‘The Marvels’: A messy, confounding story grounds this MCU space odyssey

“The Marvels” (2023) – “The jump point is still leaking energy.”

If that quote seems confusing, you aren’t alone. 

“The Marvels” – the sequel to “Captain Marvel” (2019), starring Brie Larson, Teyonah Parris, and Iman Vellani – has a confounding plot, one that completes its cooked chronicle through several conveniences over an (approximate) 95-minute runtime.

It’s a messy space odyssey that shoehorns two Disney+ characters on the MCU’s big screen – Monica Rambeau (Parris), who works for Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), and a 16-year-old Jersey City kid, Kamala Khan (Vellani) – to partner with Carol Danvers (a.k.a. Captain Marvel) (Larson). 

Captain Marvel, Professor Marvel (Parris), and Ms. Marvel (Vellani) banter about the universe in Carol’s ship – with buddy comedy vibes – but director/co-writer Nia DaCosta and co-writers Megan McDonnell and Elissa Karasik draw a jumbled, silly cinematic map. 

Let’s map out the premise.

Dar-Benn (Zawe Ashton), a Kree warrior, leads an excavation on “NB 418” (I believe) to find a pair of ancient bracelets that can open portals in space to help save her planet.  Hala, her home world, lacks the enough breathable air, suffers from a drought, and their sun is dying.  Rather than simply move to another planet, she hopes to use the said portals to travel to other worlds and steal their air, water, and sun. 

Umm, what?

Well, that’s not nice! 

Hang on. The Kree has a vast empire with armies of spaceships, so why not simply move?  Perhaps Hala recently dealt with COVID-19, and the general populace would rather work from home and watch Netflix. 

That’s possible.   

Oh, Dar-Benn hates Captain Marvel because – as explained in a flashback scene – CM destroyed the Kree’s Supreme Intelligence, a supercomputer of sorts, which then caused a civil war.  Apparently, the conflict depleted Hala’s resources, which messed with the air, a drought somehow started, and the sun began losing its luster. 

I’m no scientist, but how are those events connected?   

Anyways, Dar-Benn finds one of the bracelets, but not the second, because Kamala – living in Jersey City, U.S.A. – sports the other.  She got it from her grandmother, of course.

Well, Kamala’s bangle starts glowing, and Monica and Carol touch some light sources (caused by Dar-Benn), while working in the field simultaneously, and now, the three switch locations when they use their powers at the same time. 

Switch locations!

Think “Quantum Leap” (1989 – 1993), but not exactly.  The women literally change spots or positions, a phenomenon that’s inconvenient in everyday life but would work exceptionally well during Friday night’s group dance lessons.

Captain Marvel (Brie Larson)

The trio convenes at Kamala’s childhood home – after a bizarre extended fight scene that involves the teenager’s parents and brother – and decides to consort, waltz, rumba, and fox-trot as a team (because what choice do they have?) and aims to stop Dar-Benn before she steals three elements on a massive scale. 

Speaking of scale, the film doesn’t make it easy to discern Carol’s, Monica’s, and Kamala’s powers.  Monica briefly explains that she can “see light,” Carol can “absorb light,” and Kamala can “turn light into physical matter.”  


From what I can tell, Monica turns translucent, can pass through solid matter, and shoots energy beams from her hands.  Kamala can form pink diamond shields and other shapes, again, from her hands, and Carol has superhuman strength, and she can fly and shoot energy, again, from her hands.  Monica can fly as well, but she’s still learning. 

With this movie, I am learning too!

Meanwhile, Dar-Benn has the same bracelet as Kamala, but she hasn’t sorted out the pink diamond thing.  However, she sports a “universal weapon” similar to Ronan’s (Lee Pace) from “Guardians of the Galaxy” (2014).  It’s a giant hammer with a long handle, and early in the first act, part of it had a purple glow.  Does her weapon have a Power Infinity Stone, like Ronan briefly did?  No, I guess not, but when she clangs her new bangle to the aforementioned hammer, it cracks open her desired portals in space, so air, water, and fire are ripe for the taking! 

Does Kamala’s bangle do that?  

Also, Dar-Benn’s bangle can absorb energy, so if The Marvels shoot laser beams (or energy beams or light beams, or choose your synonym) at her, she can soak up their power and shoot it back at them.  A pretty cool feature! 

Can Kamala’s bangle do that?

