A Theatrical Movie Review
The long-awaited sequel that introduced cinematic audiences to the most powerful hero in the MCU returns, and in this fight, Carol Danvers isn’t standing alone proving, Marvel Studios’ THE MARVEL flies higher, further, and faster — for sure!
The Marvel Cinematic Universe has been under some serious scrutiny lately. Perhaps as a product of superhero fatigue in the media, Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige has on multiple occasions addressed the restructuring and rescheduling of many of the films and Original Series on the roster, including often pivoting when a project in the latest phase of the MCU (Ant-Man and The Wasp: Quantumania) did not achieve the blockbuster appeal of its predecessors. The rapid-fire launch of the continuing series on Disney+ also introduced a whole new level of content, some of which immediately connected with audiences like She-Hulk: Attorney at Law and others that had many scratching their heads like the Nick Fury Spy thriller Secret Invasion starring Samuel L. Jackson.
<<Spoiler Alert!>> A word of caution to my readers: Although I’ve done my best to not divulge major shockers or plot reveals so that the movie experience is “all yours”, there may be some revelations in this article that might spoil the story for those who might now have seen it. You have been warned!
The MCU has been built on phases, each leading up to a new arc that culminated in an event. When the Avengers were assembled during the first decade of the studio’s run the endgame was a cosmic Infinity War that had several significant casualties. There were still a substantial amount of characters left in the pool to lead the charge, and more joined the extended family, but this latest phase isn’t exactly resonating — at least not on a scale that is proving relevant. And that’s a hard pill to swallow when after the events of Spider-Man: No Way Home and the Doctor Strange sequel, the Marvel (cinematic) Multiverse had been blown to bits! The inclusion of actors from previous iterations of the Spider-Man film franchises, Toby Maguire and Andrew Garfield, joining the current Peter Parker, Tom Holland blew the hinges off the door.
Turning the spotlight on the “multiverse” (a popular creative device, the dissection of infinite possibilities in infinite combinations, that has dominated across genres in the last decade) as the driving force of the MCU’s latest phase, may have been the obvious next way to go, if Hollywood hadn’t turned to the multiverse as its latest theme du jour. Whether in primetime or on the big screen, the exploration of a multiverse seemed to be on everyone’s radar. The Flash starring Ezra Miller may have tripped itself right out of the gate with a multiverse plot device, but its hope of “rebooting” the DC cinematic universe didn’t bode very well at all. Spider-Man may have done it best, but the multiverse had already hit the pop-culture zeitgeist when The CW’s “Arrowverse” adapted the 80s DC Comics “Crisis on Infinite Earths” maxi-series that redefined 50 years of comics history.
The idea of a multiverse, on paper, should be a thematically compelling and dramatically dense idea to explore, especially given how the MCU had begun to familiarize and lay down the groundwork, but how is it working out so far?
Going Higher, Further, Faster.
The mighty Marvel universe continues to expand in its latest release Marvel Studios’ THE MARVELS the second installment in the Captain Marvel franchise. Academy Award Winner Brie Larson returns as Carol Danvers, the titular “Marvel” and the MCU’s most formidable force this side of the Norse God of Thunder, Thor. She’s responsible for rescuing Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) from a slow death in the cold vacuum of space, and allies herself with the rest of the remaining Avengers to take out the Mad Titan, Thanos, after he snapped half the cosmos’ population into oblivion during the events of “The Infinity War”. In the five years following that fatal confrontation, Carol Danvers dedicates herself to protecting the Earth as well as venturing into the cosmos saving the day wherever she’s needed.
Her allegiance to Nick Fury, played again by Samuel L. Jackson has Carol traversing the spaceways assisting in Fury’s promise to help relocate and protect the alien shape-shifting Skrulls (see Fury’s recent trials in the Secret Invasion original series on Disney+), who had locked in a war with the Kree Empire. Imbued with the powerful cosmic energies of Captain Marvel, she returns to the Kree home planet of Hala, and deactivates the Supreme Intelligence, an AI that has controlled the fate of the Kree people for epochs. The consequence of this plunges, the planet into an environmental cataclysm that even affects its sun and a civil war. A Kree warrior named Dar-Benn (Zawe Ashton) is determined to save her people and reclaim their reign of power.
Chasing after a legend, Dar-Benn seeks a powerful weapon, the Quantum Bands, that allows her to wield cosmic energies that open paths between time and space to restore her home planet, but she’s only able to find one of the bands. The other is on Earth and in the care of Kamala Khan (Iman Vellani) a teenager whose own powers have been unlocked since discovering the bracelet and who has assumed the superhero identity of Ms Marvel, in honor of her hero, Captain Marvel. Dar-Benn’s crusade has already caused serious damage to the fabric of space, and even more dramatically its caused the light-based powers of Captain Marvel, Ms. Marvel, and Capt. Monica Rambeau (Teyonah Parris, WandaVision) to become intertwined.
