The Marvels (2023) Review
A RETURN TO FORM,
YET NOT QUITE MARVELOUS
In 2019, Marvel Studios (under the banner of their expansive Marvel Cinematic Universe) released Captain Marvel, the 21st film in the superhero saga and introduced the character of Carol Danvers (aka Captain Marvel. Directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, the movie, which starred Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, Ben Mendelsohn, Jude Law, and Annette Bening, is set in 1995 and follows Danvers as she becomes Captain Marvel after Earth is caught in the center of a galactic conflict and impending invasion over the possession primordial artifact of ancient power. Overall, Captain Marvel acted as the penultimate “final piece” installment before the climatic Avengers: Endgame blockbuster event, with the feature receiving general positive reviews as most praise for the performance of the cast. In addition, the movie went on to gross roughly $1.1 billion at the box office worldwide and became the fifth-highest grossing film of 2019. From there, Carol Danvers did appear in Avengers: Endgame by participating in the ending conflict against the Mad Titan, Thanos, and help save the universe alongside the Avengers, with the movie prompting the notion that there would be more future adventure of Captain Marvel later on down the road. Now, four years after the release of Captain Marvel, Marvel Studios and director Nia DaCosta present the follow-up sequel to the 2019 superhero film with the release of The Marvels. Does this movie go “higher, further, faster” than its predecessor or does it wallow within such bland cosmic mediocrity?
In the vastness of cosmic outer space, Dar-Been (Zawe-Ashton), the new leader of the Kree, is seeking a way to lead her people into a new age of prosperity, for their world of Hala is slowly dying, which was a direct result of the “Annihilator” sudden arrival on the planet and the destruction of the people’s Supreme Intelligence years ago. Finding one of the quantum bands, Dar-Been is giving enough force to upset the fabric of space / time, putting together her plan to help save Hala from total annihilation. Elsewhere, when surge of unexplained energy messes with the system of jump points across the galaxy, inspiring an investigation from Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), who calls up assistance from Carol Danvers / Captain Marvel (Brie Larson) to further look into the matter. However, such interaction with the mystery surge makes contact with her light-based powers, connecting Carol to Kamala Khan (Iman Vellani), a young teenager girl from New Jersey City who’s in possession of the other quantum band that Dar-Been has, and Monica Rambeau (Teyonah Parris), an astronaut of S.A.B.R.E and the daughter of Maria (Lashana Lynch), Carol’s late friend. Now, the three are locked in a peculiar situation of entangled teleportation when their powers are in used, requiring them to get to know one another and figure out how to work as a team, while Dar-Benn makes her presence known in her quest to return Hala to its former glory.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
As many of my readers know…. I’m a big fan of the superhero movies and of the MCU. While not every installment is stellar, the collective sum of these movies has always been a cinematic delight and seeing all each individual entry fits into the grand scheme of things within this shared universe of heroes, gods, and monsters. That being said, I felt that Captain Marvel was just a “relatively good” movie, but a bit underwhelming from the other installments. It wasn’t the worst entry in the MCU, and it definitely had some great moments within its narrative and presentation, but I don’t know….it just felt a bit underwhelming, especially since it was sandwiched between Black Panther (a great MCU superhero standalone film) and Avengers: Endgame (a mega blockbuster event). I was kind of expecting a bit more from this project, but it was just a very standard and straightforward presentation of the superhero variety. In truth, I really don’t revisit / rewatch this movie as often as the other MCU movies. Of course, I did like the cast, including Larson as Carol Danvers and Annette Benning as Mar-Vell, but the movie just felt a bit off to me. To me, what made it even a bit worse was the fact that the movie didn’t really “lean” into Avengers: Endgame, barring the opening act, as much as say that Captain America: The First Avenger did with Marvel’s The Avengers. So, the movie, while introducing a major new player to the MCU, really didn’t play as much of an important role in Endgame as much as I would’ve liked to see, which was one of my only complaints that I had with grandiose superhero team film. In the end, while I do like Larson as Carol Danvers, I felt that the character of Captain Marvel, though powerful and strong, hasn’t really truly shined in the MCU and is need of desperate showcase of her talent and prowess in her own standalone film.
