With every new entry that is added to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I find myself becoming more and more disinterested with the franchise as a whole. Like most people, I started noticing a drop-off in quality after Avengers: Endgame, and I have had trouble getting excited for the future of Marvel. Perhaps one of the biggest stumbling blocks for the franchise has been the addition of Marvel's various TV shows into the fold of the MCU. The shows themselves are mediocre for the most part, but it is beginning to feel more necessary to watch them in order to keep up with the franchise's overarching narrative. For some, this isn't that big of a deal, but for those who aren't exactly die-hard fans, it kind of feels like homework to keep up with everything. With the release of their latest film, The Marvels, I didn't have very high hopes going into it. Sure, I liked 2019's Captain Marvel, and I would argue that Wandavision and Ms. Marvel are some of the better TV shows that Marvel has put out. However, I just couldn't get excited about this film. I assumed it was going to be another middling effort from Marvel, but to my surprise, I actually enjoyed it. It's not the best of the MCU, but it is certainly one of the more fun outings the franchise has had in a long time, and has the seeds of what Marvel should be striving toward going forward.
At the film's start, Captain Marvel (Brie Larson) has destroyed the Supreme Intelligence, leading to a civil war amongst the Kree. Dar-Benn (Zawe Ashton) has become the new leader of the Kree, and has opened a jump point in space. This jump point causes Captain Marvel to switch places with Monica Rambeau (Teyonah Parris) and Ms. Marvel (Iman Vellani) everytime one of them uses their powers. The three women must work together to restore order to the time-space continuum, and soon find themselves forming a brand new trio of heroes called The Marvels.
I am always unsure of Marvel's process of choosing directors for their process, as there isn't much about this film that screams Nia DaCosta to me. DaCosta has proven herself to be capable as a filmmaker with her previous features Little Woods and Candyman, but she's not the type that I would have chosen to helm a Marvel movie. Unsurprisingly, her style is largely buried under the typical Marvel trademarks and aesthetics, but I can't help but feel like her touch had a larger impact on the film turning out the way it did. It's clear that DaCosta wanted this film to be lighter and more fun, and she certainly pulls it off. Furthermore, she is able to break away from the bland color grading that most Marvel films have, and the film has little pops of color that help the visual landscape stand out a little more. It helps that the film makes good use of practical locations, and has some decent cinematography to boot. It still has plenty of the standard Marvel look and poor use of green screen, but the visual effects aren't half-bad compared to Marvel's recent output. As is the case with most MCU features, it's unsure how much of the film was studio-mandated and how much is actually DaCosta, but I definitely see pieces of her throughout the entire film. The direction isn't anything spectacular, but its definitely better than I was expecting.
I was surprised that the film, while featuring characters from three separate projects, actually has a more stand-alone feel to its plot. There are some details that might go over the viewer's head if they haven't seen Captain Marvel, Wandavision, or Ms. Marvel, but the bulk of the film is pretty easy to follow whether you've seen them or not. The film forgoes using too much exposition, which brings me to one of the best things about the film: it doesn't overstay its welcome. It boils down the main conflict in a way that doesn't feel too convoluted or boring, and gets to action pretty quickly. It's refreshing to see a Marvel film that feels lean and gets to the point fast, and it helps the film significantly. It comes at the cost of a few dangling plot threads, but the film's narrower focus makes it easily digestible. Its storytelling is closer to what the MCU should be doing more of, which is making more stand-alone projects that focus more on being entertaining as opposed to feeling indebted to telling a larger story across various films and TV shows. The multiverse concept that has been present throughout the post-Endgame projects feels so stale and I have a hard time seeing how it will pay off for the MCU. The interconnected storytelling has lost its appeal over the past few years, and it might be best if Marvel goes back to basics for a while. But Marvel's gonna Marvel, so they will probably keep rolling the multiverse boulder up the hill until it crushes them. But I hope that there will be some restructuring in the franchise eventually, and that future installments will have some of the fun, slightly off-the-wall energy that this film has.
Perhaps my favorite thing about this film is Iman Vellani's performance, as she is dialed into the film's energy so well. Vellani is one of the reasons why I enjoyed Ms. Marvel as much as I did, and she is just as energetic and delightful in this film as she was in the series. Vellani has such a strong personality that leaps off the screen so well, and she is such a great addition to the MCU. Vellani is destined to be a star, and I hope this film will help more people take notice of her. Vellani is also quite good opposite her co-stars, Brie Larson and Teyonah Parris. The dynamic between Vellani and Larson especially is fun, as Vellani's high energy plays off Larson's more tightly wound portrayal of Captain Marvel so well. Larson is good here, but one can't help but feel that she is holding back a bit. Granted, some of that is just the nature of the character, but it feels like she's phoning it in in a few scenes. Teyonah Parris does a good job as well, but her character feels so underdeveloped. The characterization is a bit lacking across all the characters, but Monica is the one that sticks out the most. Parris is a great actor, but the film seems unsure of what do with her, leading her to seem like the odd one out at times. She gets some good moments, especially near the end of the film, but I was left a little cold by her character in this film.
The Marvels isn't exactly top-tier MCU, but I had a lot of fun watching it. It has some of the same issues that recent entries in the franchise have, but it is also such a fast-paced and entertaining movie that feels closer to what I like about Marvel films. It's not enough to completely restore my faith in the franchise, but it at least feels like a step in the right direction. I want to be optimistic that future installments might be similarly lean and enjoyable, but I don't want to get my hopes up. The Marvels may not be anything groundbreaking for the MCU, but it is a fun, unfussy blockbuster that is still better than a fair amount of Marvel's recent efforts.