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Superhero fatigue is setting in – partly because of the inundation of Disney Plus shows and the inconsistent quality of recent Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) outings. I’ll leave it to other pundits to highlight the concerns about Disney’s fingers getting into and ruining things – so I’ll concentrate on my beloved MCU and what’s been happening there.
The end of ‘Avengers: Endgame’ and ‘Spiderman: Far From Home’ finished Phase 3 – the culmination of all the previous movies and the end of Thanos. Phase 4 was primed to kick off and then the pandemic hit – shifting a whole bunch of releases onto the Disney Plus platform while also giving us heaps of new content and series. All of varying degrees of quality.
So, to end 2023 on a good note is crucial for the MCU. Remember the last couple of MCU Disney Plus releases included the quirky and poorly received ‘She-hulk’ and the dismal ‘Secret Invasion’. The last few movies varied wildly in quality – ‘Thor: Love and Thunder’ failed to capture the Taika Waiti spark from Ragnarok; ‘Ant-Man and Wasp: Quantumania’ was subpar; yet ‘Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.3’ was superb.
The MCU really needs another win. A win to help set up future projects which, to be honest, don’t look all that exciting.
Is ‘The Marvels’ the win the MCU needed?
The Marvels picks up the threads from ‘Captain Marvel’ (2019), ‘Wandavision’ (2021), and ‘Ms Marvel’ (2022) – so, let’s be clear from the outset, you’ll need to recap those series to pick up quicker what’s happening in ‘The Marvels’. The movie presents short glimpses and recaps of some plot points of those series to enjoy ‘The Marvels’ but let’s be honest: if you’re not keeping up with the MCU movies and series each movie from here will contain a thread of confusion.
The movie’s obvious strength is in the team-up and various interactions of the three ladies: Carol Danvers, Kamala Khan, and Monica Rambo. Carol and Monica’s relationship requires reconciliation, Kamala’s star-struck obsession with Carol, and the fun (and surprisingly relatively easy to follow) action sequences in which their powers become entangled and they end up physically swapping places around the universe. The first action sequences are relatively easy to follow thanks in part to the different locations the women are battling (Kamala in her home, Monica aboard a white spaceship elevator, and Carol in the depths of a dark Kree ship), however, the final team-up battle against the main antagonist, Dar-Benn, is a confusing fight mostly because of the difficult to follow cuts and edits from punch to kick. Hollywood needs to learn how to film a fight scene properly which makes it easier for the audience to follow.
That all said, the chemistry between the three women is obvious – they play off each other well. There’s also an authentic sense of relationship building between the three. Carol and Monica meet for the first time since the events in Captain Marvel (set in the 1990s), and there’s a big riff between the two needing reconciliation. Kamala’s obsession with Captain Marvel moves from fangirl-ing to sort of being superhero-mentored in the heat of battle.
And as much as each of them has the potential to be girl-bosses the movie manages to make the women relatable. They struggle with hurt and pain in relationships, loss and broken promises, shame and fear. In what I hope is a helpful turn, Carol Danvers/Brie Larson feels more relatable and likeable. She demonstrates a vulnerability that needs to be grown through that was absent in her first movie outing.
There’s also a likeable moment which has Disney usical painted all over it – The Marvels visiting a planet made up of 99.65% water in which the inhabitants only communicate via song. The audience’s surprise is captured neatly by the expressions on both Kamala and Monica as they watch in delighted bewilderment, echoing our own.
So, overall I’m saying this movie was fun. Fun and forgettable perhaps, but fun.
There was much rumoured behind-the-scenes chaos in the production of this movie, but it doesn’t appear all that evident in the final product. It could be the magic of the final edit, and the hard work of those involved, but the story felt relatively coherent and easy enough to follow. It’s directed well enough and the story itself isn’t too complex or novel – but it’s executed in a solidly above-average manner. It’s a safe outing for Marvel Studios who, like the rest of Hollywood from what I can tell, is now averse to experimentation in movies being released to cinemas.
That said, is ‘The Marvels’ a win the MCU needs so much right now? Sort of. It’s fun, but it’s not groundbreaking. It has quirky moments while being relatively safe. It partially redeems Carol Danvers to become more likeable, and obviously sets up more MCU projects to come – and in many ways, I’m more excited by the prospect of following up both the final end scene and the mid-credit scene than I am about the slated features to come.
Is ’The Marvels’ good enough to breathe new life into the MCU? Probably not.
As I sit back and assess where the Marvel Cinematic Universe has gone since Avengers: Endgame (and the closer of phase 3) it feels like the cohesiveness in Phases 1-3 has been significantly lost. Each new project has introduced heaps of new characters and villains, but to what end? The unity in the universe is being lost amidst the waves of series and movies. When I reviewed ‘Endgame’ I compared the MCU’s attempt to tell a unified narrative to the Bible’s unified narrative. The similarities between the two have, at times, been striking. Multiple authors contributing to an overall big picture. But the recent MCU material has diverged from this, and has left us often with more questions, a lot of ‘meh’, and no understanding of where the new story is heading.
For that I’m exceedingly glad that there is indeed a Big Story that our lives can tap into. One where the culminating Great Event hasn’t led to a ‘what now?’ confusion but has given rise to endless stories revolving around this ‘Great Event’: the death and resurrection of Jesus. Each of these stories tells a timeless tale of lost people who were welcomed into the light and have been given new life and purpose. And one whose stories are still being written and will one day be recounted eternally and joyfully – to the glory of the one who holds it all together: Jesus Christ.
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