Despite the notable lack of PR blitz around its release, The Marvels is easily the MCU film I’ve most looked forward to this year. Three excellent characters getting tied together for a space-bound team-up that brings wider audiences in contact with the effervescent Kamala Khan (Iman Vellani)? Yes, please.
[Minor spoilers for The Marvels]
We’re thrown into the action as Supremor Dar-Benn (Zawe Ashton) gets her hands on the twin to the bangle that belongs to Kamala. She wants the pair in order to enact terrible revenge and restore her people; the Kree have not been doing well since Carol Danvers (Brie Larson) came back to Hala and destroyed the Supreme Intelligence following the events of the first Captain Marvel film. But their activities clue Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) in on something fishy, so he sends Carol to check on it. At another sight, Monica Rambeau (Teyonah Parris) is also looking in to some anomalies around jump points in space, and when Monica touches the thing, something funky goes down—every time Monica, Carol, or Kamala (who’s at home in Jersey trying to avoid doing homework in favor of day-dreaming about meeting her hero, Captain Marvel) use their powers simultaneously, they swap places.
This causes a lot of fighting in space to drop right into the Khans’ living room as mother Muneeba (Zenobia Shroff), father Yusuf (Mohan Kapur), and brother Aamir (Saagar Shaikh) are forced to defend their house from Kree soldiers who accidentally zap over with superwomen they’ve never met before. Fury rightly decides that he’s going to need to bring the whole family in on this in order to secure Kamala’s participation in whatever is going on right now. Monica is less than thrilled because she hasn’t seen Carol since her aunt departed from space since she was a child, and is understandably pretty hurt about that.
The dynamic between Danvers, Rambeau, and Khan once they are united make the film an absolute joy to watch all the way down, allowing for heartfelt conversations, Kamala fan-girling all over the place and having to remember that heroes are people, and a dazzling team of women learning how to support one another in the midst of a fraught race against the clock. The montage where the group take time to learn how to swap places effectively is easily one of the best training montages a superhero film has put out, complete with juggling and endless rounds of double-dutch.
The only problem with this setup is one increasingly common to Marvel films these days: Dar-Benn’s rage is entirely warranted, and the film has to go to ridiculous lengths to cartoon-up her villainy in order to prevent the audience from sympathizing with her. (They succeed, which is an even greater shame, as amusing as it is to watch Ashton—who is engaged to Loki actor Tom Hiddleston—also getting to shout “Kneel!” at the masses and wield a hammer of her own.) It turns out that when Carol stopped the Supreme Intelligence from running Kree society, there was no backup, aid, or reconstruction plan—she simply pulled the plug and left. As a result, their homeworld of Hala is in shambles, and no attempt at deprogramming an entire culture run on misinformation and fear has been attempted. The Kree refer to Carol simply as “The Annihilator,” and there is nothing to suggest that she doesn’t live up to that moniker from their perspective.
The film seems to be gesturing at a commentary around the problem of destroying bad systems when there is nothing planned to take their place (and interestingly, Loki’s second season also made a point of circling this thought, albeit with far more actual conversation between characters), but we’re at a very pointed deficit here—because Carol hasn’t had a film since 2019, and has only shown up in the MCU to make glorified cameos otherwise. Through no fault of its own, The Marvels makes it very hard to sympathize with its central hero because the MCU hasn’t let us get to know her half so well as her male counterparts. If the studio were showing Thor or Iron Man levels of investment, we would feel more for Carol at the reveal that she’s become an entire culture’s boogie man and has been trying (and failing) to make up for it ever since. But the lack of check-ins all this time makes her out to be as distant as Monica has felt since Aunt Carol left.
We get plenty of reprieves despite that significant error on Marvel Studios’ part, most of them revolving around Kamala and her family. The choice to put said family front and center, hanging out with Nick Fury and making things awkward for him on the S.A.B.E.R. station because they’re civilians and he’s just deputized their teenaged daughter, is a setup for comedy gold that never fails. It’s worth noting that the film puts in a few very deliberate nods to the family’s Muslim faith with a clear aim to fight social stigma—toward the end of the film, Kamala’s brother begins to pray during a rough ride in space, Fury asks if that’s indeed what he’s doing, and when Aamir asks if he should stop, Fury tells him no because they need all the help they can get. He then proceeds to throw his own “Amen!” on top of it. The whole thing is charming as all get-out.
When the film leans on fun, everything seems right in the MCU, and it thankfully aims for that more often than not. There’s the aforementioned montage, Kamala’s fan-fiction and Monica’s awareness that the kid definitely writes it, a surprise solution with Goose and an army of flerken kittens, and even a trip to a world called Aladna… where people can only understand you if your words are strung on a melody, and Carol turns out to have a secret husband (played to unperturbed perfection by Park Seo-joon, and seriously where is the movie where that marriage went down, come on).
The Aladna sequence is one of the best in the film, and only provides me with another more minor complaint—commit to the bit, Marvel. Once the denizens of the planet are revealed to sing instead of speak, I was so ready for a half-hour musical. It’s disappointing to only get a fun taste and then rocket away for another fight. In many ways, the whiplash can’t help but feel like tension between the creatives and the studio, like someone is standing over the production, tapping folks on the shoulder and pointing at their watch—we should be in battle by now.
Fine! Where’s my singing battle sequence? Commit.
Having said that, this film also contains the only legal use of the “Memory” from the musical Cats. And no, I don’t mean the term to denote literal legality, I mean legal as in, it gets my rabid stamp of approval because it is the only time in history when the song’s use has been warranted, well-executed, and so funny that I almost bruised a rib laughing. All other uses of the song should be banned, including its use in the musical itself. I suppose that would spoil the joke, however, so I guess I’ll have to allow for the continued use of the song elsewhere.
Hiccups aside, The Marvels is a delightful journey that’s high on laughs, space-faring adventure, and three women who deserve a lot more attention from the MCU. Is it also nice to watch Nick Fury get to have some fun after the absolute slog of Secret Invasion? You bet. Am I upset that no one ever mentions what is going to be done to fix up the Khans’ home after that alien attack? Extremely. (I know it’ll all get fixed up off-screen, but collateral damage! It’s never addressed in a way that’s meaningful. Having your home destroyed in a sudden blitz that you never knew to prepare for is traumatizing!) All of this to say, get to the theater and enjoy, because they don’t make enough of them like this.
Emmet Asher-Perrin really demands an extended musical section. You can bug them on Twitter and Bluesky, and read more of their work here and elsewhere.