This, of course, brings me back around to talking about The Marvels, a 2023 superhero film, the 33rd installment in the MCU, and the follow-up sequel to both 2019’s Captain Marvel and its two MCU TV series (WandaVision and Ms. Marvel). As mentioned, giving what was said and shown about the important of Carol Danvers within the context of the MCU, it was almost a forgone conclusion that sequel would eventually materialize sometime soon. I think it was a few years back when Marvel announced their Phase IV slate of projects, which included Captain Marvel 2, which was then later changed to The Marvels as the film’s official title. Of course, I was a bit interested, but was a bit more skeptical, especially with my personal views on the Captain Marvel film still lingering in the back of my mind. The film’s marketing campaign didn’t really do much for me as the movie trailers for the upcoming superhero feature was a bit “meh” and really didn’t entice me to get excited to see the movie. Yes, it was still going to be an MCU installment, but didn’t look that too appealing for me. It wasn’t until I saw the film’s final movie trailer (a few days before its theatrical release) that it got me interested to see the movie, with the official preview showcasing some “big changes” within this cinematic realm. Still, being a fan of the MCU (as a whole), I decided to check it out…. for better or worse. What’s that saying “hoping for the best, but expecting the worst” was the perfect way to describe my feeling as I went into seeing The Marvels during its opening day release of November 10th, 2024. Well, it had its moments of both good and bad. The Marvels has a very strong representation of its three female leads and boast plenty of return to what made Marvel movies fun and enjoyable, but still feels shallow and rushed within its shaping and overall execution. It definitely was better than what I was expecting and isn’t as deplorable as some are making it out to be (still better than Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania), yet isn’t quite as memorable nor worth the hype that was placed on this project.
The Marvels is directed by Nia DaCosta, whose previous directorial works include such films as Little Woods and Candyman. Given her background on such feature films, DaCosta does seem like a bit of odd choice to helm a project like prominent blockbuster picture from Marvel Studios. Although, that was the same case with James Gunn when did Guardians of the Galaxy….and look how that movie turned out to be. So, barring that, DaCosta does make the most of her time of shaping The Marvels to be a sort of “fun” cinematic project for her to work on, jumping into the superhero foray with joy and entertainment at the forefront, while also adhering to the mantra of a MCU picture. In truth, DaCosta does make the movie sort of “return to form” of how MCU installment use to be in the earlier days. While some might see that as a bad thing (it could go either way), for the positives…..it does work, with DaCosta scaling back the larger focus of world-ending dower talk and the expansive arc within the Multiverse Saga of which this film is placed in. There is placement of the space / time continuum and talk of different realities, which (again) does jive with the Multiverse story arc, yet it’s more in the background and doesn’t distract from the main plot of the three Marvel leads heroes and their fight against Dar-Been. In truth, DaCosta makes The Marvels have more emphasis on its character rather than its story (more on that below), which allows the project to focus more on the main trio and how they must get along and share in their light-based powers. This, of course, provides plenty of comedic parts and elements that are thrown into the mix, which gives the picture a more lighthearted tone throughout. Sure, there is danger, peril, and some dramatic heartfelt moments, but, as a whole, DaCosta keeps the feature from becoming “too serious” and lessens the gravitas; allowing movie to have more fun within its premise and some other playful moments.
