Review: The Marvels

Simply Marvelous

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I wasn't sure what to think going into The Marvels. While I was a strong supporter of Brie Larson as Captain Marvel, the eventual eponymous film that we got and the uneven use of her in subsequent appearances had me uncomfortable. That said, Iman Vellani and Teyonah Parris played Kamala Khan and Monica Rambeau on Disney+'s Ms Marvel and WandaVision respectively, and both were part of shows that filled me with excitement and did not disappoint.

Let me start by addressing the Mr. Fixit in the room (that's Grey Hulk's pseudonym... Grey Hulk is an evil version of The Hulk... okay I'll stop). There's a lot of noise about "Marvel Fatigue" and people calling folks on social media "simps" and "shills" for liking Marvel films and television. I'd be lying if I didn't say the films and television were uneven. Some are amazing (Captain America: Winter Soldier and Loki) and some are not so great (Thor: The Dark World, Ant-Man & the Wasp: Quantumania, and the seldom-mentioned Eternals). Now, when I say not great, that doesn't mean bad -- there are things to enjoy in them (yes even The Dark World) and people should be allowed to enjoy them without catching flack. But a big problem, especially going into this most recent "phase", has been an apparent lack of planning. To be fair to Marvel, there was a huge explosion in demand for the content, a world-changing pandemic that reshaped the entire media landscape, and a bunch of strikes and labour disruptions that, well, also changed the media landscape. It's a different world now than it was when Iron Man was released in May of 2008.

A post-Infinity Saga question was: where are they going from here? The answer was the Multiverse for a couple of reasons. When the films started, they were in a pre-Fox buyout, pre-Sony bargain. The biggest and best characters of Marvel were locked away behind licensing deals keeping Marvel out, so they built an empire using, let's be honest, a lot of second stringers. Not bottom of the barrel characters, but many (with the exception of Cap) not the top of mind when asked about Marvel comics. Realities changed and Disney became an all-consuming behemoth (for good or bad) and regained control over these lost entities.

Now how does that tie into this movie? After the first big arc, the films have been confusing and difficult to tie into a cohesive universe. One of the big appeals of the Marvel Cinematic Universe films over the disjointed DC films was the lighter tone and the unified story vision (a vision that developed when the ball was already in the air, so it's honestly a miracle Marvel stuck the landing). We had Spider-Man: No Way Home, which had some great fan service but left people confused, we had Dr. Strange in the Multiverse of Madness by one of my favourite filmmakers (Sam Raimi) that also had great fan service but also left a lot with a bad taste (and the feeling Wanda Maximoff got did dirty), and you had Thor: Love & Thunder, which sort of felt like Taika Watiti (another of my favourite filmmakers) may have been having too much fun and made something a bit too much for himself that didn't connect with the fans.

On the Marvel television front, the most recent Nick Fury outing (Secret Invasion) was roundly panned, and again, there's a lot of questions, but in the closing moments of Ms. Marvel we had a bit of a surprise as Carol Danvers pops into Kamala's room and Kamala pops away to goodness knows where. This is the film that starts to draw all the threads of the television shows and films in the Multiverse Saga together. It answers long-held fan theories and sets up much of the future of the entire Marvel universe, but it won't matter if you have seen prior films or even Ms. Marvel on Disney+ -- enough is recapped that you'll get the gist. (Though I'll be honest, it does still help to have at least seen the films Captain Marvel has been in, as well as Ms. Marvel.)

More importantly than setting up the franchises or lore-building, though, director Nia DaCosta gives us one of the most evenly-paced, equally-balanced, and most importantly most comic book-y of the Marvel films to date. Marvel's films have always had a balance issue: they were either very serious bordering on Nolanesque (the Iron Man, Captain America, and Black Panther films all fall under this umbrella) or they were so silly it was hard to take them as anything more than fluff (the first two Guardians films, Ant-Man, the last two Thor films).

DaCosta disposes of the Whedonesque banter that has long plagued Marvel films and grounds it in a more natural dialogue. She's established characters that serve as a through line (the Khan family) but are not distracting and are easy to connect with, and they create a dynamic that is believable for all of the Marvels. You have Larson's Carol Danvers, who's finally given some time to breath. You have Parris's Monica Rambeau dealing with loss of two mother figures and a desperation to feel a connection she thought she'd never experience. And there's Vellani's Kamala Khan, who does what a lot of us would do, struggles very hard not to lose her crap as she meets her literal hero. And while these three bond, we get a villain in Zawe Ashton's Dar-Benn who allows us to see the impact of Captain Marvel's misguided crusade to right a wrong, eventually creating one of Marvel's trademark "conflicted villains", which in this case really works. The best villain is the villain doing villainy to create good, but we never get so serious or so silly we loose the thread. The story had big stakes but never felt overwhelming, and we never lose sight of the heroes.

I highly recommend this film. There are a lot of easter eggs... literally. It's a fun time and will excite many for the future, and hopefully it's a sign of things to come.

Tags: The Marvels, Brie Larson, Iman Vellani, Teyonah Parris, Samuel L. Jackson, Nia DaCosta, Captain Marvel, Ms. Marvel, WandaVision

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