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‘The Marvels’ review: The MCU hits a comedy groove at lightspeed

By November 8, 2023No Comments5 min read
(L-R): Iman Vellani as Ms. Marvel/Kamala Khan, Brie Larson as Captain Marvel/Carol Danvers, and Teyonah Parris as Captain Monica Rambeau in Marvel Studios' THE MARVELS. Photo by Laura Radford. © 2023 MARVEL.

Directed by Nia DaCosta and boasting three electric heroine leads, The Marvels proves superhero movies can finally be breezy comedies again.

Has there ever been a Marvel movie with this sheer amount of dread and low expectations leading into its release as The Marvels? For a sequel to a 2019 film that grossed over $1 billion, you’d think the masses would be clamoring for more Captain Marvel, Brie Larson, and yes, Goose. But, well, we have gotten more Captain Marvel, at least in fits and starts. The Marvel Cinematic Universe’s artificially constructed It Girl has shown up in a couple of movies since her debut in 2019, sporting new haircuts, sure. A couple of pithy lines, agreed. But the resounding response to her presence in the larger landscape of superhero movies and the MCU to boot has mostly been a collective shrug, and she’s not alone.

And yet. And yet. This is all further testament to the absolute magic of Iman Vellani, whose real-life superpowers are convincing the entire world that a Captain Marvel superfan isn’t just broadly plausible, it’s infectious. Perhaps only through raw determination alone, but infectious all the same. For those unfamiliar with Vellani’s work on her Disney+ Marvel show, Ms. Marvel, it’s similarly the antidote to all that Marvel fatigue you keep reading about in the paper. While most Marvel shows and movies of late—at least the ones trying to usher in new characters to market—have been skating by at best (Hawkeye/She-Hulk), and bombing at worst (The Eternals/Moon Knight), Ms. Marvel has made the business of IP-building look effortless again.

To be clear, no one is more surprised than me! You know how badly I wanted to title this review Swing and a Ms.?

Iman Vellani as Ms. Marvel/Kamala Khan in Marvel Studios' THE MARVELS. Photo by Laura Radford. © 2023 MARVEL.

“Prodigal child of the Milky Way.”

Anyway, the point is that The Marvels mostly works because director Nia DaCosta, who co-wrote the screenplay with Megan McDonnell and Elissa Karasik, pretty much transplants all the dynamic, whizz-bang fun of the Ms. Marvel formula into an otherwise droll Captain Marvel movie, and the transformation is mostly seamless. Granted, this creative shakeup does nothing for our villain or stakes, which include a mish-mash of intergalactic politicking borrowing from the one glaring weakness of Guardians of the Galaxy (that hammer villain guy, we all remember him) and the colonial imperialist apologetics of plenty other Marvel movies, notably the last Captain Marvel. The timing of this particular release is poor, to say the least.

This might mean that for many, The Marvels will fail to be all that rewatchable. Fun and funny in the moment, but not the lasting standard for all things action fantasy moving forward. That should probably sound familiar to anyone who’s read a review of a Marvel movie over the last 15 years.

But yes, in the moment, The Marvels is all the good fun it’s designed to be. The basic plot follows Captain Marvel/Carol Danvers (Larson) still touring the galaxy doing good things for good reasons, usually, but she’s yet to reunite with her found-family niece, Monica Rambeau (Teyonah Parris). Monica, now all grown up and having mastered the light powers she gained from whatever the heck happened during WandaVision, currently works for Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson, and if you skipped Secret Invasion, you should be fine) and has little desire to make up with Carol, who said she’d come back “before she knew it”…30 years ago.

Teyonah Parris as Captain Monica Rambeau in Marvel Studios' THE MARVELS. Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios. © 2023 MARVEL.

“You took everything from me.”

Meanwhile, back on Earth, the forever relatable Kamala Khan (Vellani) is fantasizing about her eventual superhero teamup with her idol, Captain Marvel. Only a quantum entanglement or some other sci-fi pablum happens, and the three characters (Kamala, Monica, and Carol) switch places. Not bodies, places, as in they teleport to each other’s locations. Why? Well, just calm down, the movie will explain it after three or four comedically-tuned action scenes, starting with Carol’s horror at suddenly finding herself, without warning, in the bedroom of a teenage girl in New Jersey who worships her.

So yes, it’s Disney’s Marvel’s Three Musketeers, coincidentally with a similar amount of airships as that 2011 movie that for sure happened. But it’s that very tongue-in-cheek approach to the story that ultimately makes The Marvels successful for what it needs to be. Larson surely has stronger footing here than in her previous cameo appearances, balancing the galaxy-weariness of not just being an invincible space demigod but also surviving the last four years of annoying dudes with YouTube channels. Watching her take on the role as co-babysitter with the equally game Parris is where The Marvels shines the most.

Throw in more Goose jokes, a few memorable locations (fine, one memorable water choir planet), an unnecessary cameo or six, a mid-credits scene that might’ve hit harder three years ago, a wacky Muslim family who’s just here to help, and yet a few more Goose jokes, and you pretty much have The Marvels.

The bottom line.

To be fair, if you’re going to cringe during a movie, at least let it be in between fits of genuine laughter. Though that does require being on the film’s wavelength, which might be too high a hurdle to clear for some who are more than ready to be done with all things Marvel, at least for a while. And if they do come to The Marvels looking for some kind of redemption in terms of a notable villain, cutting-edge special effects, and a melodramatic punch to the gut…well, let’s hope they at least give Ms. Marvel a chance if they haven’t already.

The Marvels opens in theaters on November 10. Watch the trailer here.

Images courtesy of Disney and Marvel Studios. Read more articles by Jon Negroni here.

  • THE MARVELS - 7.5/10
Jon Negroni

Jon is one of the co-founders of InBetweenDrafts and our resident film editor. He also hosts the podcasts Cinemaholics, Mad Men Men, and Rookie Pirate Radio. He doesn't sleep, essentially.

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