In conjunction with this idea, DaCosta also approaches The Marvels to have a bit of more the “girl power” than a lot of the previous MCU installments that were allowed to display…. even more so than Captain Marvel or Black Widow. Much like 2023’s Barbie was able to achieve, The Marvels does certainly have the right amount of female attraction towards the film and projecting it properly throughs its narrative and visuals to its audience viewers. I mean…. three female leads, a female bad guy, a much more easygoing superhero premise, a colorful presentation of costumes and design looks, even a whimsical musical number, and a few other nuances. Thus, the overall appeal of the movie can be seeing as the studio making a superhero film look more attracting towards female viewers, which can be debated, but, in my opinion, it’s a good thing. Again, not every superhero movie needs to be super serious and feature male leads….and I think that DaCosta keeps that in mind while helming this project. Of course, that doesn’t mean the movie who be attractive to male audience viewers, with the feature still keeping the same type of cinematic pedigree one would expect from a MCU film, which boasts plenty of action, stunts, and visual effects to help build upon this cosmic adventure. There is also the franchise’s signature trademark of humor and heart to be found in the movie, with DaCosta displaying the right amount of blockbuster muscle flair when the story calls for it.
Additionally, DaCosta has the benefit of plunging “full ahead” with the movie, with a lot of the film’s setup of the three main characters (Carol, Monica, and Kamala) have already been established and doesn’t need to fill the movie’s first act with huge chunks of introductions….just merely “catching up” moments. This dispenses those long drawn-out periods of exposition and explanations, which gives The Marvels a quick “jump start” and keeps up a very lean runtime. And I do mean “lean”, with the film having a runtime of a 105 minutes (one hour and forty-five minutes), which makes the feature one of the shortest installments in the MCU. This “brisky” presentation does mean it keeps the feature on a straightforward path and never gets bogged down with unnecessary details and not too many superfluous subplots…. though some are in the movie that don’t go anywhere. In the end, while not the best Marvel movie out there and could’ve been tweaked, DaCosta does appear to be having fun while making The Marvels, a film that speaks to the inner “girl power” of its fandom and continues the mantra of higher, further, faster within this lean MCU installment.
In the presentation category, The Marvels definitely looks (and feels) very much so like a summer blockbuster endeavor, with the film boasting plenty of colorful visuals of the cosmic outer space superhero fanfare. It’s not as detail and elaborately displayed / rendered like how it was in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, but it’s “leaps and bounds” better than Ant-Man & the Wasp: Quantumania. From the cosmic voids of space to interior futuristic space vehicles to even the colorful alien worlds, the movie is definitely teeming with visual flair that definitely speaks to the lighthearted tone of the feature, which (in this case) is kind of good thing. While some might question the movie’s narrative and characters, no one can deny that the movie is brimming with color that makes for a visual feast for the eyes to behold. Thus, the film’s “behind the scenes” key players such as Cara Brower (production design), Jillie Azis, Fergus Clegg, and Naomi Moore (set decorations), Lindsay Pugh (costume designs), and the entire art department team for their efforts in making The Marvels look quite the blockbuster nuances and visual aspects that many were hoping for in a MCU film project. In addition, the cinematography work by Sean Bobbitt is pretty good and helps build upon the movie’s dynamic shots and dramatic poise and theatrical boldness. Lastly, the film’s score, which was composed by Laura Karpman, is solid all the way around, with the composition featuring sound rousing / heroic sounding melodies and suites to help generate that excitement in large scale scenes and tender and quiet during those dialogue driven moments.
Unfortunately, The Marvels doesn’t exactly live up to the hype that the movie was aiming to achieve, with the superhero film drawing criticisms in a few crucial areas. It doesn’t derail the movie, but it does make the feature’s appeal a bit less than what was intended. How so? Well, for starters, the film’s runtime acts as “double edge” sword, with some of the negative aspects showing some of the movie’s flaws. What do I mean by that? Well, with such a short runtime to tell its story, The Marvels ends up being rather undercooked for a lot of its storytelling substance, which causes certain aspects to be rushed and / or clunkily handled. This derives from the feature’s script, which was penned by DaCosta as well as Megan McDonell and Elissa Karasik, and how it keeps the movie a bit too much focused on the main narrative thread of its characters and not so much on the actual story itself. In truth, the story of The Marvels seems a bit low stakes, despite the implications it has within some of its plot beats. A classic “switcheroo” of three characters does seem quite compelling and the determination of Dar-Been’s quest to return Hala to its former glory offers some “gray area” against her villainy, but all feels quite undercooked and half-baked, with the potential not really fully utilized in the shaping of the film’s script. Parts are fragmented and scenes do seem a bit choppy at times, with the production seems to be “going through the motions” and mandating a shorter runtime, which causes The Marvels to feel very hurried…..and that’s not a good thing.
