Updated: 5 hours ago
The latest from Marvel is its most generic yet
The Marvel Cinematic Universe is sorely lost. The pioneering “shared universe” idea that found individual films build upon a larger interconnected story (a structure stolen from television and comics in many ways) has completely unraveled at the studio since Avengers: Endgame (2019) leading to contradicting projects and indistinguishable CGI mashups. The latest symptom of this sad devolution is The Marvels (2023).
The Marvels is the sequel to Captain Marvel (2019) as well as following on threads from Wandavision (2021) and Ms. Marvel (2022). Carol Danvers aka Captain Marvel (Brie Larson) teams up with recently superpowered Monica Rambeau (Teyonah Parris) and teenage superfan Kamala Kahn (Iman Vellani). The trio’s powers have become entangled, teleporting into each other’s locations whenever they use their powers. At the same time, the alien Dar-Benn (Zawe Ashton) is raiding planets of their natural resources to feed her own planet’s malaise.
The Marvels is directed by Nia DaCosta, who performs the familiar jump of indie darling to Marvel spearhead with this film. Her work with the Candyman (2021) remake was solid and captivating. As such, her addition to the Marvel family is a welcome one. However, DaCosta seems to have been supplanted for the type of corporate movie-making that makes the script feel as if it were generated by AI. Not a single line of dialogue or sequence feels original or fresh. There are flashes of intriguing ideas, from a running cat joke to a curious planet where everyone sings, but nothing fits organically or is developed enough to land.
DaCosta’s visual style is watered down for the candy-store palette of most Marvel fare, while CGI litters every corner of the screen. The action is entertaining when it happens, not the usual barrage of short cuts, but rather comprehensive longer takes that showcase the hard work of the stunt team.
Brie Larson has received horrendous sexist comments for being vocal about entrenched social issues within society and the film industry; her role as Captain Marvel has particularly become a focal point for this hate. The American actress has reportedly tried to back out of her Marvel commitments due to the toxicity of the fandom, yet her professionalism within The Marvels remains, as she returns, however reluctantly, to the character. Larson brings a discipline and dignity to her character that, while admirable, also makes her seem inaccessible and remote. The Marvels barely improves on this facet of the superhero from the original, giving Larson scant opportunities to delve into any complexities or layers within the script. Parris continues to fill the “annoyed supporting character” role that she played in Wandavision, and only an after-credits scene brings some intrigue to her arc. The great rescuer of The Marvels is Vellani, who’s only acting credit previously was in her origin miniseries Ms. Marvel. Vellani’s enthusiasm and fangirling rides the fine line of charming and obnoxious, skillfully staying on the positive side for most of the runtime. Samuel L. Jackson returns as Nick Fury, but acts more as a bland standup comedian than his grim spy character of previous work. Ashton meanwhile delivers one of the most forgettable and one-note villains in Marvel’s work, bringing a clichéd intonation into her line delivery and becoming blockaded by the poor writing done for her character.
In the end, The Marvels is the type of generic superhero fare you imagine future studios having AI write; a mashup of incomplete ideas, and lack of a coherent plot. The cast is largely left to be as bland as their characters, with only Vellani bringing some electricity and life. As with the rest of Marvel’s recent fare, The Marvels doesn’t feel part of a larger whole. One only hopes that Disney CEO Bob Iger’s new mandate of cutting the amount of Marvel projects per year will allow some creative cohesion to return once more.