In an era where the Marvel Cinematic Universe frequently shuttles between multiverse escapades and interplanetary conflicts, Nia DaCosta’s The Marvels emerges as a breath of fresh air, eschewing bombast for a nuanced exploration of its characters. DaCosta, alongside writers Megan McDonnell and Elissa Karasik, anchors the superhero spectacle in the tangible and personal, making the extraordinary feel accessible and grounded.
On a desolate planet, Kree warrior Dar-Benn (Ashton) finds a bracelet, one you might be familiar with if you watch the Disney+ Ms. Marvel series. She believes this bracelet will solve her planet’s environmental issues. At home in New Jersey, Kamala Khan (Vellani) daydreams about fighting crime with Carol Danvers (Larson), aka Captain Marvel, when the bracelet on her arm — the same one Dar-Benn found — begins to glow. Suddenly, she gets blown back into a closet door.
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Earlier that day, Carol is on her small ship outside of Earth’s atmosphere, trying to retrieve memories from her past, when she is interrupted by Nick Fury (Jackson) about a disturbance in the time-space continuum and has Captain Marvel and Monica Rambeau (Parris) investigate, which exposes them to unsteady electromagnetic energy. Now every time they use their powers, Carol, Monica and Kamala switch places, no matter where they are or in the middle of doing — including destroying Kamala’s family home with her parents Muneeba and Yousuf ( Shroff, Kapur) and brother Aamir (Shaikh) inside it.
Dar-Benn needs the quantum band used to create a rip in space and time to quantum-jump between planetary systems and siphon resources from other places or her planet will cease to exist. This is for self-preservation and also revenge against Carol, who Dar-Benn blamed for this. Now that Captain Marvel, Captain Rambeau and Ms. Marvel are tethered to one another, they must find a way to make their powers work in unison to save the galaxy and keep the timeline in one piece.
The Marvels ignites Phase 5 of the MCU with an emotional sincerity and vibrancy that penetrates through the formulaic façade of much of Phase 4’s offerings. Every facet of the production — from the thoughtfully designed costumes to the immersive set pieces — feels meticulously crafted, a far cry from the often over-relied-upon CGI of its predecessor.
At the heart of The Marvels is a trio of realized heroines. Larson’s Carol Danvers is afforded a complexity and depth that showcases Larson’s acting range, delving into the hero’s cosmic journey and the dual impact of her actions — both the lives she’s touched and the unintended damage she’s caused. Parris’ Monica Rambeau exudes charisma and nuance, while Vellani’s Kamala Khan brings a refreshing innocence and humor to the table. Together, they transcend the contrived “girl power” narrative, instead shining through the strength of their individuality and agency. This authenticity extends to the soundtrack, which eschews on-the-nose anthems for a more nuanced score that resonates with the narrative core.
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The action sequences feature kinetic choreography packed with power and prowess. The space is utilized for movement that the audience can see in real time, which is executed on set pieces that stand out from the background and capture the eye with clarity and impact. There is a deft balance of hand-to-hand combat with a dazzling display of superpowers, with Captain Marvel in her full, yet still seemingly untapped, might. Meanwhile, Rambeau’s newly showcased abilities — particularly her phasing — enhance the visual tapestry of the film’s battles, with the meticulous reshoots and VFX polishing paying off to deliver The Marvels’ most memorable moments.
As a production company, Marvel’s baffling decisions are its own self-imposed Achilles’ heel. The Marvels suffers from the studio’s aversion to definitive conclusions, opting for poorly executed teases of future narratives. This may have worked in the 2010’s but its become contrived and tired, so its time to find a new way. There is the disquieting lack of faith from Marvel in one of its billion-dollar properties causing the mishandling of the film’s promotion, exacerbated by an actors strike. Then allowing for the director of the film to be thrown under the bus for doing what directors do: work.
Despite these external setbacks, The Marvels stands as a testament to the possibility of character-driven stories within the grand tapestry of the MCU. DaCosta’s vision, fortified by compelling performances and thoughtful storytelling, delivers a superhero film that pulsates with life, energy and, most important, a sense of purpose. It’s a reminder that in the right hands, even the most expansive universes can be distilled into stories that resonate on the most human of levels.
Title: The Marvels
Director: Nia DaCosta
Release date: November 9, 2023
Screenwriters: Nia DaCosta, Megan McDonnell, Elissa Karasik
Cast: Brie Larson, Teyonah Parris, Iman Vellani, Samuel L. Jackson, Zawe Ashton, Saagar Shaikh, Zenobia Shroff, Mohan Kapur
Running time: 1 hr 45 min