For its direction, DaCosta, while doing an admirable job and is fully committed to making the feature more alive and fun, struggles to find a “happy medium” balance with the project and showcasing a little bit of inexperience of handling such a large and prominent blockbuster endeavor. It’s not for a lack of trying and she certainly does it better than most, but (again) the movie itself does feel fragmented as if there are storytelling beats and several other sequences were removed / cut from the final edit of the picture in favor of a leaner runtime. This results in a movie that just feels “okay”, loosing that “well-roundness” balance of characters and story. Plus, given all the hype that was placed upon this movie, with the setups being formed in WandaVision and Ms. Marvel, the actual story taking place The Marvels ends up being rather “meh”.
Also, while I do praise the movie for its more lighthearted feeling and overall tone, the project does suffer from a bit too much silliness at times that seem bit too goofy…even for a Marvel feature. Basically, the entire subplot storyline of Nick Fury with Kamala’s family is meant to be for humor and funny moments against the juxtaposition of the three Marvel characters storyline, but it ends up having the opposite effect and just comes off as superfluous and too awkward and merely played for feigned laughs. Another part that I found criticism is in the film’s climatic third act, which definitely felt underwhelming and a bit awkward in a few places. Yes, I did like how the three female leads worked together and how used their powers (entangled as they are) against Dar-Been for some flashy visual action, but it seems quite underwhelming and hurried, with the conflict being over before it really gets started. Plus, without spoiling the story, something that Captain Marvel does in the end, could’ve been done years ago, which would’ve rendered this entire movie moot. It’s a bit of a head scratcher, one that I felt like a cop out to generate a semi-resolution to her character’s dilemma of what she did with when she destroyed Hala’s Supreme Intelligence.
Lastly, as a minor point of criticism derives from some of the visual effect shots. While definitely better than what was presented in Quantumania (very much so), the visual effects for the movie are a bit of mixed bag, with some scenes being great and “on par” with today’s expectations for a blockbuster feature film, while other shots seem very unpolished and have that “green screen” look about them. It’s not a full deal breaker, in my opinion, but with the project receiving a very large and sizeable production budget (roughly over $200 million), it seems quite disappointing and very off-putting.
The cast in The Marvels is a bit of a mixed bags at times, but, for the most part, does certainly help elevate (or at least mask) the film’s various points of criticisms to a certain degree. Most of the acting talent involved in this project is relatively good and fits perfectly within the context of a MCU endeavor, but the character themselves at times do feel a bit half-baked, which could be partial due to the shorten runtime of the film and / or the shaping of the feature’s script. Leading the charge in the movie actress Brie Larson, who returns to the MCU to reprise her character role of Carol Danvers / Captain Marvel. Known for her roles in 21 Jump Street, Room, and Just Mercy, Larson has certainly made a name for herself throughout her career and has been placed in more prominent roles of late. Her participation in the MCU has indeed been an interesting one, with her debut in the character role of Carol Danvers in 2019’s Captain Marvel being a strong representation of a lead female superhero in a shared cinematic universe that’s more dominantly filled with male leads. So, it’s great to see Larson’s Danvers back-in-action once again and in her own feature (well, alongside two other), but you get my point. It’s nice to see that the character has a bit more to do than her minor appearance in Avengers: Endgame, with The Marvels showcasing a bit more depth to Danvers’s plight after destroying the Kree’s Supreme Intelligence on Hala and the consequences that follow as well as her reconnection with Monica Rambeau. This doesn’t overtake her character backstory / development in the Captain Marvel feature, but it is indeed a step in the right direction. Plus, Larson seems to have a better handle on the character and display the right amount of stoic bravery and vulnerability when called upon. Thus, it was good to see Larson’s return to playing Captain Marvel again.
