As was the case with Marvel Studios’ first Captain Marvel film back in 2019, the conversation around writer / director Nia DaCosta’s follow-up, The Marvels, has been marked by an inordinate amount of criticism that, to a certain extent, smacks of garden-variety misogyny. Much of the studio’s output as of late has felt lacking in terms of narrative strength, VFX polishing, and making the MCU feel more cohesive. But after years of self-professed fans bemoaning how infrequently Marvel’s episodic series crossed over with its movies, it’s been very strange to see the way The Marvels’ ties to Disney Plus shows have become a knock against it in some people’s minds.
One would be justified not quite knowing what to expect from The Marvels given how many times its release date was pushed back and how this year’s entertainment industry strikes (one of which is still ongoing) made it impossible for the public to hear much from the movie’s creative team. But as valid concerns about those things are, The Marvels is actually one of Marvel Studios’ stronger post-Endgame entries in all the ways that matter. That isn’t to say the movie’s not without its flaws — there are more than a few.
Yet, similar to Ms. Marvel before it, The Marvels feels like a glimpse into at least one of Marvel’s futures, and it’s a bright one if this is the direction Kevin Feige and Co. plan to take the franchise in.
After multiple years of Marvel shows and films struggling to establish a definitive new normal for the MCU following the Infinity Saga, The Marvels tackles that challenge head-on by weaving together the ongoing stories of Captain Marvel / Carol Danvers (Brie Larson), Monica Rambeau (Teyonah Parris), and Kamala Khan (Iman Vellani). With Thanos defeated, the Avengers still being a defunct organization, and unique conflicts popping off on a variety of alien planets, life on Earth has changed for people like Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson).
At any given point in time, there’s always someone somewhere out among the stars who needs the kind of help that only a team of trained emergency responders like Fury’s new space-based SABER outfit can provide. More often than not, though, situations also call for the kind of cosmically empowered assistance that Captain Marvel is known for, which is why Fury keeps her on call for special missions.
While actually seeing what all Fury and Carol do in space is somewhat new, one of the more impressive things about The Marvels as a whole is the way that it feels as if DaCosta and co-writers Megan McDonnell and Elissa Karasik’s script is trying to solidify dynamics that were really only gestured toward in the first film. Carol’s still something of an awkward, alien outsider no matter where she goes, and she values how easy it is for Fury to still see her as a person.
Here, though, she isn’t just categorically powerful and aloof; she’s kind of a hard-ass who feels empathy but struggles to communicate it to people around her who need to hear it most — people like her SABER colleague and niece Monica, who makes a point of avoiding Carol as the movie’s first opening.
Even more so than The Marvels’ fleshing out of Carol’s personality, the time it takes to deepen and add texture to Monica’s relationship with Carol is a bright spot because of how thin that dynamic felt in Captain Marvel, despite it being part of the film’s intended emotional core. But the movie doesn’t quite feel like it’s properly cooking with gas until it brings Vellani’s Kamala Khan into the picture just moments after the events of Ms. Marvel. It’s a narrative choice that’s likely going to be a sore spot for some.
Being familiar with Ms. Marvel’s first season, and to a lesser extent, WandaVision, absolutely helps The Marvels make more sense — particularly in its opening act as it haphazardly tries to give you a sense of who its three leads are as individuals. But through its use of things like Ms. Marvel’s semi-animated flights of fancy and the way characters will sometimes just offhandedly say stuff like, “A witch hexed me, and now I have light-based powers,” the movie provides more than enough context clues that are easy to piece together.
While this context clue-forward approach to building out a shared universe is a hallmark of comic book storytelling, it’s something that Marvel’s tentpole films have generally shied away from, presumably out of concern that audiences simply couldn’t understand it. But with The Marvels, the approach helps illustrate how much more dynamic and fun these crossovers can be when the studio puts more faith in viewers’ reading comprehension skills.
That said, The Marvels definitely stumbles with a few important elements like its early pacing and an unevenness with editing that sometimes makes it hard to keep track of how far-flung characters get from one place to another so quickly. But the risks The Marvels takes succeed far more often than they backfire, which is exactly the sort of promising energy the larger franchise has been lacking lately.
The Marvels also stars Gary Lewis, Park Seo-joon, Zenobia Shroff, Mohan Kapur, Saagar Shaikh, and Lashana Lynch. The movie hits theaters on November 10th.