The Marvels


Reviewed by: Andrew Robertson

The Marvels
"Bright, breezy, and most importantly fun."

Carol Danvers, more widely known as Captain Marvel, currently on an extended mission to the wider universe out there somewhere in space. Kamala Khan, more widely known as Light Girl and not at all as Ms Marvel, currently on no mission from her teenage bedroom in Jersey City. Monica Rambeau, superhero alter-ego codename still being workshopped, also in space but much closer.

In as much as you need to know anything, the film will tell you. What you need to know going in is that The Marvels is entertaining, refreshing, and despite some weighty themes like familial responsibility and making amends a delightful (pun intended) change of pace from much of the rest of the MCU. For sure the comic book movies have often had comic moments, but this is a perfect jumping on point, an 'all ages takeover' to borrow from another title, and all the better for it.

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Brie Larsen returns as Captain Marvel, but you don't have to have seen the first to get the benefit of her performance. Iman Vellani's poise belies the fact that this is her first feature, Kamala Khan her first role. You don't have to have seen Disney+ series Ms. Marvel to get the benefit of her charm but you'll miss more of her extended family. The film's opening makes use of the same semi-animated extensions to the everyday that the show does, turning the background into detail in the tradition of Eisner, though even with the lettering much closer to the spirit of it all than The Spirit. Making the trio, Teyonah Parris. Though you don't have to have seen Wandavision to know how her powers work it helps, but therein is one of The Marvels' strengths.

The MCU is 15 years old, and I know that people younger than that will be going to see this. I know at least some of them enjoyed it too. Reports from outposts of my extended family confirm that this is a comic book movie that might not just be for kids but also isn't afraid to entertain them. This is the 33rd MCU film, a ludicrous extension of franchise. I mentioned the TV shows and I've not completed those yet. I think there are 24 shows, I'm not counting series, but thankfully we're seeing some degree of unification after earlier presences on mainstream channels like US' ABC and Netflix and Hulu and Freeform. If that sequence seems like a third or fourth-tier superhero team you're not alone, I'm picturing someone with chalk-based powers, a wifi-equipped retiarius, and maybe someone in a grass-skirt, all assisted by a wise-cracking student of Chicago-style improv.

Now I know how many of those might actually be comic book characters, but you don't have to. Nor do you have to worry about how that mountain of merchandising opportunities compares with Star Trek (13 movies, 808 episodes, and a further 82 animated and counting...) or Star Wars (11 films, two animated films (disputed), 368 animated episodes and a further 57 live-action and counting...) or even Doctor Who (one film, 871 episodes depending on what gets found in cupboards). That's the guidance I can offer here, a simple one, which is that if you're looking for a way in this is it. No homework necessary. If I, at 'old enough to know better', and a sibling's child, at a bit under a fifth of that, can both enjoy it then you probably will too.

I've got a couple of minor quibbles, some of which are pure pedantry. That's never 0.73% unless there's an edge case for vegetational-matting in the statistics. There are rumours of an earlier draft featuring hints of a relationship but Marvel's record with queer-baiting isn't great and the film is doing enough with having three female heroes, a female villain (Zawe Ashton's Dar-Benn), and that's not counting allies. It's daft to judge a work for that, so I shan't, but that hasn't stopped others from being negative about it. Given that it features the Skrulls and the Kree it'd have been nice to have some nods to Secret Invasion, not least because Nick Fury was involved in all that too. I would have liked a bit more of the central trio, and I'm not sure it did enough to explore just how distinct their characters are from each other despite their similarities.

You can do the homework if you want. Ms. Marvel herself is a fan, and has the artwork to prove it. Wandavision was ludic with questions of grief and canon and took advantage of its form with some loving playfulness around the theme of sitcoms. That extended to thematic questions about how culture demands performances in femininity, the projection of a 'happy home' and more. Ms. Marvel was an absolute treat as well, much like Wandavision and Loki Season 2 willing to play with the trappings of these shows themselves and their opening sequences to find fresh ways to explore spaces. Now I'll admit that's not new, Star Trek Enterprise revisited a scene from Star Trek: First Contact when it did its Mirror Universe episode all based on establishing a parallel continuity from Mirror, Mirror. You'd be better watching the Marvel shows though, for a start they've significantly more female characters and they're better developed too.

Which is where some of the issues start. This reminded me, positively, of the latter Ghostbusters. The ire directed against it lacked any proportion, it, like its inspiration, was a bunch of comedians with connections to Saturday Night Live mucking about in service of a minimal story and some special effects.

There aren't quite as many jokes in The Marvels, but its action sequences are bravura. The high water mark for simultaneous fights is probably still The Phantom Menace and that's mostly because of Darth Maul's physicality and John Williams' score. If you can name the other parts award yourself a point for each. Having talked about Marvel and Star Wars I should also mention Polite Society, a film that shares several sensibilities and their associated outrages.

As The Marvels' powers get tangled up there are new benchmarks set in superhero skirmishes. Far and away more entertaining than the Avengers' poster-posing, even with a nod to it themselves, and a lot easier to follow across at least three sets of three dimensions than Guardians Of The Galaxy: Volume III's corridor fight. Even with effects that seem intended for polarised glasses that manages to seem two-, if not one- dimensional in comparison. While The Marvels gets its heroes in a tangle, even taking the opportunity to explore it in a montage, it's light throughout.

That tangling is clear even if you've not seen the other parts, though it does mean that Nick Fury's line about "not touching the glowing thing" is even funnier. Samuel L Jackson has proper comic chops and too often he's been given cause to gloom rather than giggle. He's part of a large cast that all appear to be having fun.

Though it's only Nia DaCosta's third feature, she seems to have better integrated to the Marvel Studios trainset than Chloe Zhao did with The Eternals. It's lighter, literally so in terms of colour palette, significantly shorter, and opens up more interesting spaces. She co-writes with Megan McDonell who penned Wandavision and Elissa Karasik who did similar for Loki series one. Those both have moments of comedy around some sometimes cosmic questions too.

Since Iron Man the Marvel films have made use of music, and often for comic purposes, but the last time I can remember laughing even half as hard at the use of a Barbara Streisand song was The Naked Gun 2 1/2. You might ask me what the point of that comparison is and I'd say it was the sharp bit at one end but that's not important right now. All too often comic book adaptations try to stamp out frivolity in service of something dour and worthy. A grimly set jaw might do in lieu of a story for some, but while others mutter we could be looking at the stars. Bright, breezy, and most importantly fun, The Marvels is one itself.

Reviewed on: 24 Nov 2023
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The Marvels packshot
Carol Danvers gets her powers entangled with those of Kamala Khan and Monica Rambeau, forcing them to work together to save the universe.
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Director: Nia DaCosta

Writer: Nia DaCosta, Megan McDonnell, Elissa Karasik

Starring: Brie Larson, Teyonah Parris, Iman Vellani, Samuel L Jackson, Zawe Ashton, Gary Lewis, Park Seo-joon, Zenobia Shroff

Year: 2023

Runtime: 105 minutes

BBFC: 12A - Adult Supervision

Country: US


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