Gemma Creagh saves the universe.
If you enjoy playing Marvel Film Cliche Bingo, you’ll have a full scorecard by the end of The Marvels runtime. A reluctant unlikely pairing? Check. Self aware references to the genre? Check. Magical all powerful MacGuffins, high octane combat, sarcasm in the face of peril, beams in space, magic described with pseudoscientific language and airborne fight scenes? That’s a full house. What this film brings to the now very crowded MCU cinematic universe is authentic diversity, strong onscreen chemistry and a relatable emotional arc underpinning the action.
When the last film ended, Captain Marvel AKA Carol Danvers (Brie Larson) had just defeated the Supreme Intelligence. Since then, a chain of events has unfolded among the Kree, resulting in a brutal civil war. Hala, the Kree homeworld has been plunged into darkness, their planet polluted and their sun dying. The film opens as Kree leader Dar-Benn (Zawe Ashton) has just found one of the Quantum Bands. The other residing back on earth in Jersey in the safe hands of Kamala Khan (Iman Vellani) AKA the charming and enthusiastic Ms. Marvel.
Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) is heading up S.A.B.E.R,.a human-Skrull aerospace defence system where Monica is stationed. He reaches out to Carol, dredging up her complex past with Monica and her mother. When Dar-Benn harnesses the power of the quantum band to create a rift in space, exposure to this energy links Captain Marvel, Kamala Khan and Monica Rambeau (Teyonah Parris). They find themselves teleporting, swapping places whenever they try to use their light-based powers. As Dar-Benn plunders the resources of nearby planets, this unlikely trio team up to stop her and protect the unravelling fabric of the universe in the process.
Conscious or not, the timing of the film is unfortunate in terms of the allegory. You have fighting factions of aliens, a feud kicked off by Captain Marvel’s past interference when she rocked up wearing her red and blue suit and created tension within the complex politics of the region. The first act kicks off with the genocide of a displaced people following the back of failed peace negotiations.
While the heroes of this film really bring the heart to an intergalactic adventure, and Vellani’s awestruck delivery as Ms Marvel is beyond endearing, it’s the antagonist who steals the show. Embodying a strong, noble leader driven to madness, Ashton is both powerful and vulnerable. The sound stages of Marvel’s Studios are a long way from her equally strong performance in Irish Docudrama Dreams of a Life.
The usual suspects who complain about “Marvel being too woke” would want to give this one a miss. The majority of the cast are women and people of colour. The film has a variety of human woman body shapes and this is the first film in the MCU directed by a Black woman, the youngest director they’ve had so far.
The editing, VFX, sound mix and gorgeous soundtrack all elevate this film, creating a vibrant energy that sees the one hour and forty five minute runtime fly by. The writing is at times too on the nose; elements in the conflict between Monica and Carol feel contrived, manufactured and very easily overcome. There’s an entire erroneous subplot that us Star Trek fans above a certain age will find familiar, but instead of a vessel overrun by soothing Tribbles, this delivers something altogether more ridiculous. Yet there’s no offence in the script that’s unforgivable; The Marvels is still a joyous cinematic spectacle, and there are much worse ways to while away a rainy weekend afternoon with the kids. The Marvels is strong, simple, somewhat indistinct but satisfying all the same.
The Marvels is in cinemas from 10th November 2023.