on flashbacks. Instead, we could have had more scenes of the aforementioned past incident, which would have added more emotional layers to one of the characters.

The Characters Make “The Marvels” Come Alive

(Center, L-R): Zawe Ashton as Dar-Benn and Daniel Ings as Ty-Rone in Marvel Studios' THE MARVELS. Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios. © 2023 MARVEL.

I know a lot of people complain about the MCU formula and how you always know exactly how the franchise films will play out, but every single time (except in “GOTG Vol. 3”) I’ve been impressed by how the filmmakers innovate within the formula and centre the characters’ emotional and personal journeys. “The Marvels” is no different—the final battle is a little more intimate in this film, and employs a unique gimmick that makes it unpredictable and fascinating, all the while the B-plot characters will have you in splits. And it works because the characters act so naturally throughout the film. Their actions make sense, and their interactions, especially, make you love them more.

Brie Larson captures the sense of being burdened really well but also knows how to have a little fun, which makes Carol very endearing. Teyonah is mesmeric—she has such a captivating presence and personality, and it made me wish we got even more scenes with her. Zawe, who makes her MCU debut in “The Marvels”, is precisely as pained and restrained as you’d expect from a Kree warrior.

The one anomaly is Nick Fury. Samuel L. Jackson is brilliant, his effortless humour and snark is scene-stealingly brilliant. But, this version of Nick Fury makes absolutely no sense if you’ve seen “Secret Invasion”, which aired in the summer of 2023. He’s nothing like the man we saw in that show. I don’t think Marvel knows what to do with Fury anymore. It’s like they have a contract to fulfil, so Jackson stars in whatever property he needs to, but there’s no connection to what came before. Without the context (interestingly, Fury doesn’t come with a backstory in the film), he’s great! Jackson’s performance is flawless, irrespective of the diegetic characterization.

The Khan Family Is the Best Thing to Happen to the MCU

(L-R): Brie Larson as Captain Marvel/Carol Danvers and Iman Vellani as Ms. Marvel/Kamala Khan in Marvel Studios' THE MARVELS. Photo by Laura Radford. © 2023 MARVEL.

Nothing, absolutely nothing, compares to the Khan family in “The Marvels”. Iman Vellani as Kamala Khan is the star of this film, a scene-stealer and all-round joy to watch. She’s hilarious when Kamala is in peril, and even more so when she’s having the time of her life. I love that Kamala is allowed to unabashedly fan-girl over her hero, as well as have amazing fight scenes. She’s so natural as this exuberant young person who’s excited about everything, even when things are dangerous. Kamala is the burst of energy the franchise needs.

But Kamala isn’t the only Khan in the film. Zenobia Shroff, Mohan Kapur, and Saagar Shaikh all reprise their roles as Kamala’s parents and brother from “Ms Marvel”, and they add so much character to the story. Not to mention levity. The Khan family aren’t comic relief, nor are they jokes, they’re just a typical South Asian family, who love their daughter/sister and don’t quite know how to process the weird circumstance of living with a superhero. Maybe I like the Khans more because I’m South Asian and hence I see some similarities in their sentiments (and I get the Hindi/Urdu in-jokes), but I’d like to think that the Khans would resonate with anyone watching—they’re overly concerned, slightly over-bearing, and a tad bit bossy, which may seem familiar to a lot of people.

“The Marvels” proves that the MCU is still alive and well (“Loki” Season 2 is the other proof), but it looks different from before. People constantly pine for the original Avengers, but they need to get with the program that the franchise is still interesting and worth investing in when the heroes are women, are people of colour, and their fights are sometimes more personal. Yes, the franchise seems to have no clear direction now, but it doesn’t need to. We can just enjoy seeing these different characters on our screens, without wondering what’s coming next. Yes, something is coming up in the MCU, but let’s patiently wait for the big things while watching the journeys of these characters.

A note: This review is written during the 2023 SAG-AFTRA strikes, and the author supports the recommendations made by the actors’ union.

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About the Creator

Monita Mohan

When not dreaming of a one-way trip to Coruscant, I'm usually staring at a blank page, hoping my articles write themselves.

Website: lightspeedwriter.wordpress.com

Twitter: @Monita_Mohan

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