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The Marvels

Will it blow your socks off? No. But it manages what many recent MCU entries have failed: simple fun.

This article predates the Odd Trilogies website. It was originally published on Film Yap.

Marvel Studios’ latest entry—a sequel to 2019’s Captain Marvel, 2021’s WandaVision, and 2022’s Ms. Marvel all at once—hits theaters at an interesting and precarious time for the studio. The franchise is waning in public interest and box office power, and rumors abound regarding alleged plans to win back the hearts of fans.

The general attitude toward the MCU may be at an all-time low, but strangely enough, it might be the perfect climate for something as simple and silly as The Marvels, at least for those open to it.

There’s no getting around it: the chuds and bigots who hated Captain Marvel and Ms. Marvel for being “cringe” or “woke” will no-doubt hate The Marvels for mostly the same reasons. Likewise, many of those in full-tilt Marvel hate mode will likely find nothing of value here to justify an about-face on the militant stance they have maintained on Twitter for the past four years. If Marvel is your favorite thing hate right now, this is more of that. You can skip the movie knowing you’re right about it, and we’ll all be better off for not having to deal with your “hot” takes online.

So in this review (as with most of my reviews), I won’t be speaking to those people.

If, like me, you’ve been frequently entertained and engaged by the MCU experiment over the last several years, but have found yourself increasingly frustrated by the apparent lack of trajectory and total absence of quality control in the post-Infinity Saga years, The Marvels might just be the ridiculous, lighthearted breath of fresh air you need amidst an onslaught of overstuffed, self-serious, scattershot attempts at setting the next saga in motion.

It also might not be, which I’d totally understand. As a whole, The Marvels is not necessarily as good as the sum of its parts—a great cast, compelling director, and a charismatic trio of heroes bound together by a unique place-swapping mechanic—and it contains plenty of the Marvel Studios calling cards that have become grating to many over the years—lackluster CGI, a forgettable villain, and an overreliance on snarky one-liners that don’t always make sense or fit the scene.

This is, by no means, a triumphant return to form nor a daring step into the unknown for Marvel Studios. But it is ridiculous, goofy, and content to just be a story about three women bonding and having a good ol’ time saving the world together.

After destroying the tyrannical artificial intelligence that governed the entire Kree race, Carol Danvers (Brie Larson), a.k.a. Captain Marvel, patrols the galaxy looking for ways to help refugees and endangered peoples. Meanwhile, Monica Rambeau (Teyonah Parris) has moved from her Earth-bound role at S.W.O.R.D., as seen in WandaVision, to an extraterrestrial post on an orbital S.A.B.E.R. base working alongside Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) to monitor and repair intergalactic jump points.

Down on Earth, Kamala Khan (Iman Vellani) splits her time fulfilling duties as the fledgling hero Ms. Marvel and keeping up on her schoolwork—in between daydreams about meeting and teaming up with her inspiration, Captain Marvel.

The three are linked across space-time when a Kree militant, Dar-Benn (Zawe Ashton), uncovers a powerful ancient relic that was used in the creation of the intergalactic jump points—coincidentally, it’s also the mate to Kamala’s bangle, which awakened her mutant abilities.

The activation of the mate causes Kamala’s bangle to mess with her powers, and through some pseudo-technical jargon I can’t remember (it doesn’t matter), her light-based powers become “entangled” with those of Carol and Monica. Whenever two of them use their powers at the same time, they swap places in space, seemingly without limits. If all three use their powers at once, they all three swap. Kamala is jettisoned from her home into space where Monica was examining a jump point, Monica is teleported to Carol’s location on another planet, and Carol winds up in Kamala’s closet.

The three manage to figure out their issue in a fun sequence of intergalactic trial-and-error, as Kamala’s family—once again a highlight, returning from her Disney+ series—reels in shock from the three heroes destructively flitting in and out of their home. After becoming aware of some anomalies with the jump points and making the connection between Kamala’s bangle, their place-swapping, and Dar-Benn’s radical plan to use the jump points as a way to deplete planets of their natural resources, the three put their heads together to practice syncing up their powers for optimal place-swapping strategy in combat.

A lot of the “plot” and extraneous world-mechanics in this movie don’t make much sense and/or don’t matter. For a little while, I found this grating, since Marvel Studios (at their best, anyway) has always been pretty good at streamlining elaborate sci-fi concepts for their accessible “hero’s journey” tales.\

But the sooner you realize none of that matters—and that it’s just a wacky romp wherein a trio of misfit superheroes visit a planet where all language is sung rather than spoken, and Captain Marvel is married to a prince purely for the practical benefit of his people, and there is an army of space cats that use their bottomless pocket-dimension stomachs as a protective storage space for passengers during a spaceship crash, and Nick Fury is now inexplicably a carefree goofball (confirming that you needn’t, and shouldn’t, watch the uber-serious and uber-stupid Secret Invasion)—the better time you’ll have.

When I think about it that way, it really feels like director Nia DaCosta was allowed to just show up and have fun with her cast—and the film is actually better for it! Much has been made about how Marvel is overly controlling of its directors, railroading or sidelining them to ensure each project fits within their narrow visual and tonal aesthetic and losing sight of making a good movie as a result. And while that is, in particular cases and to an extent, definitely true (just read Alan Taylor’s comments on directing Thor: The Dark World), it’s neither a new development post-Infinity Saga nor the core issue at the heart of the franchise’s recent problems. In fact, one could easily point to last year’s Thor: Love and Thunder as an example of the opposite: a distinguished director simply having too much leash to do whatever they wanted on set.

Anyway, the point is that The Marvels really just feels like a bunch of people having fun making a superhero movie. Is it great? No. Is it an especially memorable or series-defining entry in the franchise? Definitely not. But it does stand out amongst the last year or two of MCU projects as a relatively baggage-free good time that never overstays its welcome or gets too bogged-down by slapdash visions of the franchise’s future.

There are a couple juicy stingers toward the end that were surprising to see placed in an otherwise very modest (and modestly anticipated) entry in the series, but with the state of things at Marvel Studios, who knows which “grand reveals” in any current Marvel project will ever come to fruition. So more than anything, these stingers are simply fun treats, and little more. Really, so is the movie.

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Wishes he could forego sleep to watch more movies. Besides co-hosting Odd Trilogies and writing reviews, Andy builds Gundam models, loves on his three cats, and spends way too much time managing his Plex server. You can follow his movie-watching habits on Letterboxd.

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