“Higher, Further, Faster.”
While The Marvels is more entertaining than Quantumania, it is far from the best sequel that the MCU has ever created, despite this film in a sense serving as a three-way sequel for three separate MCU characters. Picking up after the events of Captain Marvel, WandaVision, and directly after Ms. Marvel, The Marvels brings together Brie Larson’s Carol Danvers, Teyonah Paris’ Monica Rambeau, and Iman Vellani’s Kamala Khan into one movie to thwart an intergalactic threat. Fair warning: there are prerequisites for watching this movie in order to ensure that you can keep track with the continuity. Obviously, you will need to have seen the first film, which followed Carol Danvers, but if you have not also watched any of the miniseries featuring the backstories for the other characters, you will find yourself struggling to keep up. As I said, this film can be considered a three-way sequel rolled into one film. Encompassing all of this for three characters was a big task, that the film clearly struggles to accomplish at times, but for the most part, I would categorize this film as an enjoyable experience, albeit one that I don’t see myself ever feeling the need to repeat.
So, this hasn’t been the greatest launch for the MCU’s Phase 5, which isn’t surprising, as Phase 4 had highs and lows. Thus far, lots of lackluster and unnecessary content, in my opinion. Since Endgame, it has somewhat felt that the MCU has been grasping at straws since that iconic finale. What made everything work up until Endgame was the interconnectedness of all of its content. Since then, things have felt like a rudderless ship with the launching of series and movies focused on lesser known characters which at times felt unnecessary. It all just felt disjointed and lacking the strategic planning that resulted in the MCU leaving the DCEU in its dust. However, this film was the first time I started to see the connective tissue. This connective tissue will likely facilitate the introduction of Thunderbolts and possible Young Avengers. However, I’m not sure how invested in those projects I will be, especially in their present trajectory.
The Marvels essentially picks up right where Ms. Marvel left off, with Kamala’s band glowing with her inexplicable switching places with Caroline Danvers. Here we learn the circumstances of the switch, i.e., a quantum entanglement of their light-based powers. Additional caveat: it isn’t just their powers that are entangled, but those of Captain Monica Rambeau. This and the bangle that Kamala received ties into the film’s big bad, Dar-Benn, played by Zawe Ashton. This villain seemed like a bit of a wasted opportunity, as not much was done to backstop this character. We only receive a cursory backstory and motivation for the character. I was intrigued by the character, as she did not appear inherently evil. Her actions are questionable and ruthless, but from her perspective, they serve a greater purpose. I would have liked it if the film spent more time developing this character and examining her motivations. This would have kept the character from appearing one-dimensional. Further examination of her motivations or her conflicting feelings about her actions would have gone a long way toward improving the overall story quality.
Expanding on the cursory manner in which the film dispenses vital information, this is also done to explain away Captain Marvel’s activities following her solo movie. At the end of her titular movie, she made a declaration to her former mentor; and it is one that she that she fully keeps, although keeping her promises came with unintended consequences, which still haunt her. The problem is, I would have loved to see more focus on her feelings about the unintended consequences. She is clearly troubled by them, but the emotional context is mostly glossed over and only directly addressed once. This gave the character a cold demeanor, making her seem heartless. This demeanor works at times, particularly with the dynamic between Carol and Kamala, as it causes periods of tension between them given the latter’s idol-worshipping of the former, especially when a hard decision has to be made. Speaking of tension, the Carol-Monica relationship is not without its own issues, but here is where that cold demeanor stunts that dynamic. There issues are very much rooted in emotion, and Carol’s demeanor creates a tonal disjoint.
I don’t usually say that a movie could have benefitted from a longer runtime, but given that this film has the shortest runtime in the history of the MCU, more time could have kept the story from becoming cluttered. There was a lot of material to unpack here, and 105 minutes was not enough time to do so. With three characters with their own origins and storylines, it is OK to take at least two hours to ensure that you cover everything. As a result of the short runtime, you miss out on my aforementioned opportunities to develop particular characters, as well as the story quality.
That said, I did enjoy the film. It was funny, and there was good chemistry among cast members. The film also takes strides in improve some of the damage to Samuel L Jackson’s Nick Fury done by the mishandling of Secret Invasion, courtesy of his restoration of the “lightness” depicted in the first Captain Marvel film via his funny relationship with Larson’s Carol Danvers. The film also features several cameos of fan favorite characters reprising roles, as well as a mid-credit scene which serves to retcon a popular franchise into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. There is an additional auditory after credit scene, but in my opinion the mid-credit scene is the only one worthing staying for.