Nia DaCosta’s Marvel movie has brilliant moments of pure creativity, but struggles to break the mould – here’s our The Marvels review.
It’s no secret that Marvel has been struggling with its cinematic universe since it tied up its long-running main story with Avengers: Endgame. The franchise has been groaning under its own weight, finding it difficult to overcome over a decade of context and backstory that people have had to follow.
Yet a sequel to the billion dollar-grossing Captain Marvel? You’d think that would be sure fire success, and under the assured direction of Candyman's Nia DaCosta, it sometimes is. Sometimes.
But this isn’t just a sequel, it’s a team-up movie that sees Brie Larson’s Carol Danvers (AKA Captain Marvel) have to team up with Iman Vellani’s Ms Marvel (AKA Kamala Khan) and her grown-up niece, Monica Rambeau (Teyonah Parris) when they start switching places whenever they use their powers.
Both of these characters were introduced in streaming shows Ms Marvel and WandaVision. The prospect of having to watch them both though, to fully understand what’s happening in The Marvels, is a little bit exhausting.
To its credit the film introduces these spirited characters without too much exposition, but in a way that also brings newcomers up to speed. And, in the case of Kamala, incredibly innovatively with an animated sequence that makes it clear DaCosta is trying to do something different. It’s appreciated, too.
Cue the big bad, though. That’d be Zawe Ashton as Dar-Benn, a Kree using a powerful artifact to tear holes in the space-time continuum and terrorise planets because… reasons?
It eventually becomes clear, but this villain’s motives are drip fed to us too slowly to relate to her. Even when we know what she’s up to, her character feels largely underdeveloped, leaving Ashton to sneer her way through the movie in lieu of having anything to really work with.
In the meantime, though, the first chunk of The Marvels is fun.
Samuel L Jackson gets a well-placed swear word as Nick Fury. Goose the cat (or Flerkin, to be more accurate) gets more of a role. Any scenes featuring the Flerkins are brilliant, really. DaCosta shares writing credit for the film with Megan McDonnell and Elissa Karasik, and all I can say is they really understand the true nature of cats. Fans of our feline friends are not shortchanged with The Marvels.
There’s more good stuff, too. While the powers of the two Marvels and Rambeau remain somewhat undefined, them switching places when they use their powers leads to a fantastic and chaotic early fight sequence. It gets to the point where there are three fights on the go at once.
They keep teleporting between them. People are punched. Wardrobes are smashed in – and none of the characters have a clue what’s going on. This gives all three of the fantastic leads a chance to really inject some personality into their performances.
Iman Vellani has buckets of it, and serves as the light comic relief of the film, as well as, really, its emotional anchor as the charming teen who idolises Captain Marvel.
Mixed in there is some exploration of Carol’s troubled relationship with her niece, but it doesn’t really stand out among the movie’s meandering plot. There are some bold attempts to do something a bit different throughout The Marvels, including adding elements of an unexpected new genre. But those moments are few and far between, connected by what feels like an awful lot of talking about not much.
DaCosta’s film has its moments, but its charming leads and memorable set pieces can’t overcome the plotting issues.
What’s more, the ending wanders away from the core characters to once again focus on building the next stage of the broader Marvel universe. I don’t mind a cameo or two, but every once in a while it’d be great to get a good standalone film.
It drags things right down in this case, and it serves as a dampener on what would otherwise be a perfectly entertaining movie.
No matter how skilled a filmmaker you are, or how creative your vision is, it seems impossible to make a Marvel film without having to dedicate a chunk of your movie to the studio’s larger plan. And that, in the case of The Marvels, has proven very much to its detriment.
The Marvels is in cinemas on 10th November.