Marvel Studios has had something of an odd year, reaching new highs with films like “Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 3” and new lows with shows like “Secret Invasion.” Their latest film, Nia DaCosta’s “The Marvels,” sits somewhere in the middle, elevated in massive ways by its three leading ladies and clever action sequences, but held back by an undercooked script and awkward editing.
“The Marvels” follows Carol Danvers, also known as Captain Marvel, Kamala Khan, also known as Ms. Marvel and Captain Monica Rambeau, three superheroes whose light-based superpowers become “entangled” when a Kree zealot, Dar-Benn, uses an ancient artifact to enact revenge on Carol and every planet she calls home.
“The Marvels” wastes no time getting its titular team together and for good reason: the film is pretty short, clocking in at a breezy hour and 45 minutes. In so, so many other cases, I would sing the praises of this decision, but in this case, the film feels like it is missing a solid twenty minutes in the middle, either dropped during post-production or simply missing in the screenplay, credited to DaCosta, Megan McDonnell and Elissa Karasik.
This is a rare case where having some “fluff” in the middle would greatly improve the film, as its strongest aspect is the chemistry between Brie Larson, Iman Vellani and Teyonah Parris, so seeing the relationships between their characters blossom just a little further would have brought the film much higher.
Larson is confident, charming and talented as ever- she did not win an Oscar for nothing- but this film belongs to Vellani. Vellani may very well be the strongest argument for continuing the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), as her performance as Ms. Marvel breathes new life into each and every scene she is in. She is earnest, hilarious and easily the best part of the film.
That is certainly not to knock on the rest of the cast, though admittedly, Parris gets the least time to shine here. Monica’s story, dealing with her feeling of being abandoned by her “aunt” Carol as a child, lacks key development and it can not help but feel like some of the best parts of Parris’ performance was left on the cutting room floor in favor of a shorter, more action-packed film.
But what action! “The Marvels,” thanks to its body-swapping antics, features some of the coolest action in a Marvel movie since “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings,” with masterful fight choreography that plays into each character’s abilities very well without ever being difficult to follow.
The body-swapping storyline also serves as a clever method of keeping Captain Marvel from being overpowered through much of the film. It is certainly much more clever than what prior films featuring the character have done, which essentially amounted to her being physically restrained from using her powers in her first film or just not showing up until the last hour of “Avengers: Endgame.”
Other key players in the cast include the evergreen Samuel L. Jackson, playing Nick Fury for the millionth time and still knocking it out of the park. The man is allegedly 74 years old, but you would not be able to tell from how much energy he still brings to the role 15 years in.
Zawe Ashton plays the villainous Dar-Benn, who has more in common with a villain like Whiplash from “Iron Man 2” than the truly great villains like Killmonger or Thanos. But even though her writing is scarcely convincing, her performance sells what little she has to work with.
Park Seo-joon has a brief role in the film as Prince Yan, a character with a surprising connection to Carol. While his role is small, he has one of the best scenes in the film and is more than worthy of praise here.
All in all, “The Marvels” is an imperfect, but earnestly charming film. Its excellent cast, particularly Vellani as Ms. Marvel, brings so much heart to the film that, in spite of its thin script, it is almost impossible to not fall in love with them and cheer them on during the excellent action sequences.