Whenever any one of them uses their powers, they instantly exchange places in time and space. This is genuinely entertaining and is eloquently illustrated in complex sequence as The Marvels move and combat Kree warriors on their alien ship, an orbital space station above the Earth, and in the New Jersey suburbs! When Dar-Benn starts using her Quantum Band, she starts an environmental chain reaction that weakens the jump points between time and space. Capt. Rambeau and Carol are the first to come in contact with fissures on opposite ends of the galaxy, and when Kamala uses her powers it initiates the first “switch” between the three.
Higher on Heart, Further and Faster on Fun!
The film’s director Nia DaCosta has managed a spectacular feat with The Marvels that makes this one of the most enjoyable forms of escapism ever projected on screen. The film is big on spectacle, a keen ingredient that marries it easily into the MCU and keeps pace with the wonder of James Gunn’s epically colossal space adventures with the Guardians of the Galaxy. This is most certainly and without a doubt, a “superhero” movie, and our heroes are faced with heavy decisions and consequences for their actions, realizing that with great power, comes great responsibility. Happily, it also incorporates without hesitation a great sense of humor, without jumping the shark and moving steadily contrary out of the genre’s hemisphere. Anything can happen in space — it is the great unknown!
What brings The Marvels home and makes it a great addition to the franchise, is its commitment to the emotional arcs — the love of family and friends. No doubt, bringing Kamala Khan into the mix was easily the factor in livening this adventure. Vellani is so enthusiastic in the role of Ms. Marvel, wanting to prove herself to her idols, but also she cares about everyone, especially her family, who have all become a part of her world. For their safety, The Khans are brought aboard Nick Fury’s orbiting space platform, but trouble follows and eventually, they must all rally together to protect the planet alongside The Marvels.
DaCosta moves this story along expertly connecting big fight sequences, with moments of discovery. A favorite is when the three women are together, and must confide in one another, building trust, to learn how to overcome their intertwined powers. The chemistry is magnetic, unforced, and authentically constructed. The audience is engaged in watching this team of heroes come together, and is overjoyed to see them fight so valiantly for what matters most: family. The arrival of Zawe Ashton as the big-bad Dar-Benn, the Kree general and Accuser, is also a revelation. Ashton plays the character with a wild zest that is extremely potent! It’s not a surprise that the actress is engaged to Tom Hiddleston, who plays the MCU’s Loki.
The Marvels is cosmically enjoyable and audiences will find plenty here to love and admire. Its tone is lighter than many critics might prefer; the MCU’s recent gaffs have often played flat with purists who would prefer a grimmer portrayal of the comic heroes. The Marvels stays very true to the genre, and, has an anime wink and nod to it that helps to place it in context, but overall it’s a lot of fun, and worth the journey.
And the story continues… For those dedicated and devoted viewers who prefer to experience the connective tissue of the expanding narrative, The Marvels is impacted by several converging MCU plotlines and the one continuing theme of this latest phase, which involves the complexity of the timeline and the emerging multiverse. The introduction of Ms. Marvel leads to the discovery that Kamala Khan’s power set, first thought to be a by-product of her interactions with the bracelet, is a latent mutation in her DNA — Kamala Khan is a mutant (and we’ll soon learn not the first mutant relevant in this prime MCU timeline).
Nick Fury has been working for decades to shelter the alien Skrulls that are now refugees living on Earth, although Captain Marvel has been able to resettle some of the shape-shifters on other planets, as per their promise. The Skrulls that had been forced for decades to hide on Earth eventually emerge and plot to subvert the world’s governments to their whim, start a nuclear disaster that would make the Earth far more habitable by their standards, and kill the human race. This conspiracy is thwarted by Fury, who rescues many of the world delegates, including James Rhodes, who was being held hostage by The Skrulls for an as yet, undetermined length of time.
Carol had been traveling the cosmos and moving from planet to planet, and Monica had practically grown up and unfortunately was “blipped” (by Thanos) out of existence, only to return missing 5 years of her life and her mother Maria’s succumbing to her cancer. Monica decisively pours her heart into her career with S.W.O.R.D., investigating the events in the suburbs of Westview, New Jersey when Wanda Maximoff creates a barrier around the town which ultimately ignites Monica’s light-controlling powers. Carol and Monica have had little to no interactions leading up to The Marvels and fortunately, their familial bond is strong enough to erode any barrier between them, reestablishing their closeness.
Without giving away the stinger after the movie, the multiverse has claimed one of the prime MCU characters and that character awakens to an all-new, all-different possibility. Actor Lashana Lynch, who portrays Monica Rambeau’s deceased mother, Maria in the prime MCU (and who is the Captain Marvel of an alternate-universe as seen in the Doctor Strange sequel) in this alternate-reality, is addressed as “Binary” by a very familiar blue-furred mutant Beast (Kelsey Grammer) who as a member of both the original Uncanny X-Men and the Avengers, as served as a teammate of Carol Danvers. The scene finally opens the door to the X-Men entering into the fray, but as to what their role will be — well, it’s too soon to say.
Get your #FansEyeView of the Official Trailer to THE MARVELS here:
Marvel Studios’ THE MARVELS | starring Brie Larson, Teyonah Parris, Iman Vellani, and Samuel L. Jackson and directed by Nia Costa is in theaters on Friday, November 10, 2023.