The Marvels

  • 18 Nov - 24 Nov, 2023
  • Mag The Weekly
  • Reviews

Nia DaCosta’s The Marvels is a grounding contribution to a gluttonous and increasingly perplexing Marvel Cinematic Universe.

The conventional film pulsates with a quiet force propelled by the sincere bond between its three protagonists. Brie Larson reprises her role as Carol Danvers, the amnesiac pilot from the 2019 blockbuster Captain Marvel; Teyonah Parris is Monica Rambeau, whom viewers saw in WandaVision; and relative newcomer Iman Vellani is Kamala Khan, the star of the Disney+ series Ms. Marvel. DaCosta’s kinetic direction and intimate storytelling style lets audiences see this trio – whose lives collide in unexpected ways – from new and entertaining vantage points.

The Marvels picks up where Captain Marvel left off. Flashbacks in the first half hour provide a broad framework, but it’s worth revisiting the disjointed predecessor – in which Danvers vowed to end the genocidal war between the Kree and Skrulls – for firmer footing. DaCosta, Elissa Karasik and Megan McDonnell (who co-wrote The Marvels’i0 screenplay) shape a more complex story with the geopolitical and familial building blocks of Captain Marvel. Their film tries to move beyond the haunting existentialism of good and evil to consider less glamorous, but still urgent themes of interplanetary dependence and sisterhood. It’s a tall order that ends up partially filled.

The story begins with Dar-Benn (Zawe Ashton), a Kree, and her associates finding a bangle infused with a powerful energy. The object is missing its other half, and a sleek transition transports us to Jersey City, where Kamala (Vellani), the teenaged protagonist of the Ms. Marvel series, labours over her Captain Marvel fan fiction while wearing it. Her room doubles as a shrine to the MCU hero whom she dreams of befriending.

DaCosta wastes no time in The Marvels; the film’s action begins immediately. Dar-Benn’s new acquisition disrupts and, for reasons revealed later, bonds Kamala to Carol (Larson) and Monica (Parris). The three risk swapping places whenever they use their powers. This a nifty plot point that allows DaCosta to flaunt her visual style and choreograph entertaining fight sequences. Working with cinematographer Sean Bobbit, the helmer experiments with perspective: The camera tracks, flips, swerves and swings in often exciting ways, affirming a rhythm DaCosta proved she had in Candyman. She plays with angular shifts and adopts an almost vérité style of observing her characters.

Marshaled together by fate, Carol, Monica and Kamala must save the galaxy from Dar-Benn’s plan. The stakes are not as high as they could be when it comes to their mission. A flaw of The Marvels is how long it takes for Dar-Benn’s motivations to be revealed, and how that strand is abandoned in the pursuit of a tidy conclusion.

Larson, Parris and Vellani have a natural and infectious rapport. Their undeniable chemistry anchors one of the stronger threads of The Marvels, which wrestles with Carol’s isolation and ego. Larson is steadier in this installment of the Captain Marvel franchise: Her toughness and stoicism, which felt clumsy and alienating in the first film, have a more intentional edge here because they’re accompanied by a deeper understanding of her character. Parris brings an understated warmth and nerdiness (akin to Letitia Wright in Black Panther) to the film.