When it seems you have lost your way, sometimes you must return to basics and follow the formula that won your collective hearts and minds in the first place. There have been stories around the communal campfire that Marvel as an entity has lost some heat off its fastball. The sheer expectations after Avengers: Endgame and the onslaught of projects a la Secret Invasion would give some credence to those thoughts. Earlier in the year, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 was released as the swan song for much of the creative and acting forces behind the enduring band misfit heroes.
The central hub was the emotional backstory of a character like Rocket Raccoon and how it tied into the High Evolutionary. From there, other things like the contention between Star-Lord and the variant Gamora flourished because you have already established a familiarity with all those characters. The Marvels has a similar approach that might feel akin to the early Marvel Cinematic Universe films – in which you will have strong main characters and a slightly weaker antagonist with a gripe reminiscent of previous villains within the other projects. No matter how messy it can get, it ultimately sticks the landing because the personalities accomplish the overall goal of making you care.
Director Nia DaCosta begins the film with a broad overview to catch us up to speed. Kamala Khan (Iman Vellani) is still doodling while admiring Captain Marvel (Brie Larson) in Jersey City. Carol Danvers (Larson) is off in space trying to regain her memories from the first film and still has trouble working together with people. Monica Rambeau (Teyonah Parris), complete with her power set from WandaVision, is working with Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) at the SABER space station. That’s all the homework you need to know before being propelled into the main conflict.
Dar-Benn (Zawe Ashton) is a survivor of the Kree civil war and is highly perturbed that the Kree home planet, Hala, is dying from a lack of natural resources. Carol is entangled in that mess because she destroyed a supreme intelligence AI that kept the place running. Dar-Benn is on the warpath to restore hope to her planet – looking for any means of magic or totems to make it so. Through an extreme mode of circumstance, the powers of our three heroes become linked, and they have to work together to destroy this looming threat.
The co-writing team of DaCosta, Megan McDonnell, and Elissa Karasik recognizes early why the audience will wrap around this story – even if some elements fall by the wayside. The team of Larson, Vellani, and Parris are delightful once they come together and are a team for a good portion of The Marvels. Kamala has that sense of wonder and unbridled fandom about her, and the family aspect from Ms. Marvel still finds room to be an anchor. Even though there appear to be some world-changing ramifications, Kamala still has time to geek out that she’s with the person she’s always looked up to. Monica has come into her own, and there’s a little tension between her and Carol – which stems from previous events.
All of this combines to give not only the three leads an entire arch, but allows Larson to elevate past the “personality” criticisms of Captain Marvel. Carol is probably the most powerful superhero in the galaxy, but she still has to deal with regrets about her actions and the fact that she’s somewhat of a lone wolf. It’s the scenarios she finds herself in, complete with planets with people who sing, Kamala’s reaction to her, and who Monica has grown up to be, where everything comes full circle. The action sequences tie into this kinship with quick cuts and good special effects.
While The Marvels excels on the comedic front, the shakes may not feel as heavy as they should – especially considering Dar-Benn’s actions. Her message is like Thanos and Killmonger, where she would instead burn everything down for the greater good of a few. In previous Marvel installments, this is neither honorable nor a courageous mode of rationale – yet people still subscribe to it in their own way. A lot of destruction in the film is negated because of the lighthearted tone it’s intended to serve. At certain times, characters stop to contemplate a cataclysmic event, and there’s almost an invisible clock to get things moving again.
Is this a monumental Marvel entry? No, and I don't feel that many people would say it is. Perhaps some of the issues in the totality of the MCU and fitting into a particular mode of storytelling are still present. However, The Marvels excites you to see the main characters again first and where the overall “phase” is going as the cherry on top. I feel the MCU has lost some of that in the turnover but has regained some of that luster with the three they showcase here.