The minute I saw the three superheroines who are front and center in the latest Marvel Cinematic Universe blockbuster The Marvels getting to know each other by playing double-dutch aboard a spaceship, I just knew the geeks were gonna tear this one to shreds.
As far as recent MCU offerings go, The Marvels certainly isn't the most offensive one to come along. But considering that Marvel Studios has been in a creative/commercial slump, as recent installments that were supposed to jumpstart the new era of big-screen avengers have been continually underwhelming, the Universe's latest gust of girl power may become an unfortunate casualty.
It's bad enough that the fanboys are gunning for this one to fail. Apparently, the sight of women proudly rocking superhero gear that doesn't make them look like flying whores makes some men think their precious Earth-616 adventures are being ruined by wokeness. (The comments section below that recent Variety piece on the MCU's troubles reads like an incel message board.) We've already seen them try to act like the passable Captain Marvel, which grossed $1 billion worldwide, is the worst MCU flick of all time. As amnesiac superwoman Carol Danvers, Oscar winner Brie Larson got under a lot of their skins for allegedly coming off as smug and arrogant. But I can't help but think she gets that hate for refusing to play another piece of ass who can kick your ass.
For this go-round, Larson's guardian of the galaxy is joined by two game gals who've been mainly seen on the small screen. Teyonah Parris is Danvers' godniece Monica Rambeau, all grown up and, thanks to a witch hex she got during WandaVision, now doing some powerful shit. We also have Iman Vellani, who headlined her own series as the exuberant teen superhero (and Captain Marvel fangirl) Kamala Khan, aka Ms. Marvel. Thanks to an ancient bracelet MacGuffin and an entrancing "jump point" (read: a quantum-leaping deus ex machina beings travel through in the solar system), the trio reluctantly becomes a time/space-hopping strike force, literally switching places all over the universe — usually when they're right in the middle of their action sequences. Of course, they have a Big Bad to deal with, and it's another angry alien of color (actress/playwright/Tom Hiddleston fiancee Zawe Ashton). Thankfully, this one has very good reasons to be a scowling psychopath.
With a 105-minute runtime that makes this the shortest MCU movie currently in existence, The Marvels literally hits the ground running and gets the action going immediately. You can almost see how producer/Marvel Studios overlord Kevin Feige pruned away at scenes to make sure the narrative always stays on and popping. The fast pace may have viewers who haven't seen WandaVision, Ms. Marvel or the other MCU shows that are all over Disney+ a bit lost in the sauce. It's almost like the film is a busy, dizzy response to how the MCU has concentrated for so long on world-building and connecting characters and storylines: Just taking a few moments to chill and get to know the superheroes almost seems impossible.
Nevertheless, The Marvels exhibits a fun, frisky likability I haven't encountered in an MCU film since Spider-Man: Homecoming. Before director Nia DaCosta (who helmed that Jordan Peele-produced Candyman reboot) moved the hell on to work on a Hedda Gabler adaptation, filming enough footage to have Feige and Co. figure it all out in post-production, she put emphasis on how this is really a multicultural girls' trip full of cute, cozy, cosmic camaraderie. Although it's yet another space adventure from the MCU (don't you miss when these Marvel movies mostly took place on Earth?), DaCosta and her co-writers, Elissa Karasik and WandaVision scribe Megan McDonnell, take the time to have these ladies bicker and bond amidst all the ass-kicking. (A critic friend of mine on Facebook accurately called Marvels the Charlie's Angels 2000 of the MCU.)
DaCosta almost goes to great lengths to alienate those viewers who refuse to take in the frilly, feminine frivolousness of it all. When the ladies descend to another planet for the obligatory visiting-another-planet sequence that happens in every MCU movie these days, it's a brightly colored world where everyone sings and dresses like they're in a Bollywood movie. (South Korean dreamboat Park Seo-joon serves as the photogenic ruler.) DaCosta and the writers even throw in a third-act twist — set to Barbra Streisand's rendition of "Memory" from Cats — that brings home the movie's hilariously flagrant message that pussy ultimately saves the day. Meanwhile, Samuel L. Jackson plays resident superior Nick Fury as a beleaguered, crotchety uncle, something I feel he's been wanting to do with this role ever since he got it. He spends most of his screen time nonplussed by the on-screen insanity, mainly keeping Khan's family entertained even as they mingle with 300-year-old aliens.
As much as The Marvels continues to keep the MCU machine running, giving audiences some teases of what the future has to offer (the post-credits scene practically hints that the MCU is ready to go in another direction if the Jonathan Majors-led Kang angle becomes a bust), the film stands as proof that the fairer sex can still keep the party going.
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