Combustible Celluloid Review - The Marvels (2023), Nia DaCosta, Megan McDonnell, Elissa Karasik, Nia DaCosta, Brie Larson, Teyonah Parris, Iman Vellani, Zawe Ashton, Gary Lewis, Park Seo-joon, Zenobia Shroff, Mohan Kapur, Saagar Shaikh, Samuel L. Jackson
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With: Brie Larson, Teyonah Parris, Iman Vellani, Zawe Ashton, Gary Lewis, Park Seo-joon, Zenobia Shroff, Mohan Kapur, Saagar Shaikh, Samuel L. Jackson
Written by: Nia DaCosta, Megan McDonnell, Elissa Karasik
Directed by: Nia DaCosta
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for action/violence and brief language
Running Time: 105
Date: 11/10/2023

The Marvels (2023)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)


By Jeffrey M. Anderson

The 33rd entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Nia DaCosta's The Marvels does something that this series hasn't done in a while. It has a little fun. Which is not to say that something like Spider-Man: No Way Home wasn't fun. It's just that there's so much at stake in most of these movies — even the humble Ant-Man fought a mega-baddie in his last film — that it's a relief to see one in which things are a little lighter. It feels more like Iron Man than it does Eternals.

Things begin when new villain Dar-Benn (Zawe Ashton) finds one of two Quantum Bands, and uses it, along with a Universal Weapon (a huge hammer) to punch a hole in space-time. On earth, Kamala Khan, code-named "Ms. Marvel" (Iman Vellani) has the other Quantum Band. She was introduced on the Disney+ series Ms. Marvel (which I haven't seen), but she apparently saved New Jersey and dreams of hanging around with Captain Marvel (Brie Larson).

Due to some quantum malfunction, Kamala's powers become intertwined with Captain Marvel's, and also Monica Rambeau's (Teyonah Parris), whom we met earlier on the Disney+ series WandaVision (which I did see and loved). Whenever they use their powers, they switch places. This leads to a phenomenal sequence in which all three are in the middle of battles and keep popping in and out, disoriented for a second, but quickly jumping back into it.

The women team up to stop Dar-Benn from punching too many holes and destroying everything. They practice switching back and forth (another fun sequence), while bonding and becoming a terrific super-team. Along the way, they make a stop on the Planet Alanda, where the people communicate with song, to get help from Prince Yan (Park Seo-joon). And we get a musical number. Then there's some stuff about the war between the Kree and the Skrulls, and another sequence in which a satellite — its chief occupant Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) — must be evacuated. The cat/Flerken from Captain Marvel comes into play here, and it's an absolute hoot.

The Marvels runs only an hour and 45 minutes, and even though, yes, the universe is at stake, it solves the problem before it becomes elevated to operatic proportions. Perhaps this will be seen as a drawback, and, yes, certainly there's nothing inherently wrong with operatic proportions. But at this particular time, with this particular movie, I was happy to see efficiency at work instead.

The movie has its faults. While it's very funny — Kamala and her overprotective, clueless family are the source of most of the humor — it misses a chance to play with Larson's particular brand of dry, sharp humor. She can deliver a barb as well as anyone, and it would have been great to see her joke around a little more, rather than clenching her fists all the time. Additionally, while it's great to see a female villain, Dar-Benn is frankly not that interesting. She's after revenge, and she's angry, but we have no idea who she really is.

Nonetheless, The Marvels is a splendid entertainment and a celebration of the power of women, and the power of women of color. This is a trio that I'd love to see more of, if such a thing were in the cards. (I'd certainly like to see the movie again!) It reveals an interesting tangent in the career of DaCosta, whose Little Woods was deeply atmospheric and whose Candyman was a fascinating discourse. This one is lighter, but it still shows a canny intelligence, a purposeful decision to change the lumbering, bloated direction in which the MCU has been heading. Who knows? Maybe The Marvels could save the day.

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