The Marvels (PG-13) ★½

Review Date: November 14th, 2023

The Marvels is so poorly conceived and ineptly executed that it not only makes this a front-runner for the dubious honor of worst movie of the MCU but a contender for the worst superhero movie of all time (although I'd argue that Catwoman retains the crown). The Marvels does so little right that it's almost shocking to see it make it into theaters in this state and even more shocking to see the "Marvel Studios" label up front.

To understand these proceedings, is it necessary to have seen the three Disney+ series that have connections to The Marvels (those would be "Wandavision," "Ms. Marvel," and "Secret Wars")? Not really, although they may help a little. The movie is incomprehensible in its own right and no amount of homework is going to change that. Still, Marvel is getting to the point where viewers are not only expected to have watched all the previous movies but to have supplemented them with Disney+ content. There's no such thing as a stand-alone MCU film. The interconnections have robbed the productions of even the illusion of self-containment. While some might argue that's a good thing, the diminishing general audience interest (as measured at the box office) says the opposite. Maybe it's not just superhero fatigue but a growing annoyance with the superstructure of these movies.

The Marvels brings back a trio of previously introduced characters - Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel (Brie Larson), from Captain Marvel and Avengers: Endgame; Monica Rambeau (Toyonah Parris), from Captain Marvel and "Wandavision;" and Ms. Marvel (Iman Vellani), from "Ms. Marvel" - and applies an age-old superhero trope called the "team up." In order to get them together, director Nia Costa (the Candyman remake) and her co-writers, Megan McDonnell and Elissa Karasik, employ a contrivance whereby any time one of these three uses her powers, she is physically transposed with one of the others. The glue that holds them together is Avengers veteran Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), who really doesn't have a whole lot to do except scowl (although his line of "Keep praying!" is priceless). These three are pitted against the Would Be God(dess) of the Month, Dar-Benn (Zawe Ashton), who is justifiably pissed at Captain Marvel for her near-genocide of the Kree people. Granted, Captain Marvel didn't mean to imperil the existence of an entire intelligent species but the intentions don't matter as much as the results.

For a while, things transpire much as one would expect from an underwritten superhero story. There are a couple of high-profile cameos, lots of overproduced fight sequences, some outer space stuff, and yet another multiverse connection. Unfortunately, as the movie turns the corner and heads for home, it goes so far off the rails that it boggles the mind. Maybe the filmmakers should have turned to AI because the conclusion they come up with - a bunch of idiot plot devices including one involving a very large litter of cats - are jaw-droppingly dumb. (The use of the song "Memory" indicates a level of awareness on the part of DaCosta but it doesn't excuse the result.) Then there's the very ending, which invalidates the entire movie. It also allows the writers to avoid the thorny issue of what happens when a superhero, intending to be a force for good, does something very, very wrong. The Marvels introduces some dark and potentially interesting elements but sidesteps them all with a variety of feints and one big deus ex machina.

The big things aren't the only aspects where The Marvels fails. There's minimal chemistry among the three leads. The allegedly serious/sentimental moments are mawkish and cringe-worthy. The acting is generally subpar, including that from Brie Larson, an excellent actress except when she puts on her superhero cape. (The lone exception to this is Iman Vellani, who brings a puppy-dog sincerity to her performance.) The fight scenes and special effects-laden sequences are so badly choreographed and edited that it can be difficult to figure out what's going on. And if you want excitement, look elsewhere.

In the past couple of years, the MCU has been spinning its wheels with each new entry (excepting Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3) as creative failure after creative failure has intensified the tailspin. Sadly, The Marvels is the worst of these offenders, elevating the third Ant-Man movie to masterpiece level by comparison. Instead of offering engaging storytelling, it give us flashes, bangs, bad dialogue, and a mountain of fakery (a reminder that things that work in comic books don't always translate to the silver screen). It's sound and fury signifying nothing except to expose another chink in the once-impervious armor of the MCU.

© 2023 James Berardinelli