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.
- 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.
- 2With MCU installments, saying that the climax involves a huge explosion in space is not a spoiler at all
- 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.