erik lundegaard

Wednesday May 15, 2024

Movie Review: The Marvels (2023)


Trying to explain the box-office disaster of last November’s “The Marvels” before I saw it, I suggested that one of its problems—along with superhero saturation, audience misogyny, and just not being very good—may be Captain Marvel’s personality problem. In that she doesn’t have one. “You need a thread, and you need personality, and you need to give us a reason to go out into the November weather,” I wrote. “And I don’t know if ‘The Marvels’ had any of that.”

Turns out it did. Iman Vellani’s Kamala Khan, the Pakistani-American superhero-worshipping teen turned superhero, first depicted in the Disney+ TV series “Ms. Marvel,” is loaded with personality. Maybe too much of it? She bubbles, and sometimes bubbles over. But I’ll take it. Beats flat.

She’s the gee-whiz fun of the movie. She’s us: the regular person in the realm of the gods.

Both Captain Marvel (Brie Larson) and Monica Rambeau (Teyonah Parris) keep acting like they’ve been there before. Which they have. Which we all have. 

Am I getting too old for this shit? In the first scene, on a barren moonlike landscape, as an obelisk is lifted from the depths of a crater and then smashed open with a Thor-like hammer, I thought Dar-Benn, the hammer-wielding Kree leader with the Romulan shoulder-pads, was Emilia Clarke of “Game of Thrones.” Meanwhile her right-hand man looked a bit like Tom Sizemore with eyeliner and a man-bun. “But,” I said to myself, “Tom Sizemore’s dead, right?” Right. Or would be if this were him. It wasn’t Clarke, either, but Zawe Ashton. All of which makes me feel like the play-by-play man who keeps calling the son by the father’s name. Do I even know what decade it is?

Dar-Benn is basically antiquing. From the smashed obelisk, she culls a cool bracelet that glows purple when she snaps it onto her forearm. She’s just missing its companion piece. “It must be buried elsewhere,” shrugs eyeliner Tom Sizemore. “Elsewhere?” says Dar-Benn with a desperate, humorless need. “Like where?”

Cut to: Jersey City, NJ. 

That’s not a bad gag but it soured me immediately on Dar-Benn as a villain. Like where? Hey, I’m new here myself, lady, I don’t have all the answers.

Now we’re introduced—or re-introduced if we’ve seen the TV series (I haven’t)—to Kamala Khan and her success-oriented immigrant family. They’re fun. Kamala is in her room supposedly doing her science homework but actually drawing a rainbow-and-unicorn inflected adventure comic with her hero, Captain Marvel. But then her forearm bracelet begins to glow purple and pow! she’s sucked through her closet door and into a fight with Dar-Benn.

Well, first we flash back to earlier in the day since we haven’t been introduced to our hero yet. Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel is on a space station of some kind, with her cat, having bad dreams and/or memories. On another space station somewhere, Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) contacts her about “the surge in the jump-point system.” What’s the jump-point system? Exactly. I guess they’re like wormholes that cover up plotholes. A space door opens, allowing you to traverse the galaxy quickly. And those metal bracelets? They’re quantum bands that create these jump points. Or something. Does it matter? Enough to know the surge was caused by Dar-Benn, and as both Danvers and Rambeau investigate, and Kamala’s bracelet glows purple, something symbiotic happens and all three switch places: Rambeau winds up on the desolate moon Danvers was investigating, Danvers in Kamala’s closet, and Kamala in Rambeau’s spacesuit pinwheeling through space*.

* Why do they trade accoutrements like the space suit but not clothes? Isn’t a space suit clothes?

We get a good early fight scene where they battle the Kree in three different spots—including the Kahn living room—and every time they power up they switch places and havoc ensues. And eventually we get the longer backstory that explains both Danvers’ dreams and Dar-Benn’s M.O. Apparently, 30 years ago, Danvers destroyed the A.I. that controlled the Kree Empire (was that in the first movie? I’ve already forgotten) and it led to 30 years of civil war which rendered the Kree planet, Hala, uninhabitable. That’s why Dar-Benn is now stealing air from the new Skrull home planet (rendering them refugees again), water from Aladna (Bollywood by way of a transgender Land of Oz), and eventually the sun from Earth. 

Dar-Benn is targeting each of these planets because each means something to Danvers and she wants vengies. The Kree blame Danvers for everything that’s happened to them, just as the Skrulls blame Danvers for being forced into exile again, just as Rambeau blames Danvers for not returning to Earth sooner. “You said you’d be back before I knew it,” she complains while world are being destroyed. Danvers takes everyone’s concerns seriously, too. It’s tiring. Not to mention boring. How about one “Get the fuck OFF me” line?

On the other hand, maybe she should blame herself. She set everything in motion but didn’t have the wherewithal or imagination to figure out a solution. It’s up to Rambeau, mid-battle with Dar-Benn, to suggest one. Since Hala’s sun is dormant rather than dead, maybe it just needs a jumpstart; and maybe Danvers could do that with her powers. Danvers looks at her, surprised, worried, pained. “But I’ve never done anything like that before,” she responds.

That’s our hero, ladies and gentlemen.

And guess what? She does all that. In the end, she restores the Hala sun without breaking a sweat. Embarrassing.

Not to be a dick but is there too much female bonding in this thing? Tessa Thompson as Valkyrie shows up mid-movie to give Danvers a hug and the Skrulls a place to land. At the end, Hailee Steinfeld shows up as the daughter of Hawkeye, now a crime-fighter in her own right (via yet another Disney+ TV series), who is recruited by Kamala, who is acting the part of Nick Fury/Phil Coulson and using more famous lines from better movies: “I’m putting together a team,” she says. Our heroes even try to enfold Dar-Benn into their matriarchy; they give her an out and allow themselves to be betrayed. Why not, right? It’s just the Earth’s sun.

Plus the thing they fight against comes to pass and it’s no big deal. Oh no, Dar-Benn can’t get both bracelets! When she does, she just destroys herself. And sure, rips a hole in the space-time continuum or whatever, but this allows Rambeau to do her thing, winding up, in a mid-credits sequence, in a different reality, where her mom (Lashana Lynch) is alive and the Beast (Kelsey Grammar) is her doctor. Do we care? Why should we care?

How much don’t we care? “The Marvels” did the unthinkable in the MCU: It opened at $46 million, topped out at $84 domestic, and disappeared. It couldn’t do what “Spider-Man” did on its opening weekend 20 years ago.

It’s not completely its fault. The MCU has lost its way. These are its recent releases:

May 2022 Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness $187 $411
 July 2022 Thor: Love and Thunder  $144 $343
 Nov. 2022 Black Panther: Wakanda Forever $181 $453
Feb. 2023  Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania $106 $214
May 2023 Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 $118 $358
 Nov. 2023 THE MARVELS $46 $84

“Guardians” wasn’t bad, but what a sad bunch of movies. Fool me 10 times, shame on me.

I’m curious who at Marvel said, back in the early going, “What if we insert scenes in the credits hinting at an ‘Avengers’ movie down the road?” That’s what you need: fun new ideas. To quote Zack Greinke: Do more of that.

Posted at 08:30 AM on Wednesday May 15, 2024 in category Movie Reviews - 2023  
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