blogging by Andrew Wickliffe

The Marvels (2023, Nia DaCosta)

The Marvels is a sequel to Captain Marvel, starring Brie Larson, which came out four years before but takes place thirty years before. It’s also a sequel to the TV shows “WandaVision,” which introduced Teyonah Parris (though her character appeared as a little kid in Captain), and “Ms. Marvel,” which introduced Iman Vellani as a teenage hero who idolizes Larson.

Through celeritous convenience and contrivance, Marvels gets the three together, along with Samuel L. Jackson (who also starred in Captain, CGI de-aged, and is back here in a combination comedic relief and exposition provider role) and Vellani’s family, also coming back from the “Ms. Marvel” show. Marvels spotlights mom Zenobia Shroff and dad Mohan Kapur the most, but does give older brother Saagar Shaikh some great comedic bits. Shaikh’s wife is mysteriously absent like they filmed Marvels before all of “Ms.”

It doesn’t matter, of course, because the point’s getting the trio together. Fangirl but still professional superhero Vellani, government scientific investigator turned reluctant metahuman Harris, and intergalactic world-saver (and world destroyer) Larson, who’s not really aware of how her celebrity works on her home planet. Thanks to villain Zawe Ashton, Vellani, Harris, and Larson find their powers intertwined; if one uses their power, they change locations—across the galaxy—with another. While the film does an excellent montage sequence with the three learning how to use the “Marvels leaping” to their advantage (the movie doesn’t make that joke; I made that joke, blame me), it never explains the rules.

Marvels opens with Ashton and her sidekick Daniel Ings (who supposedly has a name in the movie, but I don’t think so) finding an ancient space artifact—a bangle like the one from “Ms. Marvel,” now streaming exclusively on Disney Plus. It never occurred to Ashton one of the bangles would end up on a desolate planetoid, and the other would just be on planet Earth in Pakistan. One of Marvels’s subtlest recurring plot points is how little people look at things from the other person’s perspective. See, Ashton might not have been in Captain Marvel, but only because they didn’t know they would need to have a character mad at Larson for what she did at the end of that movie.

Thirty years ago in story time. In between, there was half the universe disappearing and coming back, which features into Parris’s backstory but no one else’s. It presumably would have also affected Ashton’s scheme. Ashton’s scheme is unclear for a while. When we find out exactly what she’s got planned, it’s maybe Marvels’s biggest plot contrivance. The film runs a nimble 105 minutes, with profoundly precise cutting by Catrin Hedström and Evan Schiff. Director DaCosta likes doing some nice sci-fi establishing shots, too—lots of space superhero grandeur on display, but she never holds the shot too long. Marvels is clearly on a schedule, and DaCosta doesn’t miss any stops.

Things get a little clunky in the second act, which has Jackson dealing with a grim and gritty tribbles “Star Trek” episode. At the same time, Parris and Vellani discover Larson’s space adventures are a lot weirder (and more “Doctor Who,” frankly) than they were expecting.

But then the third act’s a powerhouse. Even as the film ignores plot thread after plot thread—I’m not sure any of the outstanding ones get resolved, the movie instead just floors it, relying on Vellani, Parris, and Larson to get the finale through. And it works just right, even though the film’s got three cameos from elsewhere in the franchise, with one deep—but modern—cut and then another deep and surprising one. They’re all effective—though only the surprising one doesn’t require franchise literacy. It can stand alone, whereas the first two only make sense if you’re up on the lore.

But there’s not much lore otherwise. It’s like the screenwriters—director DaCosta, Megan McDonnell, and Elissa Karasik—all realized there’s just no way to do a straight sequel to Captain Marvel so they might as well treat it as a legacy crossover sequel. With Vellani’s family playing such a large part (besides them, the only other regular characters are Leila Farzad and Abraham Popoola as Jackson’s flunkies), it feels a little like a legacy sequel, a little like “Ms. Marvel Goes to the Movies,” and then… well, no, just those two things. It does feel like there were cuts, whether filmed material or just cut from the script and while some of them were undoubtedly delightful, Marvels works better as a leaner picture.

Larson, Parris, and Vellani are trying to save the universe, after all; they’re going to be in a rush to get it done.

Vellani’s delightful, Larson and Parris are both good—Larson gets the least to do of the three; she’s the stoic one. Jackson’s always funny, even when he’s stretching the bit; Shroff, Kapur, and Shaikh are great. Ashton’s fine. Could she be better? Sure. Does the movie need her to be better? Nah. She’s a good foil, but not too good of one because it’s not about anyone and their nemesis; it’s about people and their… friends, family, country-people? None of the terms really work, but it’s about people who care about one another working together (which makes Jackson’s secret space military organization even weirder since they’re just a bunch of lovable nerds).


The Marvels is a great time.

Also, if you like cats, you’ll have an even better one.

Unless you want the thread resolved, of course. No time for tidying up here, just warping ahead.

Sorry, wrong franchise.

One response to “The Marvels (2023, Nia DaCosta)”

  1. Vernon W

    Nice. Now you went and made me want to see it. Got some spare time since Loki and Doom Patrol are done. Marvel still has a literal legacy a mile long to explore, they just have to figure out how to do it.

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