Marvel Studios finds itself in a very interesting place at this point in time. While they’ve seen fly higher, further, and faster to the highs of commercial and critical success with their Infinity Saga, they stumble slightly with the Multiverse Saga. However, “The Marvels,” their first female ensemble superhero flick directed by Nia DaCosta, feels like the much-needed course correction for the MCU. The latest entry into the MCU is the first to feature a trio of female heroes taking the lead: Brie Larson, Teyonah Parris, and Iman Vellani’s chemistry, and DaCosta’s embrace of the goofs and gags that come with light-energy body swaps make up for a rather mediocre script and a weak villain, while also expanding upon their interpretation of the Multiverse in exciting ways.
Our story, written by DaCosta, Megan McDonnell, and Elissa Karasik, follows Carol Danvers (Brie Larson), Monica Rambeau (Teyonah Parris), and Kamala Khan (Iman Vellani), three light-energy-manipulation heroes who find their powers entangled after Dar-Benn (Zawe Ashton) uses an Accuser hammer and Kamala’s missing bangle to create wormholes within time and space so that she can steal a planet’s resources and restore her home planet Hala.
Though Dar-Benn’s mission is noble, it is a crusade of vengeance as she targets every planet that Carol has ever cared about. With the latest villain using the powers of the Bangle and the Hammer to create wormholes with reckless abandon, she slowly destroys the fabric of spacetime. She disrupts Carol, Monica, and Kamala’s ability to use their powers freely. Each time they use their powers simultaneously, they swap places with the other. Thus, the three need each other more than they would like to admit. The forced team-up forces Carol and Monica to confront some ugly truths about their past, and Kamala realizes that being a hero is a lot harder than it appears to be when the Avenger that she’s idolized through fan fiction and drawings makes a tough decision for the greater good.
“The Marvels” flies ever so swiftly and establishes what we need to know without having to pad the film any extra fluff around the exposition. DaCosta, McDonnell, and Karasik’s script is tight and focused, and they know that it has a story to tell. Although, it’s a relatively weak story considering what our heroes have to do. It’s not as though we haven’t seen any of them save the day against a villain with misguided goodwill. That repetitiveness may have come from an overabundance of MCU content released post-Infinity Saga. As such, Dar-Benn is underdeveloped, leaving Ashton to work with what she has. The antagonist has to travel from planet to planet to obtain the resources needed to restore her world. And while that would make way for excellent world-building, it does the opposite. The film doesn’t spend nearly enough time with the displaced Skrulls living in refugee camps or with Prince Yan and his subjects on Aladna. Aladna is a planet where you can only communicate through song and dance. It may have been a fun opportunity to break out and do something entirely different for the MCU, but the novelty of having to sing and dance wears out its welcome rather quickly.
The reality is that “The Marvels” belongs to Larson, Parris, and Vellani. And Vellani is the glue that holds everything together. She brings the kind of joy any fan would have when standing in front of their idol. Her eyes light up, and she has an entirely different attitude. That earnest portrayal of a hero eager to prove herself to the hero that she’s idolized is a reminder of what makes these MCU features so wonderful. She even has a fangirl moment when she learns from her parents (Zenobia Shroff and Mohan Kapur) and her brother (Saagar Shaikh) that the body-swapping made Carol appear in the Khan’s home. Of course, Carol isn’t alone when she teleports. The constant body-swapping results in an inventive fight scene that takes the fight between all three light-energy heroes with the Kree from Earth and Space and back again.
The same can be said for Carol and Monica, who have their own complicated relationship. After defeating Thanos, Carol, the prodigal child of the Milky Way, is unpacking years of trauma after being manipulated and held against her will by the Kree; she heads to the solitude of space to reclaim what was stolen from her. Monica feels that Carol abandoned her when she needed her the most. Although both realize there is much more nuance to the situation, it eventually leads to a powerful moment of reconciliation while revealing that even the most powerful heroes have emotional vulnerabilities.
“The Marvels” is a terrific sequel that breathes new life into an MCU desperate for resuscitation. It’s quick, light on its feet, and moves swiftly thanks in no small part to the chemistry between Larson, Parris, and Vellani. The goofs and gags are woven into the more extensive action set pieces organically and play to the whimsy and playfulness of the film. So even though the script is weak, Vellani steals the show with an unbridled joyful performance of an earnest hero eager to prove herself worthy of being an Avenger. And seeing her together with Carol and Monica, only takes this sequel higher, further, faster to a fun and exciting destination where a very cool easter egg awaits.