In 2019, Captain Marvel (Brie Larson) made her mark in the MCU to provide a female superhero that can stand alongside Captain America, Iron Man and the Avengers in strength and badassery. Her first standalone film grossed over $1.1bn at the global box office, making it the first female-led superhero film to pass the billion-dollar mark. Its success quickly set plans for a sequel into motion that not only sees the return of Carol Danvers but sees her team up with Monica Rambeau (Teyonah Parris) and Kamala “Ms Marvel” Khan (Iman Vellani) to take down Dar-benn (Zawe Ashton), the new leader of the Kree who aims to strip resources of various planets to revive her home world of Hala.
The release of The Marvels is coming at a precarious time in the MCU. Since Captain Marvel was released, fans have seen an influx of cross-platform content released from Marvel. While some may argue “more is more” and this would work in the studio’s favour, the hefty amount of Disney+ series and films have received a mixed response from audiences, putting the beloved franchise in limbo. With audiences experiencing MCU fatigue, can The Marvels save both the day and the franchise?
Following Chloe Zhao’s Eternals, Nia DeCosta is the latest female filmmaker to direct an MCU instalment. In addition, she is the youngest director and the first African-American woman to direct a Marvel film. Although The Marvels is only her third feature film, she is determined to make an impression in a female-driven superhero film after the critical success of her Candyman remake by championing the diversity of its characters.
It may have taken four years for Captain Marvel to get a sequel but it has given DaCosta and her co-screenwriters Megan McDonnell and Elissa Karasik the time to reinforce the energetic girl power behind The Marvels with the inclusion of Wandavision‘s Monica Rambeau and Ms Marvel‘s Kamala Khan, as both shows debuted on Disney+ in the last two years.
While the plot is overly simplistic, the narrative brilliantly highlights the personalities and strengths of each heroine so none of the protagonists are overwhelmed by each other. Coming across as Peter Parker 2.0, youngster Kamala is beside herself with her sudden involvement with her idol Captain Marvel while Monica has struggled with life without the support of her mother (Lashana Lynch) and her “Aunt Carol”. As for Carol Danvers, she is quietly contending with her memories while the ramifications of her dealings with the Kree (taking place after the events in Captain Marvel) reawaken her dormant humanity. Although some parts of their narratives lack development, their blossoming friendships quickly enable them to build a bond and effectively work together without it becoming a pissing contest.
The same cannot be said for MCU newcomer Zawe Ashton. As Kree warrior Dar-benn, her need for a better life and the survival of people motivates and almost justifies her actions but her overwhelming grudge against Captain Marvel ultimately reduces her into a conventional power-hungry antagonist. It is a shame as her character has more to offer as the would-be saviour of the Kree and helps build bridges to other adventures with Captain Marvel, but the restricted development makes her come across as an unnecessary evil.
Similar to Iron Man, Captain America and Thor in Avengers: Endgame, the empowering chemistry between Larson, Parris and Vellani lifts the film, making the trio a group of endearing and entertaining leads. Complementing them is an array of supporting cast members such as MCU veteran Samuel L Jackson, Lashana Lynch and Tessa Thompson, all of whom bring small yet noteworthy touches to the story.
While Ant-Man and Thor’s standalone adventures try too hard to be funny, resulting in some forced comedy, The Marvels isn’t afraid of looking silly so the fun factor exudes from the screen. Kamala’s adorable goofiness around her idol Captain Marvel helps melt the latter’s cold exterior while certain scenes – one being a romantic but song-filled reunion that feels lifted from a Disney playbook while another involves a hysterical needle-drop and some new adorable characters – embody the audience-pleasing characteristics that the MCU is known for. Along with an array of exciting and cleverly choreographed fight scenes, The Marvels delivers both thrills and entertainment – somewhere that earlier MCU instalments with longer runtimes have failed.
Similar to Captain Marvel, The Marvels marks a positive step forward in reviving the tired MCU by delivering fresh comedy, fast action and strong character development. Marvel – more of this, please.
The Marvels is out in UK cinemas on Friday 17 November.
Director: Nia DaCosta; Megan McDonnell, Elissa Karasik (co-screenwriters)
Stars: Brie Larson, Zawe Ashton, Samuel L Jackson, Tessa Thompson, Teyonah Parris, Iman Vellani, Park Seo-joon
Runtime: 105 minutes