Review: The Marvels Jumps Between Planets and Tones Too Often to Spark in a Sequel that Centers Female Friendship

I was constantly torn apart by the Captain Marvel sequel The Marvels, this time directed by up-and-comer Nia DaCosta (Little Woods, the recent Candyman revival). Just as I was getting into the groove of its female-driven narrative—in which Carol Danvers (Brie Larson) is once again trying to save multiple worlds, this time with the help of partners Capt. Monica Rambeau (Teyonah Parris, playing the adult version of the young daughter of her best friend from the original film) and Ms. Marvel/Kamala Khan (Iman Vellani), the film takes mighty swings, many of which do not work, and shifts tones so violently that it pulls you right out of the narrative and me right out of my forgiving nature. While I immensely enjoyed the camaraderie of the three leads, I wish we’d gotten a chance to spend more time with the three of them rather than a training montage set to a catchy pop tune.

On the big-picture side of things, The Marvels not only serves as a bridge between Captain Marvel (set in the mid-1990s), Avengers: Endgame, and several Disney+ Marvel shows (WandaVision, Ms. Marvel, and Secret Invasion) and the present day, but also tries to tell a new story about a Kree villain, Dar-Benn (Zawe Ashton), who is seeking revenge on Danvers for destroying the Supreme Intelligence of the Kree's home-world, Hala, by destroying the planets occupied by civilizations that Danvers holds dear. Rambeau now works beside Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) for a space-based defense force called S.A.B.E.R., but she still has some issues with Danvers not returning to Earth before her mother passed away from cancer during the five-year Thanos blip. 

In terms of timelines, the film basically picks up Kamala’s story right where Ms. Marvel left off, telling the first superhero adventure about the Pakistani Avengers fangirl from Jersey City whose powers are kickstarted by a cosmic bangle that she wears as part of her costume. Her family were such fan favorites that they also appear in The Marvels (perhaps a little too much), so look for appearances from Zenobia Shroff as mother Muneeba Khan, Mohan Kapur as father Yusuf, and Saagar Shaikh as brother Aamir, whose wife seems to have vanished since the series concluded. It just so happens that this mysterious bangle is one of two that make up something called the Quantum Bands, which when brought together can rip a hole in spacetime. Naturally, Dar-Benn locates the other bangle and is in a desperate, murderous search for the second.

The three heroes spend most of the film running around attempting to predict Dar-Benn’s next move and stopping her from destroying one planet after another (including a new Skrull home-world and a water-based planet with which Carol has a history). She’s actually stripping these planets for their natural resources so that Hala can be brought back from the brink of extinction, and Earth is her last stop on this destructive tour of the universe.

For several reasons, I was genuinely invested in what was going on in The Marvels. I like that most of the key creatives in front of and behind the camera are people (mostly women) of color; the energy of the film is different, even if the screenplay (by DaCosta, Megan McDonnell, and Elissa Karasik) feels like a fairly standard-issue Marvel movie. DaCosta takes a few chances here, including a sequence set on a planet (the aforementioned watery one) on which the citizens communicate through song, which means a brief portion of the film is similar to a musical. We also find out on that planet that Danvers is hitched to Prince Yan (Korean actor Seo-Jun Park, from Parasite and the upcoming Concrete Utopia); it’s all very sweet but also incredibly distracting and unnecessary. It’s an attempt at something different in a superhero movie that ultimately fails, but I admire the effort.

The familiar elements from Captain Marvel are back, including Goose the cat, who is actually an alien creature with tentacles in its mouth; the Skrulls, this time with Emperor Dro'ge (the great Scottish actor Gary Lewis) in charge; and Nick Fury is here, basically as the guy in the chair, a glorified IT guy, trying to keep the leads updated on any changes back home while attempting to hold the SABER station together and keep its crew safe while it, too, is being attacked. The scene-stealer of the movie is Vellani as Kamala, which should come as no surprise to those who watched the series. Her wide-eyed innocence and complete lack of being jaded by the presence of superheroes in her life is adorable and reminds the comic book fan in all of us how we felt the first time we saw a superhero in a movie.

Without diving too deep into the climax of the film, The Marvels seems like more of a buildup toward something bigger, and a pair of credits-oriented scenes prove that to be true in a big way. Even those who hate the movie might be impressed by these two scenes. But they don’t make up for the many flaws in the main story. The chemistry among the three leads is one of the only things that really holds this movie together, but the film seems intent on finding ways of sabotaging itself at key moments, and it ruins whatever fun I might have had along the way. I don’t think it’s the disaster many claim it is, but it’s certainly one of the weaker Marvel efforts to date.

The film is now in theaters.

Picture of the author
Steve Prokopy

Steve Prokopy is chief film critic for the Chicago-based arts outlet Third Coast Review. For nearly 20 years, he was the Chicago editor for Ain’t It Cool News, where he contributed film reviews and filmmaker/actor interviews under the name “Capone.” Currently, he’s a frequent contributor at /Film (SlashFilm.com) and Backstory Magazine. He is also the public relations director for Chicago's independently owned Music Box Theatre, and holds the position of Vice President for the Chicago Film Critics Association. In addition, he is a programmer for the Chicago Critics Film Festival, which has been one of the city's most anticipated festivals since 2013.