Director Nia DaCosta, who helmed 2021’s Candyman remake, inherited all of the downsides of Marvel’s shared universe model, but she also makes some wide swings that work. And a talented cast of leads (including Brie Larson, Iman Vellani, and Teyonah Parris) helps elevate the film.
It’s fast, funny and smart. The Marvels is a promising MCU debut.
Captain Marvel (Brie Larson)
After gaining critical acclaim for her work in the independent drama Short Term 12 and the comedy Trainwreck, Larson made a triumphant return to big-budget cinema with 2019’s Captain Marvel. Despite the film’s shortcomings, its global box office grossed over $1.1 billion and made it the fifth-highest-grossing movie of the year and the highest-grossing female-led film ever.
Marvel’s ensemble chemistry — especially that between Carol and Monica, and Carol and Kamala (played by Teyonah Parris and Iman Vellani, respectively) — is one of the movie’s brightest spots. Moreover, the film’s willingness to go a bit slapstick in early scenes and even evoke the silliness of DC’s Legends of Tomorrow is refreshing, as it shows that the story doesn’t take itself too seriously.
The Marvels’ most poignant moments come when the trio’s lives intersect with each other, allowing the characters to reflect on their pasts and decide where they’re going from here. In doing so, it succeeds in delivering on the promise of its title while proving that its women are more than capable of handling whatever Marvel throws at them next.
Ms. Marvel (Iman Vellani)
One of the film’s first shots reveals a dying sun, and that’s probably not an entirely bad omen for a franchise that once looked poised to ignite a pop culture supernova. Director and co-writer Nia DaCosta solves the bloat that has plagued much of Marvel’s MCU tenure by keeping her three lead characters grounded and relatable as they work through their arcs.
She platforms them with fun, surprising eccentricities (the world of Broadway musicals intrudes, for instance), and she invests in their relationships with genuine emotion. It’s all enough to give The Marvels the heft of an MCU entry, and it demonstrates that, when handled correctly, this formula isn’t broken.
What’s perhaps most important is that the movie welcomes the girls and women some fanboys resent or want to keep out of superhero movies and fans altogether, and gives them a seat at the table alongside the men who love them. It’s a small gesture that speaks volumes about the character of Kamala Khan and the actress who plays her.
Monica Rambeau (Teyonah Parris)
Director Nia DaCosta, who proved her mettle with a decent indie thriller (2018’s Little Woods) and an underrated, regrettably slept-on horror remake/requel (2021’s Candyman), has some genuinely interesting dynamics among these three heroines. But it’s difficult to sustain the energy of their interactions when the movie keeps rushing ahead to the next complication in the plot.
One of those complexities arises when the three heroines are linked together by a space aberration that “entangles” them, literally switching places with each other. While it provides the opportunity for some nicely choreographed fight scenes, it’s also a reminder of how much Marvel has lost its grip on its narrative premise and that this film exists despite — rather than because of — its cultural dominance.
While it may feel like a step backward, the movie does have its moments and boasts a talented trio of actors in Larson, Vellani, and Parris. But the bloated franchise mechanics and green-screen overload eventually dragged this one down into generic sequeldom.
Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson)
The Marvels may be a middling entry in the franchise’s current 15-year reign, but it’s still more fun and compelling than many of its recent sequels. Director Nia DaCosta (“Little Woods,” “Candyman”) assembles a charming cast, delivers genuinely funny jokes, and features some rousing action sequences.
She also manages to sidestep a major problem that plagues most tentpole films in this era of overproduction: bloat. Instead of trying to stuff the backstory, exposition, and growth of multiple characters into one movie, DaCosta keeps the energy up by giving her leads plenty of training montage moments and allowing them to go on wacky space adventures.
The film does suffer from a few too many jump cuts and sloppy exposition, but it also avoids the overtly gimmicky tropes of other superhero movies. The Marvel focuses more on the emotional resonance of its themes — including war’s complicated fallout, the strength of women as family and friends, and the importance of finding your voice.