Saturday, November 18, 2023

With Our Powers Combined: The Marvels (2023) Review

Director: Nia DaCosta

Notable Cast: Brie Larson, Teyonah Parris, Iman Vellani, Zawe Ashton, Samuel L. Jackson, Gary Lewis, Zenobia Shroff, Mohan Kapur, Park Seo-jun, Lashana Lynch


Although I was overly optimistic about Captain Marvel initially, I’ve cooled quite a bit on the film since its release. The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) has struggled to figure out how to use the character in any kind of exciting way outside of being a deus ex machina-esque plot device in Avengers: Endgame. Yet, the Disney-led Marvel machine seemed intent on creating more layers around the character by introducing two other Marvel-style characters, Monica Rambeau and Kamala Khan, introduced in the Disney+ Marvel series WandaVision and Ms. Marvel, respectively. 


Thus, powered by the synchronicity of the MCU, we are now delivered with Captain Marvel 2. Oh, I’m sorry, it’s called The Marvels and not Captain Marvel 2. A film where Ms. Rambeau and Ms. Khan join Captain Marvel to take on the latest threat of world-ending sky beams powered by a villain with a semi-relatable cause in a spectacle-driven blockbuster. You know, it’s a post-Avengers MCU film through and through. 


Yet, don’t let my inherent sarcasm in that last statement dissuade you from this one. While the MCU has undoubtedly struggled to be consistent in recent years, The Marvels is a shockingly fun and loose ride that moves like lightning, warts and all. After the abysmal garbage fire that Marvel released under the title Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, maybe The Marvels feels like it's worth its weight in gold, but it’s a film that finds a pop and energy that makes it move like it has places to be. 


Most of this comes from the fact that the film has a comic book popcorn energy that feels like it's pulsating from the screen. Director Nia DaCosta, most notable for directing the Candyman “remake” a few years ago - especially for readers of this site, is bringing a lot of visual pizzazz to its patchy script. She’s channeling a lot of the humor and heart of its characters and squeezing just enough thematic heft to make it catch - particularly in the idea that three women from three eras must find their commonalities (in this case, their “light powers”) to overcome a larger threat. 


The three women in the leads of the film, Brie Larson as Carol Danvers, Teyonah Parris as Monica Rambeau, and Iman Vellani as Kamala Khan, are all bringing their best to the material. The Marvels is working overtime to really develop them as a team and while I’m not fully sure I even understand their powers overall (particularly Rambeau who gets a lot more powers this time around) the visual pop of the film in having them use them together certainly works. However, despite some strong work from all three, it’s Vellani who steals the show here as the young and fan-girling Kamala who simply brings such a young, fresh energy to everything and makes those Marvel quips work best.


As with so many Marvel properties though, The Marvels does have two major set backs that prevent it from jettisoning around at full propulsion. The first is its script. Obvious rewrites and reshoots plague this film. It’s heavily rumored that the film excised an incredible amount of material that was supposed to tie it further into other Marvel properties. Specifically, it’s rumored to have cut out almost all ties to the Marvel+ show Secret Invasion, which landed with an incredible whimper on the streaming service earlier this year. While this does allow The Marvels to feel much more like a stand-alone story which just happens to pull characters from other properties, the narrative feels widely disjointed in its major plotting. One of the major set pieces of The Marvels sees our Terrific Trio head to a water planet of a culture whose only language is song (I kept waiting for it to go full Bollywood, but it sadly never does), and they build that up to be a major sequence it feels like it was diced to its bare bones, for example. 


This disjointed nature of its narrative bleeds into its other major obstacle as a film, and that’s the villain of the week, Dar-Benn, played by Zawe Ashton. Although she sports a giant ass hammer and is currently chasing some “bangles” that allow her to open teleporting portals, her storyline as a savior of her planet, Hala, feels utterly undercooked. It brushes on some great concepts, including a civil war that Captain Marvel caused when she destroyed their A.I. leader in-between films; it never quite makes its political or sociological statements that it really wants to. Granted, touching on topics like nationalism that leads to warmongering, colonialism, and displaced people as refugees trying to find a home are all ones that Marvel has at least briefly touched on with other movies, this film felt like it could have really used those to power a great villain and… well, Dar-Benn ends up feeling like a Ronan the Accuser knock off for most of the film. 


Still, The Marvels ends up selling what it has with enough charm and lightning-fast pacing that it felt wholly entertaining, despite its major flaws in narrative and script. The action, particularly that opening switcheroo three-way fight sequence, is hellacious fun, and the performances from all of its characters feed into that popcorn sense of silliness that makes this space adventure feel like a serial from decades past. Don’t expect the loftiness of some of the other Marvel properties (or the widely dark and spectacularly effective writing of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3); you’ll find a lot to love in The Marvels.

Shockingly so, considering the internet rumors and initial knee-jerk negativity towards it. Just have fun, and The Marvels will let you. 


Written By Matt Malpica Reifschneider

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for sharing your expertise in a way that is both accessible and relatable.