Is Marvel and its galactic, all-encompassing Marvel Cinematic Universe in real peril? In recent weeks, some articles have suggested that chaos and uncertainty reign supreme up and down the corridors of their offices but it perhaps isn’t quite as bleak as many would have you believe. It’s more about form than anything. Like a football team going a few games without a victory, doubt, indecision scrutiny, and self-examination come into focus and that’s probably what the Goliath is thinking about: was it right to go gung-ho with so much content? Was it worth slowing down post-Endgame? Their output since has been a mixed bag, to put it mildly, and much has already been written about The Marvels, their big end-of-year entry into the ever-expanding universe, so has the maelstrom caught up with them? Is the fatigue real? Well, despite its best intentions, it doesn’t do much to buck the recent trend.
After the five-year blip and the triumphant defeat of Thanos, Carol Danvers (Brie Larson) is patrolling the universe for any new anomalies and foes that might rear their ugly heads. She is soon drawn back into the conflict between the Skrulls and the Kree, the latter of whom still have a vendetta against her after she destroyed their Supreme Intelligence and led them into war and anarchy. Dar-Benn (Zawe Ashton) is the new, self-proclaimed leader of the Kree and she wants Danvers’ head as well as using one-half the now monikered Quantum Bands to tear holes in space to refuel her planet – including harnessing Earth’s Sun for her own. The other half of the band, down on Earth with Kamala Khan (Iman Vellani), is leading to some strange anomalies of its own – no more so than linking Khan, Danvers, and Monica Rambeau’s (Teyonnah Parris) unique powers which could prove to be their downfall or their greatest weapon in their new battle.
Marvel has been careful and courageous in picking unique, fresh filmmakers to take on much of their projects, especially in the later stages of the connected universe, so many were ecstatic to hear of director Nia DaCosta’s hiring to direct the film after her brilliant debut Little Woods in 2018 and 2021’s reimagining of Candyman. Her visuals were beautiful, her characters potent and sharply written, and her dialogue enthralling. Match made it heaven, it seemed, but like Chloe Zhao before her, it feels like DaCosta doesn’t get to shine as brightly as she should under the weight of what the connectivity of it all means, what beats have to be hit, and what comes next. That’s not to say she makes no impact: she does, and her deft fingerprints are all over the film but they feel suffocated by the Marvel air above that never lets her breathe.
There are some great moments here, more than in, say, Eternals, Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, and some of the recent Disney+ series, but its scattered, messy outer core does it no favours at all and feels like it has been edited to within an inch of its life without any real room to settle down and let DaCosta cook. The action feels flat, the story is weak and it perhaps has the most poorly conceived villain we have seen during the 15-year journey (and there have been some doozies), one that follows the “blueprint” so precisely that you might be wondering if it was engineered by those pesky AI’s we’ve been talking about so much. Larson, Parris, and Vellani make a fun, energetic trifecta as they deal with their differing powers, egos, and journeys as both women and superheroes and help keep the engine running as best they can but sadly they, too, are undermined by the lackadaisical noise happening around them.
Sadly, while it isn’t another nail in Marvel’s coffin – we are FAR from that, no matter what you are told – The Marvels continues the slump in form with another defeat that, if it continues, the management’s heads might be on the chopping block.
2023 | Comic Book, Superhero | 12A | Marvel Studios | In cinemas November 10th | DIr: Nia DaCosta | Brie Larson, Teyonah Parris, Iman Vellani, Samuel L. Jackson, Zawe Ashton