Principal Cast : Brie Larson, Teyonah Parris, Iman Vellani, Zawe Ashton, Gary Lewis, Park Seo-joon, Zenobia Shroff, Mohan Kapur, Saagar Shaikh, Samuel L Jackson, Lashana Lynch, Leila Farzad, Abraham Popoola, Daniel Ings.
Synopsis: Carol Danvers gets her powers entangled with those of Kamala Khan and Monica Rambeau, forcing them to work together to save the universe.
Brisk, easy-breezy fun, Marvel Studio’s latest cinematic entry is a witty, emotional return for the maligned Captain Marvel, as Oscar-winner Brie Larson returns to the franchise alongside small-screen superstar Iman Vellani and Wandavision’s Teyonah Parris. The MCU’s cosmic realm has until now largely been the realm of the Guardians of the Galaxy but with a less-serious screenplay than the Captain’s initial solo film endured The Marvels is an absolute blast of entertainment. The Marvels plays to the property’s strengths – notably including the Disney+ breakout character Ms Marvel, proving that Vellani is arguably the best thing about the current MCU bar-none and an outright treasure – and will satisfy most long-time fans as well as drawing in new, impressionable younger ones. Deft humour weaves through a story boasting an improbably overpowered villain and a nonsensical plot device in the Skrull-Kree war, and although at times the film steps dangerously into it’s-too-silly territory, the laughs and action accomplish more for Larson’s embittered Captain than any previous screen appearance to-date.
When Carol Danvers (Brie Larson) aka Captain Marvel suddenly finds herself translocating between the cosmic realm and Earth, with goddaughter Monica Rambeau (Teyonah Parris) and young mutant superhero Ms Marvel (Iman Vellani), the trio must come together to thwart the malignant plans of Kree leader Dan-Benn (Zawe Ashton), who seeks to repopulate, replenish and restore her homeworld using unstable galactic jump points. Along for the ride is Nick Fury (Samuel L Jackson) and Ms Marvel’s Pakistani family, her mother Muneeba (Zenobia Shroff), father Yusuf (Mohan Kapur) and older brother Aamir (Saagar Shaikh), all of whom have their own adventures aboard an orbiting space station known as SABER.
I had a blast with The Marvels. This is the kind of film I wish the original Captain Marvel had been; instead of dour, uneven drama-slash-space-opera we now head into Thor: Raganrok territory with a mediocre villain, iffy dramatic arc and a boatload of fun that lifts the silliness above all but the most serious criticism. The plot is an absolute nonsense but ties loosely into the events of the first film, it boosts the influence of resident flerkin Goose (looks like a cat but is actually a monstrous TARDIS), and relegates Sam Jackson’s Nick Fury – who, let’s face it, has been having a really shit time of it lately – to a near-passive observer as this time-and-space jumping plot winds its way to a typically chaotic MCU conclusion. I’m loathe to suggest it makes any sense but the triple-whammy cast of Brie Larson, Tayonah Parris and the wonderful Iman Vellani just absolutely go with it.
The struggles I had with Captain Marvel in terms of character arcs continue a little here, notably Carol’s relationship with her Kree past, which take a back seat to that of her reunion with Monica Rambeau (last seen as a young girl in the first film, now all grown up and resentful of Carol’s absence in her life), and the very funny hero-worship of Iman Vellani’s Kamela Kahn, aka Ms Marvel, a derivative that makes a solid play for gag of the film and almost steals it. The banter between Carol and Monica is emotional and belies a great deal of off-screen depth and grief, while Vellani’s turn as the film’s primary comedic pressure valve reinforces the notion that she’s arguably the whole franchise’s most valuable asset these days.
As with most mid-level MCU films, the primary antagonist is a one-and-done villain of the week, with poor Zawe Ashton, as new Kree leader Dar-benn, having to shoulder some generic revenge quest emotion before succumbing to a typical Marvel climactic showdown that fails to live up any potential. Ashton isn’t a bad actress, and the role isn’t silly, it’s just the execution of it in the writing felt off-handed, as if the primary reason for the plot felt more like an afterthought. So too is the subplot involving the mysterious power bracelets that serve as the MacGuffin of the fim; we last saw one of these devices in Ms Marvel’s own series (so yes, you needed to have watched that show to understand a bit of this) and a second one just shows up with some poor explanation but there’s enough “these aren’t the Infinity Stones but they’re close” sense of menace that you get the idea these are “important to know about for later”.
One of the chief reasons Ms Marvel worked so well on Disney+ was the involvement of Kamela’s extended family, and the young hero’s mother, father and older brother are inexplicably shoehorned into the story to supply the inane secondary story with some levity and human empathy. Kamela might be launched into space in The Marvels but that doesn’t mean mom, pop and bro can’t get some laughs at Nick Fury’s expense. And poor Nick Fury – resigned to spending his life now aboard an orbiting space satellite with a grab-bag of other faceless denizens like some bus terminal ticket seller, Fury has come down a long way since the bad-ass days of the early MCU. Jackson seems to visibly tire of this nonsense half way through the film, more’s the pity, and the lifelessness in his eyes as he delivers yet more one-liners and snappy retorts to whatever is going on is palpable. Fury – at least within the MCU – is a character in desperate need of rejuvenation.
Despite some problematic story points and a breathless pace, The Marvels is a hell of a load of fun. Some cool cameos feature in the credits (look, we all know the X-Men are coming, don’t we?), the tone of the film is alarmingly similar to Taika Watiti’s Thor Ragnarok (which is a positive, let me tell you) and Brie Larson appears to have fully embraced the insanity of what her character has to deal with, to the point she makes Carol somebody I’m interested in seeing again rather than a bland deux ex machina device for dealing with Thanos-level threats. Giving Carol and her friends solid beats, development and emotional heft between the throwaway lines and action gags allows the audience to feel the joy in being a hero rather than the sadness of being one. A complete U-turn from the first film, this is the Captain Marvel I had hoped we’d seen years ago. I’m glad she finally showed up. More please.