Behind Larson, actress Iman Vellani gets the most screen time (of the three) in the movie, with her reprising her Ms. Marvel character role of Kamala Khan / Ms. Marvel. Known for her roles in MCU TV series, Vellani definitely adds that extra energy of spunky youthfulness against her co-stars (both in actresses and characters respectfully), which makes Kamala appearance in the film that much more enjoyable. As for the script, I think that Kamala is written finely into the movie and gets a real taste of the larger universe that she is in, with her inexperience of alien forces and other superpower villains, which makes for some compelling moments. All in all, while I wasn’t expecting much from the character, I did fine Vellani to be a “breath of fresh air” joy in the picture and found her return to Kamala to be just as equally fun.
The last of the lead trio is actress Teyonah Parris, who returns to play her MCU character role from WandaVision in the role of Monica Rambeau, the daughter of Maria Rambeau. Known for her roles in Candyman, Dear White People, and If Beale Street Could Talk, Parris certainly made her “big splash” in WandaVision, which teased her newly found light-based powers and the importance she had to play the future of this cinematic universe. The Marvels capitalizes on that idea, with her involvement in the main story being fun, with Monica having a bit more of the “voice of reason” of the three. Plus, Parris still makes for compelling and likeable character in the role. As for the character herself, I felt that the writing shaping for Monica could’ve been better handled in the movie. I do like the uneasy riff between her and Carol Danvers, which showcases how much time has changed them since they first met, but it all seems a bit underwhelming and fragmented as if a lot of material for their relationship was edited down for a leaner runtime. Still, it was great to see Parris come back to reprise Monica Rambeau and how she interacts with Carol and Kamala.
If the trio of the female lead characters are to be considered the best that the movie has to offer than The Marvels’s villain (Dar-Been), the new ruthless Kree leader and who is played by actress Zawe-Ashton, is perhaps the weakest link in the feature. This, of course, is a very strange thing because the MCU installments (of late) have produced some great antagonists, including Namor from Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, Kang the Conqueror from Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, and The High Evolutionary from Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.3). So, one would think that Marvel would continue that trend with another terrific main “baddie” that everyone “loves to hate”, but the character of Dar-Been seems very generic and cookie cutter right from the onset. I definitely get what they are trying to do with the character and how a powerful ruler is trying to reinstate the “glory” back to Hala, but it all just seems very undercooked. There’s something definitely there, one that could’ve been easily expanded upon for a better (and more wholesome) to understand Dar-Been’s villainy, but it all feels severely bland. It also doesn’t help that Ashton, who is known for her roles in Greta, Blitz, and Velvet Buzzsaw, doesn’t know how to play the character the right way. I give her credit for committing the character of Dar-Been, but she kind of overacts a bit and doesn’t really coming off as totally menacing. In the end, neither the written material nor the actress can’t help the Dar-Been for being a very forgetful and unmemorable comic book villain. As a sidenote…. little fun fact… Zawe-Ashton is married to MCU fan-favorite actor Tom Hiddleston. Mind = blown. Won’t that be something to see like in upcoming Secret Wars movie project to see Loki and Dar-Been together on-screen.
