The Marvels marks the 33rd film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and oh boy are the cracks starting to bleed. What was once seen as the most bullet-proof and profitable franchise in Hollywood has delivered incredibly mixed results this year. Phase 5 of the MCU kicked off with the widespread disdain for Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania and bounced back with the universal praise of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3. And on the television side on Disney+, Secret Invasion is now widely agreed to be the very worst MCU series to date while Loki Season 2 garnered impressive acclaim, yet is lacking in viewership. So, what gives? On top of all the reports of troubles within Marvel Studios, including a slew of setbacks for Blade and Daredevil: Born Again, the release of something as botched together as The Marvels feels like an even louder cry for help.
First of all, it’s no secret that 2019’s Captain Marvel was met with unwarranted toxicity online – mainly from male viewers. Review bombing before the film’s release even forced Rotten Tomatoes to adjust its platform to remove that issue for good. So it’s no surprise that The Marvels has already unfairly gathered some similar hate before its premiere. But let this be clear, the actual problems with this movie all stem from the systemic failures at Marvel Studios – not from its cast and crew. It’s hard to pinpoint where things began to go wrong for The Marvels. The studio got another promising indie filmmaker in writer-director Nia DaCosta (Candyman, Little Woods), and returning star Brie Larson would now be joined by two new rising superheroes in Kamala Khan (Iman Vellani), aka Ms. Marvel, and Monica Rambeau (Teyonah Parris), aka Photon. It all screams success at first.
Perhaps the biggest problem with this movie is that it can’t determine what it wants to be. Written by DaCosta, Megan McDonnell, and Elissa Karasik, The Marvels is meant to be both a sequel to Captain Marvel and the Ms. Marvel Disney+ series while also picking up very important threads from WandaVision. To no surprise, this doesn’t work at all. The plot focuses on a conundrum between the three female heroes when they are brought together by chance and accidently trigger a jump point anomaly that makes them all switch places whenever they use their powers, which are all light-based. The three Marvels must learn how to work together and stop the Kree leader Dar-Benn (Zawe Ashton) from obtaining an identical bangle, or Quantum Band, to the one Kamala uses in a twisted plan to restore the dying Kree homeworld of Hala.
Meanwhile, Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) aids the main trio from the S.A.B.E.R. headquarters orbiting the Earth’s atmosphere. This is where the former director of S.H.I.E.L.D. carries out his work with the Skrulls. The Khan family – mother Muneeba (Zenobia Shroff), father Yusuf (Mohan Kapur), and big brother Saagar (Aamir Khan) – get swept into the action as well when Kamala uses this adventure to try to prove herself as a potential new young avenger. Now, this might not seem like a lot of ground to cover, but take into consideration just how much homework is needed before starting this film. General audiences who only saw Captain Marvel cannot walk into this sequel without having watched two separate TV shows, and that disconnect is immediately felt.
Viewers are rushed into the story in such a poor way that they are expected to already know every piece of lore and background information. And when the plot is already too complicated for its own good, this makes The Marvels a very tedious watch. Casual Marvel fans will have a rough time keeping up, leaving only the diehard fanatics as the ones who can enjoy the movie stress-free, and even then there are more hurdles to get over. There’s no other way to say this, but the screenplay is so butchered and the editing is so hazardous to the point where studio interference is just way too obvious. The first two acts of The Marvels are merely a string of scenes barely tied together by a loose thread. One can’t even tell when the first act ends and the second begins with there being no consistent flow whatsoever.
The three leads aren’t given the proper time to grow as a team in this discombobulated edit, making it more disappointing for fans who have waited a long time to see this trio on the big screen together. The dynamic between Brie Larson and Teyonah Parris feels especially undercut given that Carol has known Monica since she was a child in the first movie. Iman Vellani is doing a lot of the heavy lifting with her natural charisma, though the script doesn’t offer her much growth when she isn’t playing the comedic relief by fangirling over superheroes. The three stars do their best with what they are given, which is not much to begin with. Weak MCU films in the past have been able to be somewhat redeemed by charming lead actors. However, The Marvels is just too bogged down by other issues. Brie, Teyonah, and Iman innocent!
The villain is among the weakest of the entire MCU franchise, it’s hard to even remember their name throughout the movie because the role is written so by the books. Zawe Ashton’s talents are wasted. Korean superstar Park Seo-joon makes a noble impression as Prince Yan of the planet Aladna, who has a spicey history with Carol. The people of Aladna only communicate in song, leading to a musical number between Carol and Yan that makes for the best sequence in the film. However, it’s quickly undercut by the need to have another rinse-and-repeat action scene. A later sequence that involves Goose the Flerken and a slew of Flerken kittens proves that there are some really hilarious and creative ideas present in The Marvels, they just don’t flow together at all. At best, fans can get a kick watching these scenes in “best of” compilation videos later down the line.
There hasn’t been an MCU film that feels this tampered with since the early days of phases one and two. Why did it need to be this movie? Well, maybe because Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige’s dream of interconnecting stories from both film and TV has its fair share of limitations. Since plenty of plot threads from the first Captain Marvel movie are merely glossed over, The Marvels doesn’t work as a proper sequel. Since Kamala doesn’t get much of a true arc that is more than just what’s on the surface with her powers, The Marvels doesn’t really work as a sequel to her show either. Monica’s character also doesn’t get presented with an interesting challenge until the very end. The switching places element with the three heroes is merely a gimmick for action overload (cinematographer Sean Bobbitt putting in some real work) rather than being thematically relevant too.
There’s obvious turmoil running from the top to bottom of Marvel Studios right now, and it’s going to take a lot more than a cuteness overload with CGI cats to make these projects watchable. At this moment, things aren’t looking good for the future of Marvel films, yet there could still be time for Kevin Feige and his team to apply any lessons learned. Will that actually happen though, after all the continuous disappointments of phase 5? Who knows, but after sitting through the credits of The Marvels, I can say with certainty that any changes will come far later down the road as things might just be looking to get bleaker in the immediate future.