One Thing I Like About The Marvels

The Marvels is full of moments that remind you it’s essentially the polar opposite of Captain America: Civil War

The Marvels is undeniably a little bit of a mess. It’s abundantly clear that there were too many ideas that people got attached to, and the filmmakers tried to cram everything into it. In addition to what was undoubtedly tons of edits due to studio interference and so on, the result is that moments don’t land as well as they could have, and the movie ends up feeling both overstuffed and slight.1I also feel like there was a continuity error more glaring than I’d ever expect from an MCU installment: I’d swear that Kamala goes from wearing the Ms Marvel costume her mother made for her at the end of the series, to wearing a T-shirt and flannel, with no explanation for the change. I don’t care all that much, but I bring it up because I never ever notice that kind of thing, which makes me think it must have been glaring.

But I honestly don’t believe it matters a bit, because there’s more than enough charm and fun to carry the whole thing through.

The thing I kept thinking of throughout the movie was, oddly, Donald Glover’s story about his meeting Billy Dee Williams to try and get some ideas on how to approach the role of Lando Calrissian: after all the setup and research and questions, Williams’s response was simply, “Just be charming.”

I think it’s tough for post-Endgame audiences to appreciate just how much of the MCU was built on simply that mantra: just be charming and accessible. While looking for images from The Marvels, I couldn’t avoid seeing a review snippet that complained that the MCU was floundering now that it has lost all of its “heavy hitters.” I realize I need to remember that the franchise is over 10 years old at this point, so people might not remember, but I still can’t get over anyone suggesting that Iron-Man and Thor were “heavy hitters.” People need to realize that this entire franchise was built off the B- and C-listers. And the franchise was started by treating Iron-Man as a romantic comedy with also robot suits, with the overriding idea being “just be charming.”

Anyway, after the dire Secret Invasion, I’d forgotten how much fun it can be to see Samuel Jackson as Nick Fury. And I’d forgotten what a fun rapport he has with Brie Larson as Captain Marvel from the first movie. So the stage was already set for Iman Vellani to come in and steal every moment. She is so preternaturally charismatic that it’s hard for me to believe that she was cast for the role, instead of being grown in a vat in some secret Marvel laboratory.

And it feels like the entire first third of the movie is an extended sequence just riffing on the idea of the three characters being entangled, swapping places with each other when they use their powers. There was one iteration after another, and somehow, it kept building in energy instead of feeling repetitive.

But one moment that stood out for me was a quiet one. After a climactic scene, which I won’t spoil but will say that it involved a huge explosion in space2With MCU installments, saying that the climax involves a huge explosion in space is not a spoiler at all. The camera’s lingering on the aftermath in silence, and then a huge Ms Marvel “hard light” fist quietly comes in from off screen and scoops everything back to safety.

It struck me how the movie feels fundamentally different in tone from the other MCU installments, Captain America: Civil War in particular. Some of the basic ideas floating around behind The Marvels and Civil War are actually pretty similar: in particular, that the heroes are so powerful, confident, and well-versed in their own abilities that the villain isn’t a threat in an outright fight, but in how they can force the heroes into unwinnable situations.

But while I enjoyed Civil War a lot, it was undeniably the dick-swingin’est of all the Marvel movies. It was advertised heavily on the basis of its long sequence with Captain America and Iron Man beating the hell out of each other. The Marvels was advertised on its long sequences with the three heroes learning how to work well with each other.

The Marvels doesn’t ever state outright that it’s a movie starring women — which was one of the things I liked about Captain Marvel, when it took its victory lap and played “Just a Girl” — but it felt very feminine throughout. Both with the blatant and fun stereotypes like teen girl fan fiction and slumber parties and musical numbers, and the over-arching ideas of cooperation, support, nurturing, and finding solutions for problems instead of just punching or shooting your way through them.3I’ve loved the social media messages I’ve seen from other white guys like myself, who found ourselves crumbling to dust in the theater due to sheer lack of representation.

It touches on an extremely heavy issue that became heavier in between production and release — the plight of refugees being killed or driven from their homes — and concentrates not on recrimination and “justice,” but simply on how to make things better for as many people as possible. I wish I didn’t think of that as a uniquely feminine idea, but it’s 2023 and here we all still are.

