Despite their efforts to differentiate themselves, the Marvel movies often feel similar. The characters may change, but the overall formula doesn’t. For that reason, it’s refreshing to see The Marvels take a few risks, including a wonderfully odd sequence on a planet whose inhabitants communicate solely through song. Director Nia DaCosta (Candyman) delivers the shortest MCU installment in years, running about 94 minutes, excluding lengthy end credits. That alone is reason to rejoice. Instead of bloat, we get a zippy, fun superhero tale that doesn’t overstay its welcome.
In this sequel to Captain Marvel, Carol Danvers (Brie Larson) finds her powers intertwined with those of two other heroes, Monica Rambeau (Teyonah Parris) and Kamala Khan (Iman Vellani). That’s initially an inconvenience, although it comes in handy when they have to take on Dar-Benn (Zawe Ashton), an alien being looking to save her dying planet through diabolical means. The plot really is that simple. A few details apparently require you to have seen the Disney+ series Ms. Marvel in order to understand the references. Even if you’re among those of us who are disinclined to devote every waking moment to Marvel product, you can still follow along.
Dar-Benn is a dull villain and the fight to defeat her isn’t the appeal anyway. DaCosta’s interest is far more in telling a tale of sisterhood. The heart of The Marvels lies in the interactions between Carol, Monica, and Kamala. Initially, they are three separate identities, not intent on working together. Over the course of their journey, they find common bonds that draw them tight. That includes coordinating their powers in multiple imaginative action scenes that find them strategically swapping places as they fend off assailants.
Three appealing lead actresses make it work. Larson has already established herself as a fine Carol Danvers. This time, she adds layers to the character, honing in on an emotional side. Parris makes Monica a formidable hero who combines intelligence and strength. For her part, Vellani is an utter scene-stealer. She’s got charisma coming out the ears, and her work as Kamala is thoroughly entertaining. The film lights up every time she comes onscreen.
Complimenting the acting and the action is a healthy dose of humor, including a wild fight inside Kamala's living room that leaves her parents looking on in shock. Another sequence involving cats is at least as goofy as anything in the Guardians of the Galaxy series. The biggest laughs, however, come from the interplay between the women. Their chemistry is what holds the rickety story together.
For some MCU fans, The Marvels may seem anticlimactic. It intentionally isn’t the big, sprawling adventure we’ve become accustomed to. The movie is shorter, looser, more playful, and, admittedly, more scattershot. To be honest, something that goes against the grain may be exactly what Marvel needs right now.
out of four
The Marvels is rated PG-13 for action/violence and brief language. The running time is 1 hour and 45 minutes.