The Marvel Cinematic Universe has hit a bit of a lull over the last few years. Or at least, that's the general perception of it. But with films like Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 3 hitting big just this year, I have a hard time acting like Marvel has been nothing but duds lately. Hell, I'll defend Quantumania till the day I die (a series that has historically been hated, yet I've always enjoyed) but I understand the over-saturation of the product. Between Disney Plus shows and a ramping up of film production, there's been a lot of comic book movies out these last five years. And there's a sect of people that are tired of it. But I'm not one of them. Despite watching the movie nearly three weeks after release, I was very excited to see the movie. I know what a mixed message that sends but hey, people get busy.
Many times over the last few years, I've had this sense of dread wash over me when I sit down in my theater seat. And it wasn't until recently that I figured out what it was: the runtime. We've reached a point where even the most popcorny action movies (Fast X, The Meg 2) are hitting absurd runtimes. So I went into The Marvels knowing very little of it outside of one thing: that sweet runtime of 1 hour and 45 minutes. And Marvel has some long ass credits, so we all know that actually means a helluva lot less than that. But the severe bloat of action movies has made me yearn for the days of a tight blockbuster. And The Marvels really delivers on that.
The story of The Marvels is pretty simple, with Carol Danvers, Kamala Khan, and Monica Rambeau teaming up to take down a bad guy (or girl rather). It's pretty standard fare but where the movie excels is in its character work and worldbuilding. The gimmick of each of the Marvels being bonded together through space and time, and being able to swap places instantaneously provides so many wonderful moments. And Nia DaCosta shot an absolutely gorgeous movie, with several shots being some all-timers in the landscape of Cosmic Cinema.
I've always really enjoyed the Miss Marvel character (I own several of her runs) and think that Iman Vellani is utterly brilliant in the role. She manages to standout in every single scene she's in and makes a case for her being the centerpiece for the MCU going forward. I can't wait to see what they do with her character, as she has the most potential and charisma of any of the newer superheroes. Again, Iman is absolutely phenomenal. I was also really won over by Teyonah Parris, who failed to do so in WandaVision. Here she has a little more to do, and makes a great case for why there needed to be another "Marvel."
Samuel L Jackson has been in so many of these movies that it's amazing he still manages to be such a high point in them. He's got some of the best lines here and his interactions with Kamala and her family work well.
And I'll be the first to admit that not everything works. Zawe Ashton is a decent actor, but her Dar-Benn feels like a character we've seen time and time again. And she's not exactly intimidating so this continues an old trend of Marvel having very weak villains. This wouldn't be a problem except that one of the Marvels really doesn't seem like they want to be there. Brie Larson gives a very uneven performance and feels very stiff during most of the runtime. I'm not sure if all the fan backlash has finally gotten to her or what but she comes across very uncomfortable during most of the film.
I'm still shocked at how bad The Marvels did at the box office. I never would have anticipated such a good movie failing to carry through word of mouth yet this has been setting all the wrong records for the MCU. Hopefully Kevin Feige and company aren't too reactionary and focus on the elements that truly didn't work versus just scrapping every idea presented. Because there's a lot to really like here and I could easily see this gaining esteem in the coming years. It already makes a case for being the most underrated in the entire MCU and I think that's a title it will hold for some time.