Since Captain Marvel is the strongest being in the universe, Dar-Benn – at one point – absorbs Carol’s strength.  Wow!  But how long does she soak up Carol’s powers?  Does it last a few seconds?  A week?  Is it permanent?  I can confirm it’s somewhere between a few seconds and a week.

Her bangle/hammer combo is vastly functional and makes a cool fashion statement too. 

Think about it for the holiday season. 

“The Marvels” celebrates some faraway locales, including a colorful and pleasing one called Aladna that could fit right into a “Guardians” flick or “Thor: Ragnarok” (2017), and cheers to production designer Cara Brower.  The Aladnaians utter a unique language that can have hilarious repercussions, but DaCosta cuts the joke short because Aladna’s prince (Park Seo-joon) also speaks straight-up English.  So, the film misses an opportunity of heightened whimsy. 

Conversely, we also volley between Nick Fury’s space station and a stop on a dreary Skrull home called Tarnax.  Kamala’s family – Muneeba (Zenobia Shroff), Yusuf (Mohan Kapur), and Aamir (Saagar Shaikh) – hang out with Nick, so they are frequently in touch with their daughter/sister throughout the film, whether we want to listen or not.  We’re subjected to the Skrulls’ continual miserable trek of a refugee crisis.  It’s a shame because the Skrulls used to be ferocious villains in the comics.  Here, they are pitied.  

Ah, the mighty have fallen. 

The mighty have fallen in Captain Marvel’s living spaces too.  Carol is not the fierce combatant that we’ve seen in her first movie and “Endgame” (2019).  She puzzlingly flies a spaceship, even though she doesn’t need one, and she’s emotionally wounded from decades of fighting with the Kree, cerebral scratches that we didn’t see in previous movies.

Her indestructible vibes are stunted. 

She is a distinctively different Carol Danvers, and the changes give her more humanity and vulnerabilities.  Still, it’s tough to discern who she is as a Marvel hero. 

Who is Captain Marvel?  I’m not sure, and Carol doesn’t seem to know either. 

(Note that Taika Waititi changed Thor’s (Chris Hemsworth) personality in “Thor: Ragnarok”, but the famous Asgardian found a new and delightful sense of humor.  Carol doesn’t offer the same pleasantries in “The Marvels”.)

Ms. Marvel (Iman Vellani), Captain Marvel (Larson), and Professor Marvel (Teyonah Parris)

However, we know who Kamala and Monica are.  Kamala is a bubbly, wide-eyed superhero fangirl, as she finds her footing among the Avengers’ stars.  Vellani’s Kamala is awfully likable, and her naiveté is a frequent source of comic relief.  Monica is pragmatic, grounded, and carries the professor moniker that Kamala gave her.  She always has the correct answer and keeps the pain of her mother’s passing in check, even though it’s darn near impossible to check off her list of superpowers and follow along when she throws out varying accounts about jump points and quantum bands. 

Following along is a tricky business in “The Marvels”.  The film diverts precious minutes for frequent explanations about the cosmic science that stands before us, including the initial bonding between the three over light (which I still don’t understand).  We receive exposition about Kamala’s backstory, Monica’s mentions (twice) that she traveled through a witch’s hex to gain her powers, and Carol’s 30-year fight with the Kree that forged hard feelings and guilt.  Back on the space station, Fury occasionally opines but isn’t given much to do, and we meet some of his staff but don’t catch their names. 

As far as Dar-Benn, her motivation is clear, but her ultimate weapon/hammer gadget has more charisma and personality.

Well, the Flerkens – wild aliens that look like ordinary house cats – may not have personality, but they can make zany and vastly impressionable entrances, and here, they offer an absolutely hilarious sight gag.

Cat people and “Guardians” admirers – like yours truly – will love it (and them) and will welcome the Flerkens in new MCU flicks, and hey, Carol, Monica, and Kamala too. 

If Ms. Danvers gets a self-help course and the Marvel Factory scribes a suitable script that’s straightforward, linear, logical, and with less endless exposition about jump points that leak energy, sign me up to cheer on this team.

However, at the moment, I’ll refer to Monica’s quote during the movie’s third act.

“I can’t.”

⭐ 1/2 out of ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Directed by:  Nia DaCosta

Written by:  Nia DaCosta, Megan McDonnell, and Elissa Karasik

Starring:  Brie Larson, Teyonah Parris, Iman Vellani, Zawe Ashton, and Samuel L. Jackson

Rated: PG-13

Image credits: Marvel Studios

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