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The Marvels review: Heart in a sea of cynicism

The Marvels is a strange movie. In a good way. Not only does it come along at a very interesting time in the world of superhero movies (and movies as a whole) but it also acts as a mirror against the entire industry. Dealing with that grandiose meta-commentary, this movie is a fantastic, fun and genuinely heartfelt adventure on its own but these internal struggles may see fewer people giving it a chance.

The current state of superhero movies is in flux right now because the pioneer of the entire interconnected movie universe, Marvel, has been rather aimless since the end of The Infinity Saga. A lack of clear heading on Marvel’s part, combined with outside factors like the pandemic and strikes within the industry has left the MCU much less monolithic than before. A recent deep dive article from Variety also backs up the fact that the discord the audience is seeing on the other side of the screen is definitely caused by trouble at Marvel and parent company Disney.

The Marvels even sits in a rather interesting place amongst all of this. Captain Marvel’s solo movie in 2019 was a money-printing machine because, on top of its own merits, it sat between Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame as a bridge to keep people interested before the aforementioned Infinity Saga could conclude. Now at the end of 2023, The Marvels is released into a barren landscape with what feels like little fanfare for the MCU in general.

We also couldn’t help but think of The Eternals while watching The Marvels and how the two seem like opposites. The Eternals was hyped to death as the next batch of Marvel superheroes and Disney saturated the marketing world with advertising for its next best thing… only for the movie to be largely disliked and quickly swept under the rug.

Even Marvel itself has chosen to ignore this problem child as, two years since its release in November 2021, we haven’t heard a peep from The Eternals characters despite a huge amount of movies and Disney+ shows released since then. We’ve had so many space shots of Earth, even in The Marvels, and that giant Celestial sticking out of the side of the planet hasn’t been seen once.

The Marvels, on the other hand, has seemingly been left out to dry with lacklustre promotion and hype around it, and in comparison to The Eternals, it is a vastly superior movie. Now on the one hand we can’t really blame Disney alone for that because the recently concluded SAG-AFTRA strike prevented this movie from receiving the usual spate of promotion. But on the other hand, the actions of big production companies like Disney are exactly the reason why the strike happened in the first place.

Okay, okay, we have dedicated enough time to the movie industry let’s actually talk about The Marvels.

As the trailers reveal this is a kind of sequel to Captain Marvel’s solo movie with Brie Larson returning as the de facto main character here, but she shares much of the spotlight with Ms. Marvel (Iman Vellani) and Monica Rameau (Teyonah Parris).

This trinity is the heart and soul of the movie and all three really killed it. Each actress brings something unique to the movie both in their performance and the strange ties they have to each other. Now to properly understand those ties you do need to have watched the Captain Marvel movie as well as the WandaVision and Ms. Marvel shows. We usually don’t talk about required MCU watching for Marvel projects but it’s a bit of a different landscape now with Disney+ included in the mix.

For those who did watch Ms. Marvel you may already know just how great Vellani was there and continues to be here. Her enthusiasm for this world is contagious and it is a real payoff to see her finally meet the character she based her superhero identity on.

We can’t talk much more about the performances of the cast without praising the script. Much was said about The Marvels before release as the shortest MCU feature yet at just one hour and 45 minutes. We can only see this as a sign of good editing and willpower to keep the writing as punchy and interesting as possible. As modern movies bloat into longer runtimes and the audience begs for more diligent cuts and better uses of our time, we’re baffled by the apparent backlash at this being a shorter movie.

There were so many jokes that landed incredibly well in our screening of the movie and if you don’t crack up at one or two of these at the very least then we need to ask you how you’re alive without a heart. If you’ve got something against comic movies getting a little too funny and silly sometimes well, we don’t know what to tell you, you’re watching comic movies. There’s also a lot of cosmic comic weirdness that people who actually read comics will appreciate.

The dialogue of the main three and the supporting cast, including the return of Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury, is all incredibly funny too and fun to listen to. The MCU is famous for quips and “so that just happened” eye rolls, but The Marvels feels several steps above the flock in its writing. We got a lot of genuine laughs from this one and that wouldn’t be possible without this tight script and solid performances.

It’s hilarious just how much this movie embarrasses some other MCU entries, especially around Nick Fury. After the truly dreadful, drawn and ultimately pointless Secret Invasion show it’s nice to see Jackson given good material to work with. Some may experience a bit of whiplash between the vastly difference versions of Nick Fury between these two projects but ultimately Secret Invasion should just be forgotten along with The Eternals.

Our one complaint is with the main antagonist in Dar-Benn played by Zawe Ashton. This is another villain that will be truly impossible to remember a week after seeing the movie and this lacklustre part of the otherwise great script really let the movie down.

The plot itself is on the straightforward side but it has so many interesting and enjoyable dalliances that we were looking forward to each new scene and what it had to offer.

Helping all of this along is some solid CGI. Effects have been another sore spot for Marvel and a lot of the movie industry as CGI artists are under constant crunch and low budgets resulting in particularly poor results for everyone. The Marvels strays on the side of being solid even with some rougher scenes and sloppy lighting that makes it very clear we’re looking at a person on a sound stage with the rest of the world digitally built around them.

The score similarly fails to stand up to the high bar set by the great writing and, like Dar-Benn (we bet you forgot the villain’s name even though we mentioned it recently), it acts as another forgettable element of an otherwise memorable movie.

The Marvels isn’t just a movie you will think fondly of in retrospect, but is instead an experience that you enjoy moment to moment. It has been a while since a Marvel movie has delivered this solidly and it only has these poorer elements keeping it from being an instant classic.

No matter your take on all the meta elements we started this review with, in both the MCU and the real world, The Marvels is simply a great movie that we had a joy watching and we think you will have a similarly good time too.

FINAL SCORE: 8 OUT OF 10.

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