Nia DaCosta follows up her horror breakthrough Candyman with a superhero thrill ride, delivering Marvel goods with refreshing cinematic vision in The Marvels. Whether she’s making an indie or a blockbuster, DaCosta has a knack for genre that we can’t wait to see more of. Here she takes three characters introduced over the course of films and television in varying degrees and builds a contained cosmic adventure that’s a sheer good time at the movies.
With Brie Larson as Captain Marvel/Carol Danvers, Teyonah Parris as Monica Rambeau, and Iman Vellani as Ms. Marvel/Kamala Khan, the Marvel trio shines in their own roadtrip across the stars to save their worlds. Marvel Studios’ latest film in Phase 5 of the franchise is genre-bending, mind-melding, and found-family-building joy—with an all-timer post credits scene.
To best capture the feeling of the film, cast your mind back to the end of Ms. Marvel season one, where you were left wanting to see Ms. Marvel go from street-level heroine to meeting her hero Captain Marvel, and also to see more of the Khan family’s involvement in supporting Kamala’s journey. With The Marvels, we didn’t have to wait more seasons to build to that; we get the epic team-up in cinematic form with another character we’ve been excited about since she got her powers in WandaVision: Monica Rambeau.
The trio is connected through their light powers, and a surge from unstable jump points quantum-entangles them to swap places every time they max out their powers in an attack. The first act is filled with hijinks and the Khan family being thrust into some deep space drama alongside Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) on the SWORD station as the three heroes trade spots, creating a web of chaos that’s only the beginning of the chaotic energy throughout the film. Vellani getting to share an action sequence she was born ready for with Fury is sheer delight, propelling the Ms. Marvel star from small-screen favorite to big-screen lead. It’s all their film but Vellani is the clear standout; with her effortless enthusiasm embodying Kamala, it’s like she jumped right out of the comics and onto the screen. The jolt of her vibe is amplified by Parris and Larson as they kick ass, especially when needing to protect Kamala’s parents and brother. Trust that Muneeba Khan (Zenobia Shroff) isn’t messing around either when it comes to protecting her family—no magic bangle needed.
The movie’s action revolves around a Kree plot led by current leader Dar-Benn (Zawe Ashton), and Ashton meets Larson’s might with steely precision, making her a solid threat we wish we’d seen built out more. The pacing offers enough time to explain why the Marvels have to go on a space road trip adventure to thwart Dar-Benn—but the plot is efficient, and the fact that it doesn’t have anything to do with building out a big bad was refreshing. DaCosta breezes through the film with a deft hand, dealing drama and levity throughout the Avengers-level fighting. There’s moments you’re laugh-crying your ass off at the most off-kilter sequences of events, like the major set-piece that’s part Mamma Mia meets Disney Princess meets Sailor Moon on a planet that looks like Star Wars’ Naboo. Then, you may find yourself quietly sobbing at how Auntie Carol addresses her absence from Monica and her mother Maria Rambeau’s lives.
The rollercoaster of emotions in such a quick amount of time shouldn’t work this well but it does because of the cast’s incredible chemistry. Larson, Parris, and Vellani are a wonder to watch bounce off each other on screen. They’re allowed to be more than heroes in the film; as they become a squad to save the galaxy, they also realize they need to become a found family. We see them be vulnerable, awkward, and funny together yet also challenge each other. Kamala isn’t just a swoony fangirl, she gets moments where her cultural identity as a child of refugees clashes with how Carol handles space refugees. Monica is given more to be than an emotional crutch waiting for Carol like her mom was, and is really deadpan funny even when she’s learning how to control her powers. And Carol is seen in a whole new light that’s more dimensional, with imperfections and moments that allow her to be silly. You can tell all involved had fun making the movie without the pressure of directly dealing with the “MCU Phase 5″ of it all, though the film does have payoff for those looking for that. And for those looking for more Flerken fury, Goose is back and is singlehandedly responsible for one of Marvel’s most “what the F— is happening?” moments.
All in all, The Marvels is a fun cosmic chase across the stars with exciting new directions for our heroes. It’s an endearing, smartly contained popcorn flick that’s about characters first over mythology building. By the end of the film, it solidifies Parris and Vellani’s place in the upcoming line-up of heroes alongside Larson. Their future is exciting with Parris really making Monica a hero on the rise and Vellani’s Kamala as a lead in the making of her own franchise cinematic future. There are a few gripes—mainly some of the same old, like Marvel continues to have a problem making female villains with lasting impact and Carol’s future being a bit confounding, still! And yes, the end tag finally provides some big answers for certain questions we are all expecting… but still manages to pull a shocking surprise wrapped within.
The Marvels opens November 10.
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