The Marvels review: too lightweight

Joyous but lacking in substance.

Akhil Arora, a member of the Film Critics Guild and a Rotten Tomatoes-certified film critic with over eight years of experience

Iman Vellani, Brie Larson, and Teyonah Parris in The Marvels
Iman Vellani as Kamala Khan, Brie Larson as Carol Danvers, and Teyonah Parris as Monica Rambeau in The Marvels // Photo: Laura Radford/Marvel Studios

The Marvels—the new Marvel movie, out now in cinemas—has the responsibility to tie together three separate storylines featuring three separate superheroes. One, it must serve as a sequel to the 2019 original, Captain Marvel, and continue the tale of Carol Danvers (Brie Larson). It must contend with Monica Rambeau (Teyonah Parris), the lieutenant-trouble kid in that ’90s-set film who has grown up and gained powers of her own, as we saw on the Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany-led miniseries WandaVision. And finally, it must bring into the fold Kamala Khan (Iman Vellani) from her own miniseries Ms. Marvel, what with Carol crashing into her bedroom at the end of that show. On the surface, that’s a lot of heavy lifting.

The Marvels ends up in Thor: Love and Thunder territory

But what we’re actually treated to onscreen for 105 minutes—including credits, making The Marvels the shortest Marvel Cinematic Universe of all time—feels like it’s actively avoiding most responsibilities. Despite its galactic scale and life-threatening scope, The Marvels operates as a lightweight, small cosmic adventure that can’t help but feel like a stepping stone to nothing. Sure, there’s spurts of enjoyable banter between this new trio—Kamala is naturally in awe of the woman she was drawing on paper until yesterday, and she can’t stop herself from coming up with superhero names for Monica—but there’s alarmingly little dramatic material to make it a substantial film.

On top of that, The Marvels—directed by Nia DaCosta (Little Woods) off a script she co-wrote with Megan McDonnell (WandaVision) and Elissa Karasik (Loki)—stumbles heavily in the last third. Having bothered to create no room for meaningful narrative work, the new Marvel movie finds itself in fluffy territory, with one-liners and comedic sideshows becoming the centrepiece attraction as there’s virtually nothing else to focus on. It’s almost as if there isn’t a third act at all in the film, what with characters reduced to watching around at times.

The short runtime is welcome on the one hand, given there’s no bloat here as was the case on Black Panther: Wakanda Forever and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, but The Marvels unfortunately ends up in Thor: Love and Thunder territory because of its aimlessness.

The Marvels plot: justice and entanglement

Just as she promised at the end of Captain Marvel, Carol Danvers returned to Hala—the Kree home planet—and ended the Supreme Intelligence, their AI ruler. She thought she was doing the right thing, but in reality, that led to the downfall of Hala. A civil war ensued and made the planet close to uninhabitable, with the air poisoned and the water gone. And oh, their sun stopped too. In response, Kree warrior turned leader Dar-Benn (Zawe Ashton, from Fresh Meat) has scoured the universe for a Quantum Band—that’s the new name for the bangle worn by Kamala—with which she hopes to restore life to Hala. But as a result of her actions and our protagonist trio’s curiosities, something unexpected happens too.

Carol, Monica, and Kamala’s powers are interlinked, which causes them to physically switch places with each other every time they use them. This explains what we saw at the end of Ms. Marvel and leads to all manners of hilarity in the opening half hour of The Marvels. It also becomes a smart way to bring their disparate worlds together, what with Kamala in Jersey City, Monica up in space with Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), and Carol off on her own with the cat-who’s-not-a-cat Goose somewhere in the universe. After they figure out what’s happening, they set out to put an end to Dar-Benn’s schemes, which at times involve fun distractions like a planet where Carol is adored more than usual.

Benefits from the inherent comedy

Along the way, The Marvels benefits from the inherent comedy in mixing its disparate worlds. Kamala’s eagerness, on par or even more so than Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Tom Holland) in Captain America: Civil War and Spider-Man: Homecoming, and fangirling over Carol really boosts the film. Kamala’s family—mother Muneeba (Zenobia Shroff), father Yusuf (Mohan Kapur), and brother Aamir (Saagar Shaikh), all of whom return from Ms. Marvel—also add to the hilarity, especially when they are paired with someone like Fury. Speaking of Fury, Jackson has more of an extended cameo role, honestly.

Samuel L. Jackson in The Marvels
Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury in The Marvels // Photo: Laura Radford/Marvel Studios

Vellani is a delight on The Marvels, given how much fun she’s allowed to have. Parris feels the most muted of the three, and Ashton simply doesn’t have enough screen time to feel like a meaningful presence. Larson plays Carol with a bit of extra aloofness—she’s clearly spent too much time as a lone wolf and avoided Monica for the better part of three decades. The two must contend with that past, with the forced proximity of their entanglement pushing Carol to learn to operate as a team and listen to others. Normally, Carol would be happy to bench Kamala, given her age and relative inexperience, but here, she doesn’t have much of a choice. Sadly, The Marvels is unable to really build on these messages in an effective fashion.

The Marvels simply doesn’t offer enough

If the new Marvel movie is about anything, it’s that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. That’s exactly what Carol got in a fix with Hala. To the everyday Kree, who had little investment in the tyrannical vision of their overlords, Carol is essentially a villain. No wonder they refer to her as the Annihilator. But whereas a stronger film like Black Panther knew how to communicate the guilt that its hero felt and the pains of doing the right thing, The Marvels simply doesn’t offer enough.

With little investment in the building blocks in front of it and a surface-level approach to anything of import, the sequel to Captain Marvel is ultimately a disappointment. Just as the original was, albeit for different reasons. It’s refreshing to see a female-led film—the heroic trio, the villain, and just the third MCU film (out of 33) to be solely directed by a woman—and it promises an even bigger female team-up in the future. But what we’ve right now is anything but marvellous.

The Marvels released November 10 in cinemas worldwide.

Akhil Arora