“The Marvels”: MCU Phase 5’s highly anticipated trio

The Marvels, featuring Captain Marvel (middle), Ms. Marvel (left) and Captain Monica Rambeau (right), relies heavily on humorous cinematic effects which ultimately lead the film to fall flat—a common theme within the recent releases of MCU Phase 5.
“The Marvels,” featuring Captain Marvel (middle), Ms. Marvel (left) and Captain Monica Rambeau (right), relies heavily on humorous cinematic effects which ultimately lead the film to fall flat—a common theme within the recent releases of MCU Phase 5.
Courtesy of Disney/Marvel

Throughout the long history of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), female characters have taken the franchise by storm. While Phase 3 phased out a few longstanding icons and Phase 4 introduced new ones chronicling the history of those before, “The Marvels,” which is the third film of Phase 5, brings heroines together in quite the showstopping spectacle.

The team is composed of Carol Danvers as Captain Marvel (Brie Larson), Captain Monica Rambeau (Teyonah Parris) and Kamala Khan as Ms. Marvel (Iman Vellani). Their individual MCU origin stories are explored through earlier releases: Carol obtains energy-absorptive powers through a DNA-altering blast in 2019’s “Captain Marvel,” Monica experiences an extra-dimensional collision with the hex shield of Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) and acquires the ability to see light energy in 2021’s “WandaVision” and in 2022’s “Ms. Marvel,” Kamala must navigate high school with the weighty caveat of discovering she can turn light into physical matter.

In “The Marvels,” originally released in theaters on Nov. 10, 2023 and directed by Nia DaCosta, all three superheroes join forces with their light-based powers, albeit unintentionally, swapping places whenever their powers are used simultaneously. The movie’s centerpiece artifacts are the Quantum Bands, one of which Kamala owns and the other which Dar-Benn (Zawe Ashton), the antagonist and leader of the Kree empire, obtains early in the film. As to be expected, Dar-Benn seeks the power of both to grant her full control of the electromagnetic spectrum.

The film parallels the tone of “Thor: Love and Thunder”—in other words, overly humorous and lacking depth. A bold statement, but one shared by many critics who find MCU to now be catering towards younger audiences despite historically mature content—whether it be the questionable cinematic effects, usage of songs like “RATATA” by Skrillex, Missy Elliott and Mr. Oizo and “Memory” from “Cats the Musical” during action-packed scenes or Kamala’s frequent interjections reeking of naivety. Nick Fury’s (Samuel L. Jackson) entertaining exclamations, however, are always emphatically received as his temperament remains consistent throughout the MCU, and fortunately doesn’t change in “The Marvels.”

Certain “multiversal” plot elements are oddly reminiscent of those successfully manipulated in 2023 Best Picture Winner “Everything Everywhere All at Once.” Unfortunately, their use seemed far less appropriate for the purposes of this superhero film. What’s more, the Kree-Skrull conflict spanning thousands of years since its initial infliction lacks any sort of resolution. As MCU fans may be aware, removing one leader from the equation only exacerbates the conflict further down the road. “The Marvels” itself is proof of that. Additionally, the movie barely scratches the surface of Monica and Carol’s relationship. Rambeau is emotionally pained by the memory of “Aunt Carol” leaving both her and her mother behind when she was just 11 years old, and thus distances herself from Captain Marvel, who desperately seeks to reconnect with Monica. Kamala’s happy-go-lucky attitude is seemingly enough to repair their relationship by the end of the film, but the pacing of this development acutely lacks practicality.

However, there is credit to be given with Captain Marvel’s infamous introduction as “The Annihilator,” which complicates her status as the “renowned superhero” of the galaxy. The well-established relationship she has with the Skrulls, commencing in “Captain Marvel” and persisting largely due to Fury’s efforts, is tested when the Skrull race is threatened by obstructive motivations centered around Captain Marvel, who they’ve held in the most superior of regards. Audiences can sympathize with the Kree’s perspective as Hala, their advanced planet, is unveiled as entirely stripped of its natural resources. “The Marvels” drills a crucial lesson: Where victory is won, destruction also occurs.

In terms of casting, Zawe Ashton’s performance as Dar-Benn is outstanding. Having to fill the shoes of her predecessor, Ronan the Accuser, was certainly no easy feat. Ashton instills a borderline thrilling type of fear in the audience through her commanding, confident and impassioned demeanor. Iman Vellani portrays Kamala’s young age of 16 well: the relative inexperience Kamala exhibits with her powers—and life itself—is apparent. She lacks restraint and openly shares her extravagant dream of joining the Avengers one day. Luckily, Monica and Carol, in spite of their quarrels, can both be counted on as her mentors. “The Marvels” surprises us with a guest appearance from South Korean actor Park Seo-joon, known for his hit performances in series’ like “Hwarang” and “Itaewon Class,” who plays Prince Yan on the planet of Aladna. Fans can also delight in the showcasing of the beloved Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) and infamous MCU Flerken, Goose.

Overall, viewers may be disappointed considering the high-held expectations for a female trio exuding such potential in both their powers and character arcs. It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly why MCU Phase 5, and even Phase 4, films have been lacking relative to the rest. The widely accepted postulation is that “Avengers: Endgame” marked an unofficial resolution to what would be the peak of MCU, although cinematic verdicts for “The Marvels” alone may be enough to reconsider if such a theory offers the sole explanation. Regardless of opposing criticisms, MCU fans will be excited to see some of their favorite characters together on-screen as the three fight against Dar-Benn in a wholly interdependent fashion.

“The Marvels,” as well the majority of MCU’s releases, are now available for streaming on Disney+. Keep your eyes peeled for the next Phase 5 film, “Deadpool & Wolverine,” set to hit theaters on July 26.

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