'The Marvels' review: The Marvel Cinematic Universe is now officially on life support
Courtesy of Marvel Studios
There was a time when the Marvel Studios logo would open a movie and you’d get excited. Now it’s a gamble as to whether or not you’ve put in enough homework to actually understand what’s going on within the convoluted cinematic universe. Gone are the days when you could easily follow the threads of the movies and didn’t have to invest hours upon hours into backstories or watch seasons of television shows just to be part of the conversation. In the case of “The Marvels,” the 33rd entry in the sprawling Marvel Cinematic Universe, not only do you need to brush up on “Captain Marvel,” the 2019 prelude to “Avengers: Endgame,” but make sure to remember small, minor details from the Disney+ series “WandaVision,” and have seen the first season of “Ms. Marvel'' in its entirety. Oh, and don’t forget to pencil in time to watch “Secret Invasion” too.
Now, I’ve seen all of the above, and if not for the brief recaps peppered into the movie (every MCU flick now must include a “previously on” segment because they know general audiences aren’t keeping up), there’s absolutely no way I could have pieced it all together. But even taking away all those mechanics and stripping “The Marvels” down to its core, as it follows Carol Danvers (aka Captain Marvel played by Brie Larson), Monica Rambeau (Teyonah Parris), and Kamala Khan/Ms. Marvel (Iman Vellani) as they band together to fight a common enemy and bond over their powers, it's missing the signature spark that gave earlier Marvel iterations something worth obsessing over. (Side note, Goose, the adorable kitty aka man-eating Flerkin, is still worth obsessing about as well as an entourage of kitten-sized Flerkin’s who steal the show in the film’s only memorable sequence).
Director Nia DaCosta, an exceptional filmmaker who’s “Candyman” reboot didn’t get nearly the attention it deserved nor did her breakout debut “Little Woods,” has been dealt a crappy hand. Forced to bend and adhere to the mechanics of a cinematic universe in shambles and struggling to connect the dots in a meaningful way, both in terms of servicing the characters and the story. In fact, the movie quickly inserts audiences into the movie with the expectation they should just know what’s going on (again, make sure your homework is done!) If you’re a die-hard fanatic, this might be enough for you, but for anyone else? They might be thinking of ditching the MCU for good, which, in the long run, might not be copasetic for MCU ringleader Kevin Feige if he wants this treasured franchise to stay relevant. The problems (and there are many) don’t reside so much with the creative teams, but the Marvel brain trust who, several movies into the so-called “Multiverse Saga,” can’t seem to figure out what their post “Endgame” identity is supposed to be. At this point, nobody would be shocked if they gave Robert Downey Jr. a fat paycheck to come back and resuscitate this thing.
Anyway, “The Marvels” follows the team-up of Captain Marvel, Ms. Marvel, and Photon and, on paper, pairing three likable and winning personalities like Larson, Vellani, and Parris together would be a slam dunk. But alas, the movie never juggles them in a way that honors their MCU journey and instead squanders whatever chemistry exist in lieu of a bland villain whose intentions are wobbly at best (aside from the fact she’s been wronged in a past live by one of our heroes) and a narrative that seldomly justifies putting these three exceptional actresses in the same room.
Instead, “The Marvels” is a series of scattershot plot threads that have no payoff or investment (at one point the characters end up on a planet where the natives speak via song for reasons nobody can explain) and they go on a half-baked intergalactic odyssey to collect something called a Quantum Band, which, I guess, has major implications for the future of the Kree civilization (you remember the Kree’s right? Those green Aliens from “Secret Invasion” and “Captain Marvel?”). This Quantum Band is what brought the three heroes together as it has triggered several jump point anomaly’s which allows the trio to change places whenever they brandish their powers. Samuel L. Jackson, looking lost, confused, and bored out of his mind, returns as Nick Fury who is now regulated to helicopter dad mode as The Marvels try to figure out how to stop Kree leader Dar-Benn (Zawe Ashton) from doing villainous things.
It all leads to one of the most shameless post-credit scenes in MCU history where it’s practically begging audiences to not jump ship. I won’t write Marvel’s obituary just yet as it’s probably not wise to bet against Feige and an experiment that’s yielded $30+ billion in box office revenue, but these constant disconnects with the stories are becoming a cancer to those who just liked watching superhero movies for the sake of having a good time. Sadly, in its current state, the MCU just isn’t the beacon it once was and the studio needs a massive hit to remind the world why audiences loved these movies to begin with.
THE MARVELS opens in theaters Friday, November 10th.