‘The Marvels’ Tracking for $70M-$80M Domestic Debut in Latest Test of Box Office Superhero Fatigue

‘The Marvels’ Review: Brie Larson, Teyonah Parris and Iman Vellani Are a Winning Trio in Nia DaCosta’s Heartfelt MCU Sequel

Nia DaCosta’s The Marvels is a grounding contribution to a gluttonous and increasingly perplexing Marvel Cinematic Universe.

The conventional film pulsates with a quiet force propelled by the sincere bond between its three protagonists. Brie Larson reprises her role as Carol Danvers, the amnesiac pilot from the 2019 blockbuster Captain Marvel; Teyonah Parris is Monica Rambeau, whom viewers saw in WandaVision; and relative newcomer Iman Vellani is Kamala Khan, the star of the Disney+ series Ms. Marvel. DaCosta’s kinetic direction and intimate storytelling style lets audiences see this trio — whose lives collide in unexpected ways — from new and entertaining vantage points.

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The Marvels

The Bottom Line

Typical Marvel fare freshened up with sparkling lead turns.

Release date: Friday, Nov. 10
Cast: Brie Larson, Teyonah Parris, Iman Vellani, Zawe Ashton, Gary Lewis, Seo-Jun Park
Director: Nia DaCosta
Screenwriters: Nia DaCosta, Megan McDonnell, Elissa Karasik

Rated PG-13,
1 hour 45 minutes

The Marvels picks up where Captain Marvel left off. Flashbacks in the first half hour provide a broad framework, but it’s worth revisiting the disjointed predecessor — in which Danvers vowed to end the genocidal war between the Kree and Skrulls — for firmer footing. DaCosta, Elissa Karasik and Megan McDonnell (who cowrote The Marvels’ screenplay) shape a more complex story with the geopolitical and familial building blocks of Captain Marvel. Their film tries to move beyond the haunting existentialism of good and evil to consider less glamorous, but still urgent themes of interplanetary dependence and sisterhood. It’s a tall order that ends up partially filled.

As with most MCU offerings, the problem is in the plotting. The Marvels takes on more than it can responsibly handle in its brisk runtime (a welcome 1 hour and 45 minutes), which means abrupt endings and discarded threads. The story begins with Dar-Benn (Zawe Ashton), a Kree, and her associates finding a bangle infused with a powerful energy. The object is missing its other half, and a sleek transition transports us to Jersey City, where Kamala (Vellani), the teenaged protagonist of the Ms. Marvel series, labors over her Captain Marvel fan fiction while wearing it. Her room doubles as a shrine to the MCU hero whom she dreams of befriending.

DaCosta wastes no time in The Marvels; the film’s action begins immediately. Dar-Benn’s new acquisition disrupts and, for reasons revealed later, bonds Kamala to Carol (Larson) and Monica (Parris). The three risk swapping places whenever they use their powers. This a nifty plot point that allows DaCosta to flaunt her visual style and choreograph entertaining fight sequences. Working with cinematographer Sean Bobbit, the helmer experiments with perspective: The camera tracks, flips, swerves and swings in often exciting ways, affirming a rhythm DaCosta proved she had in Candyman. She plays with angular shifts and adopts an almost vérité style of observing her characters. Whereas that technique gave Candyman an appropriately claustrophobic atmosphere, in The Marvels the results are more intimate.

Marshaled together by fate, Carol, Monica and Kamala must save the galaxy from Dar-Benn’s plan. The stakes are not as high as they could be when it comes to their mission. A flaw of The Marvels is how long it takes for Dar-Benn’s motivations to be revealed, and how that strand is abandoned in the pursuit of a tidy conclusion.

Still, when it comes to the relationship between the three leads, The Marvels delivers. In the years since she assumed her position as protector of the galaxy, Captain Marvel has lived a lonely life aboard her spaceship. Although she has Goose, the beloved Flerken, and occasionally speaks with Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), Carol spends most of her days trying to reconstruct her past. At the start of the film, she’s estranged from Monica, and she doesn’t know Kamala exists. When the interlocking nature of their powers forces the women to interact regularly, Carol sheds some of her steeliness and leans into vulnerability.

Larson, Parris and Vellani have a natural and infectious rapport. Their undeniable chemistry anchors one of the stronger threads of The Marvels, which wrestles with Carol’s isolation and ego. Larson is steadier in this installment of the Captain Marvel franchise: Her toughness and stoicism, which felt clumsy and alienating in the first film, have a more intentional edge here because they’re accompanied by a deeper understanding of her character. Parris, who worked with DaCosta on Candyman and most recently demonstrated her range in They Cloned Tyrone, is always a pleasure to watch. She brings an understated warmth and nerdiness (akin to Letitia Wright in Black Panther) to the film.

But it’s Vellani who really splashes. Her character’s bubbly personality adds levity and humor to The Marvels, making it lighter fare than its predecessor. The actress indeed does a lot with a role that could easily be one-note, stealing nearly every scene in the process. Her Kamala is a fangirl who can hold her own; she adores Captain Marvel, but recognizes that she’s not working with the most emotionally adept adults. She’s into saying the quiet part out loud and she’s not afraid to initiate a group hug. Vellani calibrates her performance deftly, committing to comic relief without becoming over-reliant on any kind of shtick.

As the three women fight to save their galaxy, Khan proves herself to be the key to the success of this dynamic trio. She helps Monica brainstorm and encourages Carol to soften up. She’s undeniably a badass and, if Disney and Marvel are smart, she’s the future of the franchise.