The Marvels isn’t good, but it’s not quite as bad as I thought it would be. If we’re playing MCU Russian Roulette, I’d rather watch this than Eternals, Thor: Love and Thunder, or Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania. But it’s still a pretty lousy movie, another slapped-together afterthought from Marvel with weak characters, a jumbled plot, terrible filmmaking, laugh-deficient humor, and a few good ideas that go nowhere.
When Captain Marvel (Brie Larson) and SWORD agent Monica Rambeau (Teyonah Parris) investigate a weird space anomaly, they and Kamala Khan (Iman Vellani) suddenly begin trading places when they use their powers. As they try to fix their body-swapping problem, the new Kree ruler, Dar-Benn (Zawe Ashton), seeks Kamala’s bangle so she can harness its power.
The body-swapping element of The Marvels had a lot of people scratching their heads in the lead-up to the film. It seemed to work inconsistently and didn’t feel like much of an anchor for a superhero action movie. And that turned out to be true; it’s very inconsistent, and it doesn’t do much for the film because it comes and goes, and its resolution isn’t explained very well. It’s mostly a reason to get Carol, Monica, and Kamala together, but it’s a shame the script didn’t try to make more of it. You can use something like this to teach the characters a lesson, like responsibility or taking others into account before you act.
That last one would’ve been a good lesson for Carol to learn because she’s the cause of much of the conflict in The Marvels; without spoiling too much, she did something off-screen (well, it is shown in the movie, but in a quick flashback halfway through) that was disastrous to the Kree homeworld. This is a good idea, and a much better movie could have sprung from it. Does Carol act too rashly? Is she so in love with herself and her powers that she doesn’t consider who could get hurt when she uses them? Can she maybe learn to temper her impulses when using her powers could get a teenager – who idolizes her – killed? That sounds like a more thoughtful movie, but The Marvels doesn’t’ dwell on any of that unpleasant stuff; it’s more interested in zany predicaments and cats.
This extends to the villain, Dar-Benn. Based on her history and her zealous devotion to her people and world, her motivation should have been the Kree’s survival. Kree is in danger, and an early scene has her attempt to make peace with the Skrulls in order to help both their races. Again, there’s a lot of potential with this, and it’s a sign of how desperation can make someone abandon deeply held beliefs in the name of unavoidable reality. But The Marvels drops this to turn her into a one-note heavy who only seeks destruction, and the character isn’t nearly cool or intimidating enough to be interesting in that role. Zawe Ashton’s performance doesn’t help; she plays Dar-Benn as a fanatical lunatic instead of a driven patriot, which is a mistake. She could have been one of the MCU’s more sympathetic villains; instead, she’s just another Malekith, minus the personality.
Not that she has a team of stellar heroes to face. The leading ladies of The Marvels are what a million jokes before the film’s release said they were: three characters put together because they’re not strong enough to anchor their own film. Carol is okay, certainly better than in either of her other major appearances. She’s not as smug as she was in Captain Marvel or Endgame, so you don’t groan when she shows up. But she’s not engaging either; she doesn’t have the personality of a Tony Stark or Steve Rogers or Thor Odinson, so beyond her being the hero, you don’t feel compelled to cheer for her in the same way. Kamala has the opposite problem: she’s too much. Her bubbly persona from Ms. Marvel is amped up to infinity, so she’s always shrieking with joy (or fear) and making silly faces. You would think Monica would be the balance between the two, but she’s more like Carol; she’s bland, there just to be there. So, there are your three heroes – two that don’t pop and one that explodes into glitter.
The supporting characters don’t add much, either. Nick Fury is the best one because of course he is, but he’s inconsistent as well. He has one or two cool moments, but he also acts out of character sometimes, saying things you could never imagine Nick Fury saying. (By the way, just to spare you, you don’t have to have seen Secret Invasion to understand The Marvels; that was a ploy to get you to subscribe to Disney+.) Kamala’s family is back from Ms. Marvel, and they refuse to go away. I know a lot of people seem to like them, but to me, they’re just annoying, and in this movie, they take up time that could have been spent on others. Park Seo-joon (who I don’t know from Adam, but people made a big deal about him being here, so I guess he’s popular) plays Prince Yan, and he’s got the personality of a lamp shade; he’s also at the center of one of the most perplexing scenes in any Marvel production, something so weird and corny I don’t know how it was allowed to get past a pitch at a meeting. (And it isn’t even the dumbest thing in The Marvels; Fury’s solution to one particular problem is so dumb on every level it feels like it must have been added to the script in crayon.)
Technically, The Marvels doesn’t land, either. Nia DaCosta is yet another Marvel director who doesn’t know how to shoot an action scene, and the fights in this movie are never clear. The camera moves in too close, zips around quickly, and sometimes makes it hard to see who’s hitting whom. In the climactic fight against Dar-Benn, one of the three heroes lands a big hit on her, but I have no idea which one. You would think they would have incorporated the body-swapping into the fight as a strategy, having the heroes use it to their advantage to defeat an overpowered enemy, but nah. The editing is bad, too, with sudden cuts that make scenes feel incomplete; I suspect this is because the movie was cut so many times, and a lot of these were last-minute edits. But The Marvels looks shoddy as a result, and some moments that should have played longer are abandoned for much less interesting scenes. The music feels like an AI attempt at mimicking a generic superhero score; I think this may be the Captain Marvel theme because it sounds familiar, but I don’t remember. Either way, it’s not good. I will say that I liked the special effects, for the most part; some of them are off, but some are really good, particularly the opening shot of an imperiled planet.
It’s hard to be angry with The Marvels, if only because it’s hard to feel much of anything for it. It could have been worse; it also could have been way, way, way better. Carol is more palatable than in other movies, and the special effects are mostly good. But Monica is bland, Kamala is overbearing, it’s too cutesy by about a million, the villain is a dud, the action is confusing, and on and on and on. In other words, it’s another Marvel time-filler, which seems to be all they make anymore.