So I thought it was a nice, understated image: Kamala quietly confident in her powers, without getting into stupid questions about who was the most competent or most powerful, silently bringing everything and everybody back home to safety after a climax that they’d all hoped would end more peacefully.

A couple of pretty significant spoilers about favorite moments, so please don’t read until you’ve seen the movie:

  • I wish it’d been a post-credits scene instead of tacked onto the end of the movie proper, but I still loved Kamala’s version of the end of Iron Man Nick Fury scene, in particular talking about “the kid Avengers” and getting the response “I’m 23 years old.”
  • The mid-credits scene felt more inevitable than surprising, to be honest, but I’m still glad to see it. (The most surprising thing to me was seeing Kelsey Grammer returning!) I have to admit that I was pretty affected by seeing Monica Rambeau getting the chance to talk to her mother again, and getting choked up by the sheer number of things she wanted to say.
  • 1
    I also feel like there was a continuity error more glaring than I’d ever expect from an MCU installment: I’d swear that Kamala goes from wearing the Ms Marvel costume her mother made for her at the end of the series, to wearing a T-shirt and flannel, with no explanation for the change. I don’t care all that much, but I bring it up because I never ever notice that kind of thing, which makes me think it must have been glaring.
  • 2
    With MCU installments, saying that the climax involves a huge explosion in space is not a spoiler at all
  • 3
    I’ve loved the social media messages I’ve seen from other white guys like myself, who found ourselves crumbling to dust in the theater due to sheer lack of representation.

4 thoughts on “One Thing I Like About The Marvels”

  1. One thing I loved about that giant light hand moment was that Ms. Marvel did it (massive spoilers) without wearing either bangle. I know it was one of the criticisms of the her show that it seemed to imply that her powers only happened because of the bangles, even with the explicit “m-word” drop that she was a Mutant in the final episode. (More reason that mid-credits scene seemed inevitable with hindsight.) It was neat seeing her make such a huge light fist even without the bangles, proving she doesn’t need them for her regular powers (she more needs to protect them as clearly Cosmic Cube-like Infinity Stone-level macguffins). I also like that the movie didn’t hang a lampshade on that moment either. I liked that it was subtle and some won’t catch it. I like that maybe even Ms. Marvel herself might not have caught that.

    1. I didn’t catch that, either! I probably would’ve assumed it was a mistake if I had, which would be a shame because it has interesting implications, like you say.

      1. I’m especially glad I pointed it out then!

        I’ve felt rather impressed with the “4D chess” that the MCU team between Ms. Marvel and The Marvels had to play with Ms. Marvel’s origin story. If you’ll pardon too many paragraphs of excitement about it:

        I got in some interesting debates about it back when the show was first airing and made some predictions about The Marvels that I think ultimately played out at least as well as I had hoped. Our current Ms. Marvel is still delightfully young in comics epochs and so hasn’t had her origin story retold or re-sanded anywhere near as much as most other Marvel characters. Especially compared to Captain Marvel’s multiple retcons (including the original useless male ones that were just around to keep Shazam from reclaiming the trademark) and Monica Rambeau going through nearly every superhero nickname under the sky for both trademark reasons and reasons that none of them particularly felt right and reasons that even her powers were constantly reset/rebuilt/recreated. (I appreciated that as a in-joke that most if not all of the nicknames Ms. Marvel throws at Captain Rambeau are indeed ones that one version or another of her in comics used at some point. The character has a weird comics legacy of “too many superhero, most didn’t stick”. Even today’s “Photon” seems to have stuck around in comics for the longest, but there doesn’t seem a guarantee about that either.)

        So, of course there was a ton of criticism that Ms. Marvel’s origin story changed in the MCU because it didn’t have a history of ten different subtly contradictory forms in comics to argue about, she just had the one origin in recent enough people that nerds remember it to firm detail. But her origin was good for comics at the time but terrible for the MCU: she was an Inhuman from a period in comics where that mattered and seemed to be going where. That tied her easily to the Kree easily via Terrigen making the cross-over between New Jersey “street level hero” and Cosmic (Captain) Marvel Teams somewhat easily.