In more supporting roles in the movie, Kamala’s family actually provides the most laughs and amusement in the story, with their own minor subplot of being paired with Nick Fury on S.A.B.R.E.’s orbital space station. Naturally, the talents of actress Zenobia Shroff (The Big Sick and The Affair) as Muneeba Khan, actor Mohan Kapur (Savitri Devi College & Hospital and Bullets) as Yusuf Khan, and actor Saagar Shaikh (Just Giggle It and Starfield) as Aamir Kahn were great fit for the movie’s more lighthearted / fun tone and to see them reprise Kamala’s family members was definitely a treat. Sadly, the return of Nick Fury, who is once again played by MCU veteran Samuel L. Jackson (Pulp Fiction and The Hateful Eight), doesn’t amount to much in the movie. Yes, he’s back and Jackson puts in a few comedic “zingers” into the mix, but Fury’s involvement in The Marvels is a wonky and sidelined with a separate subplot that feels a bit silly at times. Plus, I don’t know exactly, but Jackson just seems a bit “off” in his portrayal of Fury. I can’t put my finger on it, but his performance in this movie doesn’t feel the same as he was in Marvel’s The Avengers or Captain America: The Winter Soldier. It just seems a like a diminished character….and that’s a shame.
The rest of the cast, including actor Gary Lewis (Billy Elliot and Outlander) as the leader of the Skrulls Emperor Dro’ge, actor Park Seo-joon (Fight for My Way and Parasite) as the charismatic prince of the planet Aladna Prince Yan, actor Daniel Ings (Lovesick and The Crown) as Kree scientist Ty-Rone, and actress Leila Farzad (I Hate Suzie and The Fear Index) and Abraham Popoola (The Curse and Cruella) as S.A.B.E.R. workers Talia and Dag, play the minor supporting characters in the movie. Overall, I felt that the acting talent involved in this group was good in their respective parts and really don’t have much to say beyond that. Effective to get the job done….and that’s that.
Lastly, the film’s final scene before the end credits sequence is definitely a sort of “Easter Egg” scene that will help “tease” something that is to come as a sort of…. future planning for a new generation. However, what’s even better than that is the actual “Easter Egg” scene that is presented during the mid-credits part. While I won’t spoil it
Locked in a perplexing transportation entanglement when using their powers, Carol Danvers, Monica Rambeau, and Kamala Khan must learn to work together as a team and thwart the efforts by Kree leader Dar-Been from destroying worlds and space within the fabric of reality with the release of The Marvels. Director Nia DaCosta’s latest film takes what was established in several of the previous MCU projects and blends them together for a semi-crossover feature event that speaks volume in the “girl power” motifs and nuances, while also cultivating a slightly more comedy-action aspect into a superhero blockbuster. While the movie does struggle when it comes to story substance, rushed narrative elements, lack of a climatic, and a forgettable villain, the film does make up for it with its own unique fun swagger, including DaCosta’s direction, a colorful presentation, some humor bits, a few action sequences, and solid leading cast, especially from Vellani. Personally, I thought that this movie was just somewhere good and okay, yet I was a bit disappointed. It was short and briskly paced movie that had a great team up with three female lead superheroes, but definitely could’ve been tweaked in the storyboarding process (i.e. more substance, more character development, and more to the main villain) and was wasn’t exactly worth the hype that was heaped upon this project. Basically, it’s decently good, but not fantastically great. While that’s better news from out I looked upon Quantumania, but not as emotionally charge or visual stunning such as Guardians 3. Furthermore, I will say that I would prefer to watch Captain Marvel over this film, with the former being a superior presentation of the two. Thus, my recommendation for this movie would be both “recommended” for fans of superhero films and of the MCU, while also maybe “rent it” as the movie doesn’t really scream “must see” and could wait to be viewed at a latter date. As mentioned, the movie’s ending teases more of what is to come for Carol, Monica, and Kamala as it will be interesting to see what Marvel plans to do with these three “Marvel” characters. In the end, The Marvels, while visually charged with color and lighthearted humor, does make for a moderate turn into the superhero genre, one that keeps the feature very much “in-line” with a return to form of its cinematic storytelling, but isn’t quite marvelous enough to make a massive memorable splash within the MCU.
3.6 Out of 5 (Recommended / Rent It)
Released On: November 11th, 2023
Reviewed On: November 12th, 2023
The Marvels is 105 minutes long and is rated PG-13 for action / violence and brief language