Let’s begin with the ending. That’s the best part of The Marvels, Nia DaCosta’s action-packed addition to a decent if not spectacular year for the films of the MCU.
The ending we’re talking about is not only the film’s climactic showdown and good-humored epilogue but, since this is a Marvel movie, also the buzzworthy mid-credits sequence. All three components offer satisfactory closure to the story at hand, while heralding intriguing future adventures for the film’s titular trio of superheroes.
The credits scene, in particular, foreshadows the first truly exciting MCU plot development since Marvel cracked open its now 33-film fictional universe into a kaleidoscopic multiverse of rarified worlds and reimagined characters. The well-played reveal ends the film on an adrenaline high that goes far towards compensating for its choppy first act, spent introducing and re-introducing its vast, disparate cast of characters.
Ostensibly, the film — scripted by DaCosta, Melissa McDonnell (WandaVision), and Elissa Karasik (Loki) — serves as a sequel to the 2019 hit Captain Marvel, which starred Brie Larson as amnesiac heroine Carol Danvers, a.k.a. Kree warrior Vers.
Carol/Vers would have to blast baddies from one side of the galaxy to the other in order to discover her true identity, as a former Air Force pilot who’d gained superhuman strength and energy-projecting powers from a freak explosion that somehow didn’t kill her.
Later kidnapped, trained, and basically brainwashed by the Kree on planet Hala, Carol broke free of her captors in an earthbound battle, then set off to go show Hala a thing or two. Now, Hala is back for revenge, in the form of demented, determined Kree leader Dar-Benn, played by Zawe Ashton as a crusader with the glassy-eyed mien of a psychopath.
Strange that she’s not that intimidating a foe, though, wielding some sort of power staff that’s no match for Captain Marvel, and lacking any standout moment of villainy to truly inspire fear in the hearts of our heroes (or the audience).
But The Marvels aims more to inspire delight and a sense of empowerment, conveyed by Carol, officially the Avenger known as Captain Marvel, bonding with fellow female superheroes Monica Rambeau (Teyonah Parris) and Ms. Marvel (Iman Vellani).
Monica, introduced in Captain Marvel as the ’90s tween daughter of Carol’s bestie Maria, gained her energy manipulation powers during her appearance on the MCU’s Disney+ series WandaVision.
Meanwhile, Ms. Marvel — Jersey City high schooler Kamala Khan — gained her cosmic energy powers during the events of her eponymous Disney+ show. She also wound up in possession of something called a “quantum band,” a crazy cosmic MacGuffin that Dar-Benn and the Kree are desperate to control.
The design and appeal of Marvel’s interconnected web of film and TV storylines is sorely tested here by the filmmakers’ clunky early effort at bringing together the Marvel women, their supporting characters, and blending the different tones and visual styles of their source material.
Vellani, a bright, winning presence on the Ms. Marvel series, smoothly makes the leap to the big screen, joined by Zenobia Shroff and Mohan Kapur, reliable comic relief as her excitable and very protective parents. Parris, meanwhile, ably carries her storyline as the heroine here who’s least certain of her abilities.
Samuel L. Jackson, returning as MCU anchor Nick Fury, turns the dial on his fearless former S.H.I.E.L.D. agent to fun, finding the right light tone to match the movie’s spirit of planet-hopping fantasy and adventure. He gets to bond some more with Goose, the creature who resembles a cuddly tabby but is, in fact, a Flerken — a disgustingly tentacled-mouthed alien apt to devour anything.
It takes several hyper-edited set-pieces before the film finds its footing as a tenacious team-up of Captain Marvel, Ms. Marvel, Monica Rambeau, and their host of sidekicks.
The rub is that, due to a broken dimensional jump-point, or some hole in the space-time continuum, the three heroes’ light-energy powers become entangled, and anytime one uses their powers, they instantly teleport, trading places with one of the others.
So, for a while, the Marvels can’t figure out how to be in the same room together, let alone work together. The cast works together like a charm, though, as does much of the humor, like a frenzied scene, set to “Memory” from Cats, of frightened people fleeing a herd of Flerkens, while a P.A. announcement repeats, “Stop running and let the Flerkens eat you!”
The film’s random Bollywood sequence, set on the distant planet Aladna with dreamy Prince Yan (Park Seo-joon), doesn’t charm so much as confound any notion of what it’s doing here other than to pander to certain audiences.
Marvel also does its usual fan service with a handful of cameos, but, in the end, The Marvels earns audience approval with energetic lead performances, entertaining action, and a heartfelt portrayal of sisterly superhero bonding.
The Marvels (★★★☆☆) is playing in theaters nationwide. Visit www.fandango.com.
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