'The Marvels' Is Fun and Depressing in Equal Measure
What do we expect from a movie like 'The Marvels'?
This post will reveal details about The Marvels that are evident in the trailers. No spoilers.
What do we expect from a movie like The Marvels?
In a best-case scenario, The Marvels pays off long-running threads from high-budget MCU TV shows like Wandavision, Ms. Marvel, and Secret Invasion. It moves along Phase Five of the MCU and helps set up the bigger conflicts that are to come. It continues to build affection and appreciation for its trio of protagonists. And it also has something interesting to say, perhaps about topics like war or how the bonds of family can survive being tested.
But in a medium-case scenario, it’s just a fun, fairly inconsequential romp! And that’s basically what we ended up getting here.
The Marvels continues the story of Carol Danvers, who at this point is just chilling in space, trying to unearth old memories, and still vaguely wanting to help the Skrulls out. A random freak space accident causes Carol Danvers, Monica Rambeau, and Kamala Khan’s powers to become intertwined via quantum entanglement. The three characters meet, only to find that they must face off against a large looming threat.
There are several aspects of The Marvels that are genuinely clever. The thing that impressed me most is that the film has an amazing solution for what I’ll term The Carol Danvers Problem. What is The Carol Danvers Problem? It’s the fact Carol Danvers is a characters whose powers are so formidable, so overwhelming, that it’s implausible that she cannot instantly solve any problem she encounters by, say, punching through it. She’s basically Superman with no real Marvel equivalent of kryptonite. In the past, the MCU movies have solved this by just explaining that she was busy in other galaxies that also have calamitous issues to deal with. (We also saw her face off with Thanos, who was sufficiently powerful and intimidating a villain to go toe-to-toe with her).
In The Marvels, Danvers can’t use her powers too much without switching places with either Rambeau or Khan, meaning that if she is too intense during a fight, she can actually jeopardize the life of someone else. It’s a wonderful mechanic that leads to a handful of inventive action sequences that are a blast to watch, and that feature a solid dash of humor. I also appreciated that the film’s villain has a way of counteracting Danvers’ powers which I won’t reveal here. Suffice it to say, these decisions manage to give the film some more stakes than I might’ve originally imagined.
The soul of this film is Iman Vellani’s portrayal as Kamala Khan. One of the best things about Ms. Marvel (the TV show) is it provides one of the only glimpses we get of how a regular person in the MCU might perceive the fantastical events going on around them. Khan spends a lot of The Marvels geeking out at being able to hang with her idol Carol Danvers, and she really captures the fun and joyful spirit that made many folks fall in love with the MCU in the first place. Overall, the three leads have great chemistry and it’s wonderful to see them bounce off each other.
It’s a good thing Khan is here to liven things up too because otherwise, The Marvels proceedings are dull and uninteresting. The plot is bare bones to the point of almost being unintelligible. The villain in the film has a unique connection to Danvers but their history is not reckoned with in any meaningful way (that doesn’t involve punching things). Massive concepts and ideas are introduced, but many of them feel shoehorned in between the plot beats that just have to be hit to get us to the next set piece. And the final act resolution feels rushed to the point of absurdity. There’s a lot of potential in how Danvers, Rambeau, and Khan are connected that could lead to really interesting emotional territory to explore. Sadly the film is either uninterested or doesn’t have the time.
And that’s why I started this post by asking what is it we expect from The Marvels. Because if we’re looking for something bold, great, or even occasionally transcendent, this is not the place to find it. The thing is, MCU films like this used to be massive, must-watch events that felt like they were building to something even more spectacular. But at this point, with all the issues going on at Marvel right now, it’s honestly impressive that we were able to get something that is as enjoyable as this is. The Marvels is a perfectly pleasant action adventure with a story that will leave no residual trace in your mind and has virtually nothing to say about anything. It’s where the MCU — and the state of a lot of our moviegoing entertainment — is right now.
I suppose it could be worse. But it could also be a lot better.
The Marvels has a runtime of 105 minutes, making it the shortest MCU movie ever made. I’d argue that this runtime is actually an asset. The film doesn’t ask very much of its audience, and it doesn’t provide very much beyond a smooth, fun ride. It’s a good fit. (Now Killers of the Flower Moon on the other hand…)
There is a mid-credits scene that will have a lot of MCU fans buzzing (beware of spoilers already out in the wild). There is no post-credits scene, but folks who stay till the end will get a very small audio easter egg.
To get the maximum enjoyment out of The Marvels, I’d recommend you watch Ms. Marvel and WandaVision on Disney+. The film does an okay job of re-introducing you to characters like Kamala Khan and Monica Rambeau but watching those shows definitely enriched my filmgoing experience. I do not think you need to watch Secret Invasion, which is a show that makes even less sense now. I also don’t think there are any significant Loki tie-ins.
In general, I don’t watch trailers in advance of movies but one of my favorite activities is to get home from watching a movie and then watch all the trailers in a row. Suffice it to say I was shocked at the Final Trailer for The Marvels which not only directly references the original Avengers but also implies that there’s some connection between this film’s villain and Thanos (not true in the final film, as far as I could tell). The whole thing reeks of desperation and based on the projected opening box office numbers, I can understand why they went this way.
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On Tiktok and Instagram, I shared some thoughts on the fact that the SAG-AFTRA strike is now over.