Since the immense success of Avengers: Endgame in 2019, film studio Marvel is struggling to keep the ship on course. The studio seemed unbeatable for a long time, with one superhero film hit after another, but in recent years the productions increasingly look rushed, uninspired and visually hideous.
Moreover, it became increasingly difficult for the viewer to keep track of everything, as the ‘Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU)’ now consists of more than thirty films and about ten series. ‘Marvel’ has now become synonymous with ‘homework’: not keeping up means dropping out.
In the first fifteen minutes of The Marvels the symptoms of that virus seem to be present again, because to understand the motivations and backgrounds of the three main characters, we must at least have knowledge of the film Captain Marvel and from series WandaVision and Ms. Marvel.
The plot doesn’t make things much clearer: after an incident in a wormhole, the forces of all-powerful space superhero Captain Marvel (Brie Larson), astronaut Monica (Teyonah Parris) and teenage superhero Ms. Marvel (Iman Vellani) accidentally entwines, causing the three to constantly switch places with each other unintentionally. Clumsy of course, but those big switching tricks prove quite useful for the three ‘Marvels’ in the fight against a space rebel who is trying to save her planet in a rather aggressive manner.
About the author
Alex Mazereeuw writes for de Volkskrant about television and film and is a TV critic once every five weeks.
That somewhat messy plot seems to be a logical consequence of the turbulent production process. Director Nia DiCosta (Candyman, LittleWoods) said he had little say in the creative direction, the first test screenings caused quite a few negative reactions and ultimately numerous scenes had to be refilmed.
All those problems are visible in the end result (especially in the plot construction and messy editing), but in the best moments it is The Marvels surprisingly one of the most enjoyable Marvel productions in recent years. The chemistry between the three protagonists is good, and the discoveries are actually funny (think of hungry space cats or a planet where people can only communicate by singing).
The biggest asset is the charismatic Vellani, who as a teenager was Ms. Marvel provides the much-needed fresh superhero fun that has often been lacking in recent Marvel films. Highlights are the scenes with her Pakistani-American family members: ordinary people who are unwillingly drawn into their daughter’s absurd space adventures.
The better superhero films rely on straightforward fun and the premise of normal people in abnormal situations, and in that respect The Marvels – despite the visible problems – quite successful. A cheerful, minimal course correction for the drifting Marvel ship.
Directed by Nia DaCosta
With Brie Larson, Teyonah Parris, Iman Vellani, Samuel L. Jackson
105 min., in 122 halls.