The Marvels Review: Star Trekkin’ Across the Universe

Good news, everyone! Marvel Studios head Kevin Feige finally seems over his Rick and Morty obsession, and judging by The Marvels, has moved on to Star Trek. That’s a good thing — The Marvels could very easily be an extended episode of Strange New Worlds or even Lower Decks (Kamala Khan is, at times, like a far less destructive version of Mariner). The notion that it requires homework is misguided at best — every essential scene from Captain Marvel or WandaVision gets recapped here as needed, and Secret Invasion might as well never have happened.

You Gotta Be Kitten

Light on Multiverse shenanigans, The Marvels hews to a simple formula — take characters we know and like, put them in a high-concept situation, shake, stir, and enjoy. And add space kittens — it’d be unfair to spoil their best moment, but viewers with any affinity at all for our furry feline friends are going to “D’awwww!” themselves to death. Even shots as simple as Goose the cat-like Flerken sitting on the shoulder of Carol Danvers (Brie Larson) as she flies, head into the wind just like his mistress, is a wish-fulfillment fantasy for so many cat owners who wish theirs would stay that still.

Flerkittens in Marvel Studios’ THE MARVELS. Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios. © 2023 MARVEL.

But enough about the cats, not that we can ever get enough of cats if the rest of the Internet is anything to go by. The Marvels plays primarily as a Captain Marvel sequel with Kamala “Ms. Marvel” Khan (Iman Vellani) as a special guest star. It pulls a bit of an Alien: Covenant, having tied up the last movie’s loose ends off-camera before the new one starts, but deals with consequences, blowback, and precisely why Captain Marvel left the planet for so long.

Brace Yourselves

The primary MacGuffin, however, is the missing power-up bracelet that matches Kamala’s, discovered on a desolate moon by villain Dar-Benn (Zawe Ashton), who appears to be the direct successor to Ronan the Accuser, but if you don’t remember who that is, don’t worry about it. Basically, she’s an up-and-coming leader of the Kree who wields a powered-up hammer that’s like an evil version of Thor’s. And she has a major grudge against Carol due to all that stuff that happened off-camera. Don’t worry: it gets explained eventually, just like the fact that Carol has nigh-unlimited power that she barely uses a fraction of in fights.

Brie Larson as Captain Marvel/Carol Danvers in Marvel Studios’ THE MARVELS. Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios. © 2023 MARVEL.

For reasons that don’t matter, Carol, Kamala, and Monica Rambeau (Teyonah Parris) start switching places every time they use their light-based powers at the same time. Wacky and dangerous physical shtick ensues, especially when they all find themselves in different super-fights at the same time and keep popping in and out. It’s all something to do with Dar-Benn tearing open portals in space and time and leaving them open, a tactic compared to fracking on a cosmic scale. Meanwhile, on his shiny new space station, Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson, finally having fun again) has to try to make sense of it all.

Tri Harder

To keep themselves all in the same general area, Carol, Monica, and Kamala need to team up, a prospect that’s Kamala’s dream and Monica’s nightmare. The latter still has issues with her “aunt” Carol leaving for outer space and not returning until after Monica’s mother Maria died from cancer.

Iman Vellani as Ms. Marvel/Kamala Khan in Marvel Studios’ THE MARVELS. Photo by Laura Radford. © 2023 MARVEL.

Kamala’s introductory scenes feature the same energy and animated drawings as her TV show, and serve as an immediate, welcome reminder of how infectious Vellani’s enthusiasm for the role is. When she and Carol finally interact, it suddenly clicks as to why teen superhero sidekicks used to be all the rage in comics. So many teens would want to be superheroes, and actual heroes make great mentors. Adam West and Frank Miller camped up the notion of such a relationship on both extremes; seeing a legit bond of that sort played real feels fresh and new. It helps that Vellani is a very natural actor, while Larson carries herself like a movie star; it’s no stretch to imagine they interact this way in real life.

Look Alive

The story doesn’t necessarily make a whole lot of sense, and at times the villain’s plan resembles that of President Skroob in Spaceballs. It gets by, however, on the leads’ charms. While a vocal section of fandom has decided they hate Larson in real life, there’s no denying that onscreen, she carries herself like a semi-relatable demigod, as movie stars always used to do. Vellani is every fan unleashed into a real universe of powers, while Parris, stuck being the serious one, makes a great foil for both. Ashton’s not the best villain — she looks like she’s about to go into convulsions half the time — but she plays Dar-Benn for legitimate heel heat. By the time the heroes finally seem ready to give her a righteous beating, you really want to see it.

(Center, L-R): Zawe Ashton as Dar-Benn and Daniel Ings as Ty-Rone in Marvel Studios’ THE MARVELS. Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios. © 2023 MARVEL.

Director-cowriter Nia DaCosta (appropriately part of a writing trio with Loki’s Elissa Karasik and WandaVision’s Megan McDonnell) adds some positive injections of estrogen into the MCU formula. These three leads talk about their feelings with all the right buzzwords, and rather than bonding with a clothes-trying-on montage, the movie substitutes a similar sequence in which they practice teleportation-switching while jumping rope, doing balance exercises, and so forth. DaCosta even comes up with a clever way to insert a diegetic musical/dance number that serves the plot, which both plays to Kamala’s strengths and allows Larson to glam it up, all while Parris again gamely plays the butt of jokes. (Old-school comics fans may be upset that she rejects an offering of arm capes for her costume.)

High Purr-aise

Did we mention the kittens? Because kittens. An unannounced cameo got spoiled in the most recent trailer, but fear not if you saw it, as it’s tangential to the plot at best. Only the obligatory end teases are concerned with larger MCU connectivity, and they at least seem to finally be building towards something. Otherwise, The Marvels mostly stays self-contained, an odd-throuple in a crisis-du-jour adventure. Some scenes do feel confined to soundstages, but there are enough wide shots of the space station and alien planets to ensure this feels like a movie, unconstrained by TV budgetary limits.

Teyonah Parris as Captain Monica Rambeau in Marvel Studios’ THE MARVELS. Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios. © 2023 MARVEL.

If you liked Captain Marvel or Ms. Marvel, there’s a very good chance you’ll enjoy this too. If you didn’t like either, there’s a strong likelihood you hate fun. Which The Marvels definitely is.

Grade: 3.5/5

The Marvels opens in theaters Friday, November 10.