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Go behind the scenes of The Marvels with Brie Larson and Kevin Feige
Featurette: Marvel Studios

The Marvels
Directed by Nia DaCosta
Rated PG-13
Triaged 10 November 2023

The Marvels doesn’t serve as Marvel’s Barbie moment.

Freaky Tuesday

The Marvels movie poster

The 33rd chapter in the MCU evokes thoughts and feelings unlike most of the other entries.

First and foremost, there’s a big question that goes unanswered: Who’s this one for? Representation is front and center as The Marvels features three female variations on the theme of empowerment: there’s Monica Rambeau (Teyonah Parris), a Black astronaut featured in the first Captain Marvel feature; Kamala Khan (Iman Vellani), a 16-year-old Pakistani Muslim introduced in the Disney+ streamer Ms. Marvel; and, of course, Carol Danvers (Brie Larson), a classic American blonde woman who is now a leader among the Avengers. Without question, all three characters are brought to the screen by solid performers; it’s what they’re asked to do on the screen that’s problematic.

Representation doesn’t make the audience automatic. That’s where storytelling, themes and emotions play a decisive role. Here, those elements are lacking. Particularly when it comes to the emotions. There’s lightweight drama around that classic trope: the ages-old aunt-niece dynamic of strained relationships. You know, the kind that stems from a young girl who holds a grudge when her aunt promises she’ll be right back only to have said aunt instead go out and save the universe and stuff. The greedy selfishness of Carol Danvers!

Another question is even more basic: Why this story? There’s a directionless sensation in the narrative akin to Black Widow, which seemingly existed solely to tee-up a storyline around Hawkeye. So curious The Marvels feels the same way and ends on an eerily similar note once again revolving around a character from the Hawkeye storyline.

Herding Cats

The best episodes in the MCU are entertaining movies that captivate the mind and the heart while also telling an action-packed story. The best of the best throw in some timely relevance that resonates and do all that while making it all seem effortless. The average ones are merely entertaining, while the worst are a big-budget pummeling of the mind and the heart.

Being generous, The Marvels is average.

In this one, the Marvels visit a colorful planet in which the indigenous peoples communicate in song. But, piling on the humor, it’s part of a back story Capt. Marvel adventure in which she agreed to a marriage of convenience with a prince who’s bilingual. That means he both sings and simply talks.

And there are also a whole lotta Flerken, those cat-like creatures who can devour furniture and people in a single gulp. Perhaps the movie’s single-most inspired scene finds the Flerken sucking up a space station’s crew because — as Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) explains it — it’ll be easier to herd the Flerken with their tummies full of humans into a handful of small space shuttles rather than trying to shove all the humans into the ships.

The best part of it is the action’s accompanied by the song Memories from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cats.

The Bangles

Okay, so The Marvels isn’t as bad as feared. But the shame of it is how a little reworking of the screenplay could’ve elevated the material and given it some much-needed punch. That should’ve been a natural go-to move for co-writers Megan McDonnell (WandaVision) and Elissa Karasik (Loki). This isn’t their first Marvel rodeo, but it is for director and co-writer Nia DaCosta, perhaps best known for directing 2021’s Candyman. DaCosta also makes history with The Marvels as both the youngest director and the first Black female director of an MCU title.

The story strains to find a powerful moment and the aunt-niece drama doesn’t cut it.

But there are ideas bouncing around that should’ve been pursued instead.

The bulk of the story revolves around the Skrulls and Krees (again). A Kree named Dar-Benn (Zawe Ashton) is a classic megalomaniac who’s hellbent on sucking planets dry so she can bring basic resources like water and air back to her own devastated home planet. That leads to some cross-universe entanglement via a pair of bangles. (Does that make it an enbanglement?)

The story is so high concept, even the characters struggle to explain what’s going on, referring to “thingies” and spouting off scientific gobbledygook in hopes nobody will notice how silly it all is. But, those bangles — one worn by Dar-Benn and one worn by Kamala — create a disturbance in space and time that shuffles Kamala, Monica and Carol in and out of each other’s lives. Why? Because they each have light-based powers.


Of course, it all leads to yet another boss battle. Amid all the mayhem, there’s nothing groundbreaking. Some of it even feels like a Canon B-movie straight outta the ‘80s.

Gone With the Wind

There are a couple castaway lines of dialogue that signal something more could’ve happened. As Kamala explains it, the bangles have an engraving that states, “What you seek is seeking you.” There’s a cool idea in that line but it’s not latched onto. It disappears into space and time.

It’s no spoiler (actually, there’s not much to spoil in The Marvels, except for a mildly pleasing post-credits tease) to state Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) makes a brief cameo in which she delivers a solid line, “You can stand tall without standing alone.” Good line, emblematic of the action. But it never becomes the refrain it could’ve been.

And then there’s the big one, a story element that’s cast aside as mere backstory: the Kree were ruled by an artificial intelligence that led them into a war inadvertently initiated by Capt. Marvel. AI? Now there’s something timely. There’s some heavy-duty resonance with today’s world.

But it’s mere dialogue blown in the wind. Not even in a song, just by the spoken word.

• This is a slightly edited version of the review originally published at

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