less than marvel-ous
Brie Larson and a great girl-powered cast can't overcome CGI in The Marvels
When Avengers: Endgame bowed to great reviews and even greater box office numbers in 2019, absolutely no one would have said at the time that Marvel Studios was in trouble. But thanks to the pandemic in 2020 and a lack of a unifying force that was the Avengers, only a few of the subsequent nine films have felt on par with the best Marvel Cinematic Universe movies, and most have been outright bad.
The Marvels might be the least anticipated MCU movie yet, both because recent history has taught fans to lower their expectations, and because it’s a mish-mash of characters from multiple Marvel properties who have not previously interacted. Captain Marvel/Carol Danvers (Brie Larson) remains the big name, having had her own 2019 movie and a big part in Endgame.
She’s joined by Monica Rambeau (Teyonah Parris), last seen taking on Scarlet Witch in WandaVision, and Kamala Khan/Ms. Marvel (Iman Vellani), who starred in her own Disney+ series. Through a series of events too convoluted to explain properly, the three superheroes wind up with their powers entangled, instantly switching them out for each other when one of them attempts to use a certain power.
The big bad is Dar-Benn (Zawe Ashton), who … well, it doesn’t really matter that much. Suffice it to say that she has a long-standing beef with Captain Marvel, finds a power that levels the playing field between her and the Marvels, and sets out to become even more powerful and exact revenge.
Written and directed by Nia DaCosta, and co-written by Megan McDonnell and Elissa Karasik, the film can be judged on two elements. The first and most successful is the camaraderie between the three main characters/actors. No matter what inane thing they’re required to do, the trio has a chemistry together that makes them enjoyable to watch, with Kamala’s unceasing positivity one of the film’s high points.
The story, though, leaves much to be desired. The body-switching, or whatever you want to call it, gets confusing the more frenetic a scene becomes. With that and other elements, it often feels like the filmmakers are just making up the rules as they go and hoping no one will notice the holes. The conflict between the Marvels and Dar-Benn is so similar to other Marvel movies that it feels like they just copied and pasted previous scripts.
And even though the same problem has existed for a while in MCU movies, making the movie with 99-percent CGI has an extreme distancing effect. There is just no way to get invested in what the heroes are trying to do when everything around them is fake. And since their powers amount to little more than glowing hands, none of the effects are exciting, either.
The frustrating thing is that Larson, Parris, and Villani actually do make for a solid team. If you ignore the superhero stuff, each of them has some standout moments and, if the movie had allowed it more, emotional connections. Ashton makes for a decent villain, but the film doesn’t give her much to work with, and in the end her character feels generic.
It’s difficult to know where the MCU goes from here, as the actors strike and a major actor in serious legal trouble has thrown another wrench in their overall plans. The Marvels is neither bad enough to spell doom for the whole enterprise nor good enough to be considered a savior. But so-so just won’t cut it in this day and age of blockbuster movies.
The Marvels opens in theaters on November 10.