Format: Alamo Drafthouse
Director: Nia DaCosta
Marvel has been having some issues, of late, with quality and maintaining a fanbase. I'm not sure why having a fanbase for sci-fi/ fantasy stuff means eventually that the absolute worst people on Earth feel like their opinions should dictate what the rest of the planet sees and what constitutes a "good" Marvel, Star Wars or whatever movie. But I suppose it's the same reason that people think they get to tell other people they're the only *real* Americans.
I don't want to define the film Captain Marvel or TV show Ms. Marvel by the audience that manages to mix misogyny and racism into rocket fuel for social media, but I will say - in the event of this year's strike by SAG-AFTRA, it's been tough to get much in the way of promotion out there for The Marvels other than dropping trailers, and that's left a gap in the conversation those folks have filled. It's more likely we'll see the occasional hit-piece by a major industry publication looking for clicks than Disney doing anything worthwhile to actually promote the film on their own. We coulda really used the lead cast hitting Hot Ones and Good Morning America.
Look, I agree: Marvel has put out too much content since Endgame, and that's had a deleterious effect on the overall quality of the material. Even I have been asking "will this be necessary?" as I hear about each new Marvel thing still in the pipeline. And sometimes you're watching, say, Loki Season 2, and you're thinking "I literally do not care what happens here" because something like "oh noes, the timelines will all collapse" is both meaningless, up it's own ass of the story being about itself, and insanely old hat to us aging comic nerds who've seen timelines and multiverses collapse and expand over and over for our *entire lives*. And, yes, Superman will still get printed every month.
Movie superheroes still have to have an antagonist, and they still have to wind up in a big crescendo of a finale, but we've seen this dozens of times in the past fifteen years. You can polish it, put a new coat of paint on it, but eventually it's someone in a slugfest with their evil opposite who has the advantage on paper (but not the heart of a hero).
So what you have left is what you can do with characters.
And that brings us to The Marvels (2023), Marvel Studios' latest offering.
The movie has mediocre reviews and is tracking to open badly. I haven't read the reviews, because (a) I already had tickets and was going, and (b) I kinda wanted to write this before I saw what Chris Spectacles of the Akron Observer thought of the film.* And I didn't want this review to be me addressing the concerns of reviewers.
I saw it in a 2/3rds full theater on opening night, and with not a child in sight. I will say the following up top:
First - there's no post-post-credits sequence to wait for. Go home after the first couple of them. This is not a trick.
Second - Before watching this, yes, you will have to have seen Captain Marvel. You should see Ms. Marvel. You will want to just skip Secret Invasion, which this movie pretends didn't happen, and that's fine, because that show was quite bad and more confused the MCU than helped it along.
The Marvels (2023) is not going to change the world. This is also not going to "save" Marvel Studios, if, indeed, Marvel Studios needs saving, or the *idea* of saving the studio that means anything at all.
What I'll argue the movie does is provide a fun time at the movies with characters that are a good hang for the movie's speedy, non-stop runtime. If Guardians of the Galaxy taught Marvel that what you need is a mix of action, comedy, space and family issues, this movie is absolutely a product of that line of thinking. The Marvels isn't trying to copy Guardians (despite the fact the villain is a version of Ronan who is a mean lady instead of a mean man), but clearly those items were on a whiteboard somewhere while this movie was getting sorted out.
The movie knows that the villain's plot is going to fail, and knows we, the audience, are just following the beats on that score. And so it does the unthinkable of late for Marvel: it uses the plot as an excuse to tell a three-sided story with three solid characters thrust together an inextricably linked, thereby creating a movie that's character driven. The problems it addresses are personal in nature as much, or more!, than the need to stop Kree Hammer Lady.**
We catch up with the MCU as Kamala Kahn has settled a bit into her role as teen-hero, Ms. Marvel. She's still very much a kid living with her family (Marvel understands when they've struck character gold). Meanwhile Carol is in deep space, living with Goose and part of a network of folks helping keep peace across the galaxy, one supposes. And, working aboard SABRE's orbital base, Monica Rambeau (I think last seen in WandaVision) is putting her powers to some use and being a scientist/ astronaut type.
But it seems since we checked in during the 1990's, the Kree had a civil war that somehow: (a) messed up their sun? (b) evaporated their oceans and (c) ruined their atmosphere, creating a permanent state of planet-wide nightfall. Not-Ronan has taken up the mantle and is trying to restore Hala, the Kree homeworld in a very Kree way - by murdering people. She's obtained the second Quantum Band (Kamala having the first one we'd seen - there are two) and she's using it to open worm holes to...
Look, the plot is the villainous plot from Spaceballs, and our villain is MegaMaid. There's really no way around it. It's not what *I* would have done as a writer, but Spaceballs was also 40 years ago, so... we may have to let this one go. What's important is that MegaMaid is targeting planets in which Carol Danvers has an emotional investment and stealing their water, air and sun, and that's personal and mean. But why? Well, thereby hangs a tale.
