Marvel has a serious sequel problem. Not just in a “this wasn’t as good as the first one” way, but in an outright “why even make a sequel?” way.
This flaw is largely found in Phase 3 and onwards, but has reached new heights with Phases 4 and 5. The problem, of course, is on both the audience and studio–audience never seem to know what they want, and the studios don’t seem to realise that most of the audience actually don’t know what they want until they see it.
And therein lies 2023 for the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU).
From the interesting but messily executed Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, to the by-the-numbers but incredibly fun Guardians of the Galaxy 3, the MCU has recently delivered movies which only sometimes justify the cost of a ticket to the theatre. And they definitely haven’t given us much reason to invest more time and energy to understand the larger machinations of the ever-growing shared universe.
And, that’s before we even look at the deluge of peripheral content served courtesy of Disney+. Which, also, further compounds the disappointing serving that was The Marvels.
The Marvels is hardly a sequel to 2019’s Captain Marvel. Aside from a couple of throwaway bits of dialogue and an oddly placed expository flashback from a character who otherwise receives no development, the movie bears no real benefit of continuing the story from the original.
Instead, it picks up from at least three different story threads. There’s the most obvious one following Carol Danvers through her debut film and Avengers: Endgame; Monica Rambeau’s is a mish-mash of content from Captain Marvel and WandaVision; and Kamala Khan’s journey, which, while lightly flawed, is neatly packaged in the Ms Marvel series on Disney+.
Unfortunately, unpacking the various histories of these characters is the least of the script’s problems. Not when the movie is driven by the inanity of rushing through the first act like someone decided to hit the forward button on any plot progress, and then spending time on an entire dance and song sequence (nope, not associated to Kamala, so let’s not go there), and then a sudden sub-plot regarding Flerkens amidst the third act.
The action is jarringly inconsistent, ranging wildly from truly slick and well-choreographed group sequences to weirdly hesitant and static character-focused ones. None of the action every really feels well-rounded and seems to only serve as odd punctuations to break up the otherwise monotonous exposition-filled conversations.
Even Brie Larson, whose performance as Captain Marvel not only anchored the first movie but also brought some personality to Endgame, seems to be phoning it in. A large problem is obviously the editing and pacing of the movie, with some of the emotional beats presenting themselves suddenly and with context only being provided during or after the fact.
Iman Vellani and her Ms Marvel co-stars are blatantly relied on to provide any heart to the movie. Even then, their scenes are largely awkward and weirdly set, very obviously positioned purely to serve the purpose of being there. This is made worse when there are entire conversations with only two actors actually speaking, while others stand around silently.
The villain, played by Zawe Ashton, is somehow even more inconsequential to the whole thing. Any possibility of an impressive performance by Ashton was robbed by a confounding approach to exposition across the movie. Thankfully, Teyonah Parris’ Monica Rambeau is present enough to remind viewers that, yes, actual acting was sometimes required.
The context set by Captain Marvel also leaves the green elephant in the room hanging in regard to Disney+’s Secret Invasion. The Marvels very carefully navigates the story without sparing any discussion of the radicalised Skrull colony on Earth, and doesn’t so much as give a clear timeline placement of the movie in relation to the series–that is, other than Nick Fury’s decision to properly groom his facial hair again.
In all, the simplest way to describe The Marvels is “amateur.” Much like Wakanda Forever and most of the earlier DCEU movies, it comes off as half-assed and carelessly cobbled together. It would be easier to simply point at the creative team and suggest that they are, perhaps, not ready for the task of a feature film, but all the talents involved are proven with high quality work in their stables.
Maybe it’s time that the MCU, between its last two years’ worth of movies and TV shows, consider a new direction with their leadership and obeisance to a group of executives who aren’t actually watching the drivel they produce.
The Marvels is out now, and has one fan servicey mid-credit scene which Disney is really hoping will drive people to watch this in theatres.