When did superhero movies stop becoming fun?
From gritty crime fighters to anguish-filled heroes dealing with love and loss, movies about augmented, spandex-wearing individuals have now become serialised events that require history lessons to enjoy, linked stories to embrace, and frankly, not much fun.
Director Nia DaCosta, fresh off helming the spiritual sequel Candyman (2021), based on the original 1992 horror movie of the same name, probably understood the assignment more than others when she was picked to direct The Marvels, itself a sequel to 2019’s Captain Marvel. There’s only so much the audience needs to know about the key characters, but any movie needs to stand on its own, and DaCosta leans in heavily on the action, camaraderie and narrative that reunites Brie Larson’s Carol “Captain Marvel” Danvers with her old friend Monica Rambeau (Teyonah Parris), and young heroine, Kamala Khan (Iman Vellani) aka Ms Marvel.
This is not an origin story and not everything needs to be, and even if you missed Monica’s debut in the first film as the young daughter of Danvers’ best friend, Maria Rambeau (Lashana Lynch), or missed her getting superpowers in Disney+’s WandaVision, it’s not an issue because you would also likely have missed the origins of Kamala from her streaming series of the same name that ended with an appearance from Danvers in a sequence filmed from this movie.
That’s as much backstory as anyone needs to know because DaCosta, who co-wrote the film, jumps right into the story that sees the three heroes with light-based abilities become intertwined when they all swap places if they use their abilities at the same time. It’s a familiar sci-fi trope of body switching that works out well here as within the first 20 minutes, audiences are introduced to the trio of females who then have to work together to stop Kree warrior Dar-Benn (Zawe Ashton) from plundering the resources of planets.
Interestingly enough, the light that shines the brightest here isn’t Danvers, who finds herself as the mentor to a woman whom she knew as a young girl, and a young girl who idolises her, even if the new Avenger doesn’t exactly see herself as a role model. Monica, new to the superhero scene and currently an astronaut on board the S.A.B.E.R space station alongside Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), has the least to do here, mainly to read out science technobabble and voice her displeasure at Aunt Carol for leaving Earth at the end of the first movie, and only returning home three decades later.
With her excitable and child-like demeanour, Khan delivers the most charm in her breakout role as the first mutant hero in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) , and her wide-eyed innocence at fighting alongside her top heroine, along with her immense likability, makes this a fun movie that tells a self-contained story in 105 minutes. Halfway through the movie, you realise that there are no links to Kang the Conqueror or the larger MCU narrative at large, and while this continues the trend of a new chapter that ignore the events of Marvel’s Eternals, it’s a fun superhero crossover movie that unfolds like a comic book series.
This isn’t a must-see MCU flick in the sense that there are no far-reaching consequences for the characters, unless you count the cameos and oh, that ending. That ending. Oh, the movie ends fine in that audiences finally know what the band that Khan has, which grants her powers, is (One word – quantumania), and Danvers knows her place in the universe. But the premise is what will get fans extremely excited.
As a young director, the youngest in the MCU and the first African-American female to direct a Marvel movie, DaCosta has a lot to live up to, and she mostly delivers, aside from some pacing issues at the start, and setting up a premise that seems orchestrated. As the shortest movie in the franchise, audiences breeze through the film, even if some parts at the start deserve a little more screen time. Some cuts are jarring and could have used a more deft touch in delivery. Kamala’s family – parents and older brother – appear as nothing more than comedy, while Fury’s presence is a stark departure from the gloomy secret agent just recently seen in Disney+’s Secret Invasion, with events that take place just before this film.
There are various approaches that could have given Fury more to do other than merely a commentator dishing one-liners throughout the film. Goose, the alien cat-like Flerken returns, and turns into a clowder of running gags that, while cute, serve little purpose. Oh, and the same goes for that song and dance sequence – don’t get us wrong because we love the singing episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, How I Met Your Mother and Star Trek Strange New Worlds very much, but the entire story on the water planet of Aladna feels more like padding and not much else.
And don’t get us started on Korean star Park Seo-joon as Prince Yan and the husband to Danvers. There’s no drama or set-up for something more, as the character fails to hit a high note.
If it wasn’t for the final 60 seconds that sets up the next phase of the MCU, The Marvels serves as a fun, inconsequential movie that is fun to watch but little else.