        Meanwhile, the MCU already whiffed and failed trying to make Inhumans exciting to audiences which either mostly never came to watch the efforts (the Inhuman seasons of Agents of SHIELD) or just absolutely didn’t like them (the Inhumans show) and the MCU just finally got the go ahead rights to finally use the “m-word”, so recasting Ms. Marvel as a Mutant makes a ton of sense (and was the original plan for the comics character before big cross-over events made an Inhuman origin make more sense in that storytelling context), but they wanted to still capture a Kree element to give her something surprisingly tangential connection to Captain Marvel (and Captain Rambeau) and I still think the bangle was such an interesting MacGuffin to invent to do that. Ms. Marvel in the comics was always iconically wearing a similar bangle, it just wasn’t a MacGuffin yet. It is exactly the sort of MacGuffin tech that the Kree would invent and then lose. It was a creative place to deepen the weird Kree interventions in human history with the Djinn that I find more inventive than Terrigen/Terrigen Mists/Inhumans especially because it was intentionally less “Western” (European/American) than most such “deep history retcons” tend to be, while also not feeling appropriative (especially with the diverse writers room and directors bench of Ms. Marvel’s TV show).

        I agreed at the time, and still agree, that she shouldn’t need the bangle for most of her regular powers (the time travel episodes in her show being clearly irregular), and I think the TV tried to imply but wasn’t great at it (other than the explicit usage of the word Mutant in its finale) that the bangle was merely “training wheels” for inherent powers. A cosmic-scale “infinity stone level” MacGuffin is a heck of a set of training wheels, and I think such a neat twist on Ms. Marvel, especially because how “quiet” it has seemed as a character arc so far. It’s a bit like if Star Lord spent most of the first Guardians of the Galaxy film just wearing the Power stone, after snatching it in the opening, on a necklace as bling for a while, with just about no one realizing that it meant he probably had demi-god levels of natural powers if not lineage of some sort (as Volume 2 pointed the finger at Ego). That’s a real easy comparison to make given how much The Marvels owes to GotG Volume 1 in terms of villain construction at least, with a second, lesser Accuser, but yet I think The Marvels is intentionally well crafted enough that even with the obvious parallels the lesser ones like “Ms. Marvel is just wearing one of the bangles the entire film (and most of her show) like no big deal where the villain is clearly struggling with its power the whole time and building contraptions and plotting schemes to keep from killing themselves with said power, constantly taking it off and only wearing it for necessity” is so interestingly right there. Captain Marvel is intentionally one of the most overpowered characters in all of Marvel Comics and the MCU justified it by making it very explicit she’s a literal avatar of the Cosmic Cube/Cosmic Infinity Stone. It makes sense that even the “New Jersey kid” that idolized her and intends to have would have a similar power level to keep up and “uses Cosmic Cube-like bangles as training wheels and barely realizes exactly how much power is around her wrists” is such a fascinating place to go with that. I don’t know anything else about what the story teams under Kevin Feige are planning for Ms. Marvel as a character, but I love that setup for Ms. Marvel.

        That’s also the fun thing about Ms. Marvel being such a young character both figuratively and literally in that her first origin story was within recent memory (despite having to fight the negativity and criticisms of that) and only her second edition of her origin story is just now playing out in the MCU: this is a character whose eventual future is nowhere near paved in stone. We know too much about Spider-Man marriages (and deals with a Devil divorces, for that matter), even across many of the reboots in the Spider-Verse. (Surprise: Spider-Man usually grows up and tries and fails to be a respectable adult.) We know so little about where Ms. Marvel can/will go and this version of Ms. Marvel is now relatively unique to the MCU so we especially don’t know and it can be so exciting to follow a new or young character in comics grow into their own, including figuring out their powers behind the audiences that are paying attention to foreshadowing, but here’s a chance to do that in the movies, one of the few chances ever, certainly a first in a leading/title role in the MCU.

        I suppose I find that way too exciting that I feel a need to ramble too many paragraphs about it. Ms. Marvel probably is the character I’m most excited about in this Phase of the MCU and future ones.

  2. I love the “just be charming” aspect, you basically summed up how I felt about the movie. It was a blast, something we haven’t seen in a Marvel movie for awhile. The humor felt natural, unlike a lot of the force humor in Quantumania.

    The most touching moment for me was after the mind-meld device scene with Carol and Kamala reliving the moments after the blip with Monica. Not a word being said, Kamala knows exactly what to do by hugging Monica.

    Great movie, thanks for putting in to words what I was feeling!

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