The Marvels Adds Togetherness to Its Higher, Further, Faster Mantra

Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios

Four years ago, one of the shared character mantras in Captain Marvel was “higher, further, faster, baby” The 2019 movie lived up to that ambition introducing Brie Larson’s transformed amnesiac fighter pilot Carol Danvers soaring overhead as one of the most powerful and confident heroes in the Marvel Cinematic Universe who could achieve all three of those adjectives and then some. Like a true branded tentpole sequel granted a bigger budget and a little more creative leeway, The Marvels launches itself even greater towards that three-pronged aim.

For better or worse, “higher, further, faster” is exactly what you get with The Marvels. The sequel triples the space-faring swashbuckling beyond Earth, the weird and wacky possibilities of its galactic conundrum, and the character development pace of having three headlining leads. In an attempt to steer all the “higher, further, faster” going on, The Marvels adds “together” to the mantra (and soundtrack) and branches to a new one with “stand tall without standing alone.” The outcome is an electric blast of welcome, pure, and multiplied girl power.

A woman puts forth her powerful fist.
Image courtesy of Marvel Studios

The Marvels picks up right around Larson’s surprise cameo from the season finale of last summer’s Ms. Marvel series on Disney+. In a flash of unexplained happenstance, Carol found herself in the teeny-bopper bedroom of Kamala Khan (Iman Vellani). Finishing the TV show’s twist, a freaked-out Kamala ended up where Carol was at that exact moment, which was on a distant world halfway across the galaxy investigating suspicious Kree behavior. Since the events of Captain Marvel and Avengers: Endgame, Carol Danvers has continued to police the cosmos with Goose, the tentacled Flerken in feline disguise, and the Kree homeworld of Hala has been on the brink of planetary collapse with dried up oceans, a depleted atmosphere, and a dying sun. The Kree blame this calamity on Captain Marvel, who they have since dubbed “The Annihilator.”

Fulfilling a promise of retribution to the enemy that kidnapped her and robbed her of her earthly memories, Carol returned to Hala to destroy the society’s ruling AI, The Supreme Intelligence, and things have been downhill ever since. Among the remaining Kree leaders, Dar-Benn (Zawe Ashton of Velvet Buzzsaw) has reclaimed the Cosmi-Rod of Ronan the Accuser and has been in pursuit of the mythic Quantum Band bracelets. When combined, their weaponized might can crack open and destabilize the Jump Points of the Universal Neural Teleportation Network, including the one next to Earth monitored by Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and the S.A.B.E.R. space station. Dar-Benn is using this destructive power to poach the natural resources of entire planets to revitalize Hala and draw out Carol Danvers for a showdown of revenge.

Nick Fury stands to give orders in The Marvels.
Image courtesy of Marvel Studios

Naturally, there are hurdles to this evil plan, starting with that sought-after Quantum Band for Dar-Benn. Unbeknownst to her, its match is currently wielded by Kamala Khan. The reactivated second bracelet in play has created this syncing fluctuation that has Carol and Kamala switching places when they use their light-based powers. The next wrinkle is the third person of the equation, namely Monica Rambeau, Carol’s grown up and long-lost unofficial niece played by Teyonah Parris. Ever since being inundated with Wanda Maximoff’s hex magic in WandaVision, Monica has developed her own untested light-based powers. She too is caught up in these jarring place exchanges.

Some of the greatest enjoyment of The Marvels comes from the three screenwriters—Candyman and Little Woods director Nia DaCosta, WandaVision’s Megan McDonnell, and Loki’s Elissa Karasik—playing wildly with an otherworldly version of the tried-and-true screwball body-swap movie plot device. The jovial levity and circumstantial humor from all the, at first, accidental haywire and, later, the more coordinated tag-team action capabilities are a hoot to chase on-screen. This busy-body humor creates a bevy of “whoa” and “wow” moments, which is an appreciated boost in any Marvel movie.

Three costumed heroines loom up at a threat in The Marvels.
Image courtesy of Marvel Studios

Vibrant (and expensive) special effects from the WandaVision team of supervisor Tara DeMarco and producer James Alexander, make all this glowing chicanery possible while best-in-the-business veteran stunt coordinator/second unit director Rob Inch and The Equalizer 3 fight coordinator Liang Yang make it the action move with melee precision to meld three courageous heroes in and out of the same brawls and pursuits. All of this panel-flipping action had the two-person editing team of DaCosta mate Catrin Hedström and John Wick franchise cutter Evan Schiff and newbie Marvel composer Laura Karpman (a step down thematically from Pinar Toprak’s propulsive score in the first film) working overtime.

Through all the flickering frenzy, the whole “higher, further, faster” acceleration of The Marvels tramples its fair share of coherence. True to one of the MCU’s quintessential problems, the heels of the movie—including the Kree and the ancillary Skrulls—are woefully underdeveloped and loosely motivated. Unless your name is Thanos or Loki, Marvel rarely nails this essential trait. By the time Nick Fury and Kamala’s returning family (the cheeky trio of Zenobia Shroff, Mohan Kapur, and Saagar Shaikh) are herding rapidly reproducing Flerkens (an adorable romp for the cat lovers out there that makes animal trainer Jo Vaughn the unseen MVP of the movie), the screenplay’s crayon sketches are showing, eye roll moments creep in, and narrative steadiness towards any eyes on any prize is shaky at best. 

Nevertheless, the best of The Marvels rests in its triumvirate of female champions. Brie Larson’s Carol Danvers still flies around with that invisible championship belt for assertiveness. It’s a distinction she should never lose. Teyonah Parris joins her with the very same eager fortitude and bravery, granting the Monica Rambeau character a showy platform for bigger things to come (hang on for those credits!). Far and away, the winner of the movie is Iman Vellani. Her “twinsies” fangirl energy is a contagious breath of fresh air. The 21-year-old is an injection of spunk that gives this messy movie so much joy and flexes that new mantra piece of “together.” May these three butt-kicking young ladies continue to do just that for years to come.

Written by Don Shanahan

DON SHANAHAN is a Chicago-based Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic writing here on Film Obsessive as the Editor-in-Chief and Content Supervisor for the film department. He also writes for his own website, Every Movie Has a Lesson. Don is one of the hosts of the Cinephile Hissy Fit Podcast on the Ruminations Radio Network and sponsored by Film Obsessive. As a school teacher by day, Don writes his movie reviews with life lessons in mind, from the serious to the farcical. He is a proud director and one of the founders of the Chicago Indie Critics and a voting member of the nationally-recognized Critics Choice Association, Online Film Critics Society, North American Film Critics Association, International Film Society Critics Association, Internet Film Critics Society, Online Film and TV Association, and the Celebrity Movie Awards.

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