The Marvels is a Delightfully Scrappy and Silly Minor Entry in the MCU

Before considering Nia DaCosta’s film it is wise to investigate a little where the MCU currently is. It is impossible to ignore the interconnectedness of the films and television series which was once part of the pleasure of what Marvel Studios were producing. Then they ran themselves thin by putting out endless amount of what even they termed “content.” Comic books themselves have long relied on interconnected narratives and fans were happy with that… for a while. Now there is no such thing as a self-contained Marvel film. As much as The Marvels is a zippy, fun, hangout movie which happens to have three superpowered women at its centre – it is also impossible to understand without having invested many, many hours inside the MCU.

Nia DaCosta and writers Megan McDonnell and Elissa Karasik have favoured action and charm above narrative cohesion, and action and charm are what makes The Marvels works as well as it possibly can in its fraught position inside a now flailing cinematic empire. Essentially in the spirit of the television series Ms. Marvel starring the irrepressibly likeable Iman Vellani as Kamala Khan, the sixteen-year-old “hero of Jersey City” dealing with her exasperated parents and general teen stuff. DaCosta knows that Kamala is the future (if there is indeed a true future to Kevin Feige’s empire) and uses as much of the true comic book aesthetic of the Ms. Marvel series.

When it comes to plot, things get a little confusing because there is simultaneously too much and too little of it. Monica Rambeau (Teyonah Parris) is working with Nick Fury’s (Samuel L. Jackson) S.A.B.E.R. project in space. Captain Marvel/Carol Danvers (Brie Larson) is somewhere alone out there hanging with Ferken Goose and acting as an intergalactic superhero. Kamala Khan is writing fan fiction, drawing comics, and imagining hanging out with Carol. The not so interesting big bad of the film Dar-Benn (Zawe Ashton) digs up one of the bracelets that Kamala wears (which unlocked her mutant gene) and hey presto Quantum Bands, Universal Weapons, and… touching things? mean that Monica, Carol, and Kamala’s light-based powers become entangled. The three have to work out how to save the universe while Monica and Carol work on healing their relationship (Carol did not go back to see the child who saw her as an aunt and an essential part of her now deceased mother Maria Rambeau’s life). Monica is also working out her fairly newly acquired superpowers gained through walking through a witches’ hex shield (WandaVision) and Kamala is just plain excited that she gets time to hang with her heroes.

Kree warrior Dar-Benn has opened some kind of intergalactic portal wherein she can travel to other galaxies, steal resources (like a sun, an atmosphere, or all the water on a planet, so not just a few minerals) engage in some Skrull genocide, and anyone else she feels deserves her wrath because of Captain Marvel’s destruction of Kree homeworld Hala after defeating the Great Intelligence. If you’re still reading, it is assumed that recapping the plot of Captain Marvel isn’t necessary. Dar-Benn has her reasons to hate Carol and want to exact revenge and is the fairly typical “I can see your point of view but you’re going about this in the worst possible way,” antagonists.

It is possible that DaCosta and Megan McDonnell and Elissa Karasik realise that audiences have effectively tuned out on motivations and cohesive plotting and are sitting down to be entertained by spectacle, jokes, and set-pieces. On this front The Marvels delivers in spades. The trio visits a planet where the inhabitants sing as their primary language and Carol just happens to be married to their Prince Yan (Seo-Jun Park). The power swapping chaos has big comic payoffs including the wonderful Kahn family (Zenobia Shroff, Mohan Kapur, and Saagar Shaikh) dealing with their home suddenly becoming a battleground invaded by Kree warriors. The sweetness of the team building between Kahn, Danvers, and Rambeau as they learn how to co-ordinate their power exchanges.

There is also a hilarious scene on Fury’s space station where Flurkittens become main characters and “herding cats” takes on a whole new meaning accompanied by “Memories” from the musical Cats (a better cinematic version than the one Tom Hooper delivered). The energy is boundless, and the comedy is truly polished. The audience gets to see the usually quite serious Carol Danvers (remember she had her memory wiped and had to deal with repressing her emotions to be a Kree warrior) have goofy fun.

The vulnerability of both Danvers and Rambeau is explored and Danvers’ immense guilt over the past is coupled with Rambeau’s confusion of dealing with being “blipped” and essentially becoming an orphan with no-one to hold on to. These emotional beats do work in conjunction with the comedy and they aren’t without their own resonance, but the comedy and action take centre stage and as such we are given perhaps the small saviour to the MCU – Kamala Khan.

As untidy as The Marvels is, and it is far from being a tight package, one thing it does perfectly is remind the audience of the time when Marvel was enjoyable escapism. The action is kinetic and well-choreographed, the leads are bouncing off each other and especially Iman Vellani who is the undoubtable star of the whole affair. The sweetness of the film almost compensates for the underbaked script and the notion of sorority is gloriously expressed.

The Marvels is a minor entry into the whole gargantuan amalgam which is the MCU, but it is delightfully scrappy and aware that it is silly. Audiences are tired post Endgame and even the better MCU films such as Black Panther: Wakanda Forever have not quite revived whatever phase we are currently in. The sunk-cost fallacy is weighing on the MCU and with a recent Variety article outlining what a mess the whole thing currently is it is clear that something needs to happen – either a reboot or a cessation. It is unclear if either or these choices will be made with so much money already invested. If you can somewhat ignore the whole saga and just watch The Marvels as light, youth-oriented entertainment you will have a good time. If you expect the film to act as a corrective for the MCU, you won’t. Nia DaCosta’s The Marvels is ultimately both the worst and the best of the MCU’s instincts wrapped in a very cute package. Only a super-grinch would deny the infectiousness of Kamala Khan and what her energy brings to an increasingly exhausting genre.

Director: Nia DaCosta

Cast: Brie Larson, Teyonah Parris, Iman Vellani

Writers: Nia DaCosta, Megan McDonnell, Elissa Karasik, (based on Marvel Comics)

Nadine Whitney

Nadine Whitney holds qualifications in cinema, literature, cultural studies, education and design. When not writing about film, art or books, she can be found napping and missing her cat.

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