But, like I say, it kind of doesn't matter. She could be unleashing cooties on those planets. She exists so our heroes get together and figure out their personal stuff. And that's what the movie is about.
Monica has to figure out what it means that Carol didn't come back for Monica when Maria fell ill, both the why's and the impact. Kamala has a parasocial relationship with Carol that Carol feels she has to live up to, even as it inspires Kamala and Carol doesn't feel at all like that hero. But Kamala's hero-worship is kind of the unspoken opposite of how Monica has reacted to learning she has powers of her own. And Kamala and Monica are complete strangers, navigating knowing each other while also seeing each other's relationship with Carol. It's complicated stuff! You could have made a similar indie movie about a movie star, her old friend and a fan, and gotten much of the same effect.
But this one is in space, action-packed (I mean VERY action packed) and manages to balance the sincere moments with the incredibly silly moments with the pathos of inadvertently causing the self-immolation of Space Nazis. And, in my opinion, it all worked.
I liked the singing planet (but they did need to hold to the concept through the battle), I liked the kitten Flerkens and the absolute chaos of the evacuation scene. I liked Kamala's family dealing with the nonsense of superhero/ SABRE life. I liked the kooky three-way fights and the "we gotta synch up" montage. The fight sequences are very well choreographed and work well despite what absolutely should have been a lot of confusion for the audience - ironically, only the audience is in a position to get what's happening. And I very much liked that our heroes *tried* to reason with the mad despot once it was clear they had the upper-hand and offer a way out of this.
In general, I was already in the bag for Brie Larson's take on Carol, and it's interesting to see a version 30 years older and with a lot of new, self-inflicted baggage. Iman Vellani's Kamala Kahn is an absolute delight and can't wait to see her again. And Teyonah Parris is
very pretty great as my first Captain Marvel, and with decades of baggage to sort through with Carol, the blip, super-powers and how to be a superhero, which, frankly, she doesn't want to be.
- So - did the singing planet die? I have no idea what happened there. It would be nice to know. It seemed like everyone was going to die, and no one seems to care.
- They basically borrowed the ending of All Star Superman, but didn't do it as well or with much emotional resonance, which is a real bummer. Now DC can't use it, and this didn't land as well as it could have for Carol. Felt like it needed a few more beats.
- We gotta find more interesting ways to dress aliens. Bright robes are very 1990's ST:TNG and it keeps happening at Marvel
- Space is boring in this movie. Marvel space was defined by James Gunn, and it is beautiful. Show that candy colored majesty, not ST:TNG white stars (the new Trek knows this). There's definitely some more creative design they could have done, but maybe less is more if Quantumania was any indicator
- Carol sure is good at astro-navigation and everything is apparently cosmically nextdoor in the MCU
- I don't understand how the heroes became disentangled
- Kamala uses her powers without her bangle, and I didn't know that was a thing
- It was fun seeing Valkyrie again, and good use of the character in her current role. Also, sure felt like she and Carol knew each other pretty intimately... Close to making that happen as Marvel will get, I guess
- I don't know who Park Seo-joon is, but he was swoony. I guess he's a big star? Probably make the kids very happy
- The first post credits scene was met with audible joy from the audience, so here's hoping that works.
- The second post credits scene received an involuntary verbal response from me and a few others in the theater. I like where they're going with this. X-Men will not work in the MCU, but as close-universe neighbors, seems like a fine idea. Also, thank goodness that isn't the last we'll see of Lashana Lynch
- I was led to believe Richard Ryder/ Nova would appear, he does not.
- (late edit: this movie has the single greatest needle drop in Marvel history)
I don't think this one landed for me exactly as hard as the origins of either Ms. or Captain Marvel, but if the requirement was "I would like to spend time with these people, and see them together in a fun way" this managed that. It feels unnecessary only in that it only barely strives to move a universe of stories forward and is, instead, self-contained and about these three people and their family/ friends. It is very necessary as a "we should have solo stories that advance the characters but not carry the universe forward in obvious and awkward ways" sort of way.
Would I watch four more of these? Yes.
And thank god they got Nick Fury into a place where it's not a drag to have him around.
Look, I don't know what you people want out of Marvel, but I want something fun I can rewatch without feeling like I'm doing homework. I like a good adventure and fight scenes and jokes and characters to enjoy. I suppose I'll check out some reviews, and I think from my laundry list of nits to pick, it's clear I'm not giving this a 5/5, but when all you hear is "underperforming" and "mediocre reviews" in a world with ten movies about Vin Diesel driving cars fast and the general shit people get enthusiastic for, I won't even pretend to know what people consider a win.
*I swear to god, if I see one more person thinking they've got the edgy take on Marvel by saying "I don't consider Marvel movies to be *cinema*... Dude, we get it. You're very special and very smart and you can get your "I'm a very smart person on the internet" cookie on your way out the @#$%ing door
**no one is beholden to remember made-up alien names for longer than the name pass by in the credits