‘The Marvels’ Review: Iman Vellani Steals the Show in Weak MCU Team-Up

Nia DaCosta’s feature is a fun, colorful adventure with Brie Larson returning as Captain Marvel

"The Marvels"
"The Marvels" (CREDIT: Walt Disney Company)

Since Brie Larson’s Captain Marvel first received her own movie in 2019, the character of Carol Danvers has been unfairly given the title every woman gets at least once in her life: boring. Presumed “fans” trolled every area of the internet to complain about the character and, even before the movie arrived, how bad the finished product would be. That wasn’t the case, but it emphasized the fact that Captain Marvel and her films have always been unfairly judged. It’s a somewhat similar route taken here and all of that unnecessarily stacks the deck against “The Marvels,” a film already being put out during both the SAG-AFTRA strike — when its amazing cast can’t say anything about it — and a bit of a lull for MCU films in general.

Is “The Marvels” as bad as everyone thinks it is? No, not by a long shot. The film has its problems but it’s far from the worst thing you’ll see this year or the worst thing the MCU has put out thanks, in large part, to its effervescent young heroine, Ms. Marvel (Iman Vellani), and a cast that gets us to remember why we love superhero movies to begin with: the heady, wholesome feeling of just having fun at the movies.

“The Marvels” starts in a bit of a muddle with the introduction of Dar-Benn (Zawe Ashton), leader of the alien tribe the Kree, who has discovered a “quantum band” that can transport people and items anywhere. The problem is the band is one of a pair and while Dar-Benn looks for it she plans to strip-mine planets of their resources like their atmosphere. Carol Danvers (Brie Larson) sets out to stop Dar-Benn but because of some trickery involving portals every time she uses her powers it causes her to switch with Monica Rambeau (Teyonnah Parris) — who is not happy to be reunited with her Aunt Carol — and Kamala Khan (Vellani) who very much is happy to see Carol.

The plot is very hard to pin down because it’s both thin on actual events and heavy on exposition to set things in motion. Zawe Ashton gives an elegant performance but Dar-Benn feels cribbed from at least eight different Marvel villains, most specifically Christian Bale’s in “Thor: Love and Thunder.” The “Thor” series feels like the closest movie comparison for “The Marvels,” specifically “Ragnarok” with its bright colors and the emphasis on Carol, a loner by trade, having to work with people. But really, “The Marvels” plays like an extended episode of “Ms. Marvel” with all the flaws of a TV movie including little character development and no big hero moments (characters die with not even a musical tag to denote significance).

But the film is so breezy — clocking in at an hour and 45 minutes, officially becoming the shortest movie in the MCU — that the issues only pop up once you start thinking about it. From the moment the trio first discovers their power swapping, everything moves with the speed of a freight train yet anchored by Vellani’s exuberance and impeccable comedic timing. The first big fight scene, in Kamala’s home, is rollicking, with Sean Bobbitt’s cinematography allowing us to see the movements and changes between Kamala, Monica and Carol. An equally fun montage, showing the three figuring out their powers, is also filled with jokes. And let’s not forget flerkittens … suffice it to say if you thought Goose, the cat, was darling, you’ll get far more.

The cast is why you watch “The Marvels,” specifically 21-year-old Iman Vellani. She broke out as the fangirl Kamala Khan on the equally darling Disney+ series “Ms. Marvel” and continues to show why she’s a star here. Every expression on her face is pure joy. Kamala is in the presence of her idols and she reminds the audience why they’ve followed their characters for nearly two decades. If anything, “The Marvels” feels like a great continuation of “Ms. Marvel,” with Kamala’s arc really cementing her own identity as a superhero and her daffy parents’ acceptance of it.

Parris and Larson, as the veterans of a world with superheroes, provide the necessary muscle, but their relationship seems the most underdeveloped (or deleted in post). Parris, to her credit, conveys the guilt Monica has about losing her mother, while Carol grapples with similar feelings towards the now grown woman who believes she was abandoned. But there’s never any resolution to their conflict — maybe in the next movie? — nor opportunity to see these two phenomenal actresses get into deep dramatic territory.

Hell, it’s been two movies and Carol is still trying to find out who she is while the audience struggles to answer that same question about her. We do get snatches of what Carol does when she’s not on Earth, culminating with a hilarious sequence where the trio goes to the water planet Aladna.

There, everything speaks in song and is generally ridiculously happy. Carol meets with Prince Yan (Park Seo-joon) and the two get an opportunity to sing and dance. It’s a very brief moment of fun, with Kamala dancing the entire way, that should have been longer. It’s one of many moments that just feels like it’s cut away from too quickly. But the third act makes up for things with an extended scene that balances the cute with the horrifying in a way that shouldn’t be spoiled. Is it utilized as a ridiculous way to get out of a plot hole? Yes. Is it hilarious? Yes!

And that’s really how one should go into “The Marvels:” it’s silly and makes little sense, but it’s such a fun time at the movies. And isn’t that why we go to see movies in the first place? Vellani is magical and the film captures the pure essence of why superheroes are so beloved. Parris and Larson are also good, but they really just back up for Kamala Khan to, rightfully, shine. Take the kids, have fun and don’t think too hard about it.

“The Marvels” is in theaters November 10.


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