Whilst rumours of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s imminent demise are clearly nonsense, fuelled by Internet scuttlebutt and savage clickbait-chasers, it’s undeniable that the House That Kevin Feige Built has been on shaky ground over the last eighteen months or so. It’s hardly surprising after 33 movies and a string of Disney+ TV shows, a handful of under-performing, poorly-received films and frankly unnecessary TV series have certainly taken the gilt of the once-glittering crown of the MCU. The Marvels, ostensibly a sequel to 2019’s Captain Marvel, is unlikely to do much to restore Marvel’s reputation, but against most expectations, it’s actually a fun, if frustratingly haphazard and fizzy concoction likely to find favour purely because of its sheer energy and pizzazz.
The plot – we’ll be generous and call it that – involves one of Marvel’s usual MacGuffins; this time, it’s a couple of ancient bangles, one of which is buried below the moon’s surface (for some reason), which will give their wearers supreme power, etc. Kree leader Dar-Benn (Zawe Ashton, shamefully underserved in a one-note baddy role) recovers one of them, but MCU completists will know that down on Earth, Kamala Khan (Iman Vellani) possesses the second, and it’s given her superpowers and turned her into Ms Marvel. Via some sci-fi mumbo-jumbo that needn’t concern us here, WandaVision’s Monica Rambeau (Teyonah Parris) is called in by Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) to investigate a ‘jump point’ that Dar-Benn has opened up in space. But when she touches it, she, Ms Marvel, and Captain Marvel (Brie Larson) find themselves constantly swapping places (it’s quantum entanglement, apparently) whenever they use their light-based powers (except on those occasions when, for plot purposes, they don’t). The trio of feisty females team up to stop Dar-Benn from restoring life to her stricken world by devastating others. That’s about it. Oh, and there are loads of cute alien cats and a planet where everyone communicates by singing. Why not?
The Marvels is a curious cinema-going experience. Its raw energy and blazing colour drag you into its first half-hour before it suddenly becomes a little boring and vaguely irritating. The sequence on the planet of singers is as silly and misjudged as anything Taiki Waititi spewed out in his wretched Thor films, but the pace and excitement pick up towards the end as Dar-Benn plans to destroy the Sun – yes, our Sun – in a last-ditch effort do whatever it is she is trying to do. You’ll have forgotten by now.
This is a film that wears its apparently troubled production, rewrites and reshoots in almost every frame as it leaps and skids and skitters about in every direction all at once. But despite it all, it’s hard not to be won over by its brazen charms, the effortless chemistry between its three leads (Vellani steals the show, just as she made her own series last year so watchable, and Larson is much warmer now as Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel) and the inevitable spectacular CGI overkill. It’s a shame, though, that no one took note of the scripts for TV’s recent Secret Invasion series that depicted Nick Fury as battle-weary, worn-out, cynical and dejected; here he’s the bright-[one]-eyed, wise-cracking, order-shoutin’ Fury we grew to love during MCU Phases 1 and 2 – awkward. The final scene delivers a surprise cameo that harks back to the end of the very first Iron Man movie (a mid-credits scene offers up something else entirely) and, like the rest of the film, reminds us of the pioneering early days of Marvel when this stuff was fresh, new, thoughtful, and full of character and real emotional, human drama. The Marvels is entertaining eye candy that, despite a few nods about the importance of family and friends, is 105 minutes of sound and (Nick) Fury that signifies…well, very little at all. The cats are great, though.
THE MARVELS is in cinemas now.