THE_MARVELS movie poster | © 2023 Walt Disney Pictures/Marvel Studios

THE_MARVELS movie poster | © 2023 Walt Disney Pictures/Marvel Studios

Rating: PG-13
Stars: Brie Larson, Teyonah Parris, Iman Vellani, Samuel L. Jackson, Zawe Ashton, Gary Lewis, Park Seo-joon, Zenobia Shroff, Mohan Kapur, Saagar Shaikh
Writers: Nia DaCosta and Megan McDonnell and Elissa Karasik, based on the Marvel Comics
Director: Nia DaCosta
Distributor: Walt Disney Pictures/Marvel Studios
Release Date: November 10, 2023

THE MARVELS, the latest feature film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, isn’t marvelous, but it’s agreeable. It feels a lot like spending time with old and new friends, if you all had to save the universe. That’s okay, you’ve all done it before.

While not strictly necessary, it is probably helpful to have seen the previous MCU features AVENGERS: ENDGAME (2019), which properly introduces Captain Marvel (Brie Larson), and CAPTAIN MARVEL (also 2019), which explains her story in more detail.

It’s also recommended to have seen the Disney+/Marvel miniseries MS. MARVEL, which gives us the story up until now of young Jersey City high schooler Kamala Khan (Iman Vellani), and maybe even WANDAVISION (2021), which shows how Monica Rambeau acquired her superpowers.

If that sounds like a lot of homework, THE MARVELS fills us in as it goes. For the short version, Carol Danvers was once a U.S. Air Force pilot who lived with the Kree non-Earth race and wound up with major superpowers. Her best friend in the Air Force was fellow pilot Maria Rambeau (Lashana Lynch), whose daughter Monica (Teyonah Parris) considered Carol to be her aunt.

Monica disappeared during “the Blip,” and Maria died of cancer while she was gone. When Monica returned, she wound up working for one of the federal agencies that tracks superheroes. Trying to help Wanda Maximoff/the Scarlet Witch, Monica got cosmically zapped.

Although Kamala thought she was ordinary, it turns out that she is a descendant of interdimensional djinn, and a bangle sent by her grandmother helped unlock her superpowers. She is also a massive fan of Captain Marvel.

THE MARVELS literally begins where MS. MARVEL ends, with a baffled Carol crashing through Kamala’s bedroom closet door. After a lot of unintentional location-switching among Carol, Kamala and Monica, they finally all wind up in the same place at the same time.

They deduce (and explain to us) that they are linked by the nature of their powers. Carol once more must save the Skrull from the Kree, and the Kree from each other, and the universe from the potential fallout. Kamala and Monica are caught up in the quest by now anyway, and are going to stand by Carol no matter what.

Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), technically Monica’s boss, is back to provide extra MCU glue. Kamala’s parents (Zenobia Shroff, Mohan Kapur), Pakistani immigrants to the U.S., want to support their daughter even though they are completely bewildered by all the alien goings-on; Kamala’s hipster older brother Aamir (Saagar Shaikh) knows a bit more about what’s happening, though he’s impressed by it all. We also get the return of Goose the Flerkin. (A Flerkin is an alien that looks like a cat; many people who live with cats know that this is what cats are really like.)

THE MARVELS has a little something for everyone, ranging from well-thought-out consequences to refugee tragedy to broad comedy to even a little Bollywood. This last may be a little too goofy for some – it feels a little like the Zeus section from THOR: LOVE AND THUNDER – but it’s fairly contained and at least gets some context.

Director Nia DaCosta, who was one of the screenwriters, along with Megan McDonnell and Elissa Karasik, has a light, frisky touch. There’s a sense of joy here. Our heroes aren’t motivated by dead planets or dead parents, but rather an innate spirit of helpfulness. They also simply enjoy each other. The camaraderie feels effortless, in its writing, staging, and performance.

Zawe Ashton has conviction as the Kree leader who is determined to save her people even if it kills her and everybody else. Jackson modulates Fury’s tone well, and there are some pleasing cameos.

There are also two mid-end-credits sequences. The second of these suggests a direction that Marvel may go with an entire sub-franchise, so by all means, watch them.

THE MARVELS doesn’t have any one big, breakthrough moment, but it zips by and actually feels good.

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