THE MARVELS Review: A True Comic Book Film
Brie Larson, Teyonah Parris, and Iman Vellani star in Nia DaCosta's contribution to the superhero cinematic universe.
Even as someone who only occasionally dips their toe into superhero films, the superhero fatigue that is hitting audiences is understandable - there are only so many times one can use the symbolism/metaphor/themes of superheroes to deal with the serious, real-world problems and disasters that plague our 21st century existence. So what do you do when you're tasked with the sequel to a popular superhero film, one that set the bar high especially for female-centrered stories, and incorporate information from other films and television shows' narratives, and make the film about its place within the cinematic universe, and try to please your audience?
Well, if you're Nia DaCosta (Candyman, Little Woods), you go back to basics: you make a comic book film. You find what makes comic books, especially ones centred on superheroes, fun and exciting, while at the same time balancing some serious issues and showcasing amazing characters. While still somewhat hindered by the necessity of including information only known if you've watched everything else from this vast universe, The Marvels is the most fun to be had from a Marvel film in quite some time, and one of the few comic book films that understands how to bring the energy and creative license of that medium to the big screen.
The Kree Empire has been almost obliterated by civil war; their leader, Dar-Benn (Zawe Ashton, Dreams of a Life) will stop at nothing to bring breathable air, drinkable water, and a working sun back to her people and planet. So much so, that she finds a weapon and begins to use it against those she has decided are guilty of bringing her people to their knees. Her use of this power makes certain other people's powers go haywire, and the three 'Marvels' - Carol Danvers (Brie Larson), Monica Rambeau (Teyonah Parris, Wandavision, If Beale Street Could Talk) and the still-somewhat-green Kamala Khan (Iman Vellani, Miss Marvel) keep swapping places whenever they use their respective powers.
I expect these kind of narrative details have more to do with the extended universe, as they felt less interesting than the character work and development, as well as the action and humour. Make no mistake, DaCosta and her co-screenwriters Megan McDonnell and Elissa Karasik are not shying away from serious ideas - Carol is dealing with fallout of a decision she made that has made a planet almost uninhabitable and a people on the brink of extinction; Monica is realizing that she can't run away from her powers and what good she needs to do with them; and Kamala is thrust into the superhero world which she is finally realizing, goes beyond her small suburban existence and deals with serious consequences.
Like a good comic book - in this case, a film based on comic books - what makes them work, something that has eluded many filmmakers, is finding a way to balance this seriousness with the right amount of humour and action, finding what is bizarre and looney, what seems at first just like silly indulgence, and making it all work together. Especially when you're bringing together three superheroes from very tonally different parts of this universe.
The strength and heart of this film absolutely lie with the chemistry between the three stars. There is understandable tension between Carol and Monica, given their history: Carol feels guilty (as she should) for taking a decision that has almost ruined a world, and leaving Monica behind when she needed her friend the most. Kamala's fan-girling is adorable (she is the character most representative of the audience), where in the hands of another actor, it could have been annoying. The standard montage of the three learning to work together is fun and engaging. You want to be a part of this team.
Even the sidestory of Nick Fury, trying to help as best he can but really managing the looming danger about to happen to Earth, while juggling Kamala's family who have found themselves on his space station, is far more charming than it has any right to be. The homage to Goose and his cat (not a cat) brethren is one of the most what-the-f•ck moments in Marvel movie history, and yet, it's hilarious and makes sense with these characters and situation. Again, this makes it really feel like a comic book - these seamless blend of the looney and the serious.
The fact that DaCosta and her team get all this in, in the 105 minute running time (including credits) is a miracle, and more than a testament of the talent involved. More to the point, that this film is a delight from start to finish, is likely in part because of that running time - the kind of boundary that forces creativity. With no time to waste, we're given exciting action, conversations that get to the point that delve deep, montages that keep the pacing clicking, and action sequences that are exciting and neverr overstay their welcome.
If anything, I wish there had been a little more time given to the film. Dar-Benn is one of the most interesting villains we've had for a while, one that walks a precarious line of having justifiable reasons for her deep fury yet unjustifiable actions, and Ashton is a tremendous actor - I wouldn't have minded a little more time with her. In addition, one of the reasons for Marvel fatigue specifically is the need to have seen everything to understand so much of the story and relationships (I think I would have been quite lost had I not seen the Ms Marvel series).
DaCosta understood the assignment, and she and her team delivered. The Marvels might not cure everyone of superhero fatigue, but it's the most true to its comic origins as any this studio has produced, with great action, a terrific cast, and some truly joyful entertainment.
The Marvels opens worldwide in cinemas on Friday, November 10th.
- Nia DaCosta
- Nia DaCosta
- Megan McDonnell
- Elissa Karasik
- Brie Larson
- Samuel L. Jackson
- Zawe Ashton