Warning: There are minor spoilers ahead for "The Marvels."
The sequel to 2019's "Captain Marvel" is an absolute delight led by fun, intricate fight sequences.
Superhero-obsessed teen Kamala Khan (Iman Vellani) and her hilarious family steal the show.
Don't listen to anything negative that's been in the press about "The Marvels."
Nowhere near as messy as "Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania," nor as dark as "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3," the "Captain Marvel" sequel is the most fun Marvel's been in theaters this year. Clocking in at a breezy hour and 45 minutes, "The Marvels" is an absolute delight on par with the original, delivering an encouraging reminder that not even almighty Avengers have life figured out.
Four years after her Marvel Cinematic Universe entry, Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel (Brie Larson) faces off against Kree leader Dar-Benn (Zawe Ashton).
Though a pretty forgettable villain overall, Dar-Benn's goal is simple enough. Her home planet Hala is dying and she holds Captain Marvel responsible. As revenge, Dar-Benn seeks out resources from planets Carol values to restore life to her world with the help of a mysterious bangle.
This should be an easy battle for one of the MCU's most powerful heroes, but there's a wrinkle. Dar-Benn's new bangle can absorb Carol's powers, making her stronger. To make matters more complicated, Carol's light-based powers become entangled with those of Monica Rambeau (Teyonah Parris), her estranged niece who gained similar abilities in "WandaVision," and Kamala Khan (Iman Vellani), a Captain Marvel-obsessed teen who can manipulate light.
When one of the trio uses their powers, they instantly swap places, leading to fun, intricate fight sequences early on, one of which simultaneously takes place in three locations to show off the heroes' range of abilities. Call it a gimmick, but the body-swap dilemma offers a fresh approach to the countless VFX-laden scenes that have grown tired now that we're 30-plus MCU movies deep.
'The Marvels' brings a light, fun vibe to the MCU
Though the fate of the universe is at stake, "The Marvels" keeps things lighthearted throughout by using animation in a quirky opening and adding an over-the-top musical sequence midway through, complete with a stunning costume change for Carol. Elsewhere, Carol, Monica, and Kamala master coordinating their powers in a wholesome training sequence set to the Beastie Boys' "Intergalactic."
One of the movie's best sequences involves kitten-like aliens called Flerken who dramatically run loose in a space station set to the tune of "Memory" from the musical "Cats."
Even the usually stern Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) softens here, cracking a few smiles. While Jackson isn't given much to do in "The Marvels" besides offer a few words of encouragement to our three heroes or act as comic relief, he seems mostly content playing cat dad between barking orders at a space crew.
Iman Vellani is a star, giving hope for the MCU's future
No one's having more fun in this movie than Kamala Khan.
Vellani kills it as a teenage superhero marveling over her idol. It's tough to tell where the fangirling stops and her acting begins. Her incredibly honest performance captures what it's like to eagerly tag along on a universe-saving adventure with someone you admire, bringing to mind a young Tom Holland as Spider-Man teaming up with Iron Man many moons ago.
The effortlessly relatable Kamala and her overprotective, overbearing family steal every scene as they get swept up in the intergalactic adventure, providing hearty laugh after laugh. Those who didn't tune into Disney+'s "Ms. Marvel" series before may be compelled to seek it out now.
Kamala is so central to the sequel, both opening and closing it, that "The Marvels" easily could've been a Kamala Khan vehicle instead. The movie convincingly passes the baton to Ms. Marvel to take over as a new leader.
If this is the direction Marvel is heading, then maybe there's a glimmer of hope for the MCU's future.
'The Marvels' is not perfect, but it is thoroughly enjoyable with a worthwhile lesson
Not everything makes sense in "The Marvels." The power switcheroo seems to work randomly sometimes when it's best for the story. Some characters who seem important early on are never seen again. There's no real sense of when this film even takes place in the MCU.
But let the little things go and it's an enjoyable, if pretty standard, standalone superhero romp.
For those invested in larger MCU world-building, the studio doesn't try to connect this entry with any recent movie, conveniently ignoring anything Jonathan Majors-related. Instead, it sets up other future franchises of which Marvel already has too many.
And while it's frustrating Marvel spoiled a minor cameo in its final trailer, there's at least one big surprise in the sequel that's well worth the price of admission.
Director Nia DaCosta was tasked with weaving heroes from three very different Marvel properties together and she navigated the challenge thoughtfully, using Kamala's light and optimistic presence to ease the awkward tension between Monica and Carol and help the trio heal and grow.
Monica sees herself in Kamala, a young woman who thinks the world of Carol. In Kamala, Carol sees a second chance at getting to be the mentor that she wasn't able to be to her niece. By putting them all together, the sequel teaches Carol, typically a lone wolf, how to work within a team and that reaching her full potential doesn't mean going it alone.
Regardless of any hiccups, "The Marvels" satisfyingly gets its larger message across, that women should lean on each other, and know they're higher, further, faster — and stronger — together.
"The Marvels" hits theaters on Friday.
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