15 Nov 2023

Review : The Marvels

From At The Movies, 7:08 pm on 15 November 2023

It’s clear that the Masters of the Marvel Cinematic Universe are starting to worry that people might think that comic-book blockbusters are all a bit blokey.  

So recently there’s been a push-back with films and streaming TV series aimed at women – Black Widow, Captain Marvel, Ms Marvel, Valkyrie and the rest.

But the complaint isn’t so much that Marvel product targets males, it’s that it targets 12-year-old males – 12-year-old boys of all ages maybe.   

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Photo: Screenshot

People who pride themselves on encyclopedic knowledge of all the comics and how they fit together, and an endless tolerance for interminable battle scenes. Hardcore comic book fans, in other words.

The appeal of the early MCU films was that they aimed at the widest possible audience, not just the geek-isphere.  

However, something like The Marvels, aimed firmly at 12-year-old female fans, is unlikely to reach beyond existing followers of Ms Marvel, Kamala Khan, and Captain Marvel, Carol Danvers.

Let’s assume that you’re not part of that core audience. So, here’s what’s going on in The Marvels. 

After doing a bunch of stuff in previous Marvel movies, the almost too powerful Captain Marvel – Carol to her boss Nick Fury – is resting in outer space when something happens. Something involving arch-villain Dar-Benn.

You can’t make an omelette without offending arch-villains, and somehow – blame a couple of magic amulets – Captain Marvel finds her powers “entangled” with a couple of other Marvels.  

One of them is the daughter of Carol’s best friend – it’s complicated – Monica Rambeau.

The third one is Ms Marvel – the franchise’s first Muslim teenager super-hero.

So, if you do your signature move, you find yourself swapping places between the three of you. 

I know, you don’t have to tell me, it’s a bit ridiculous, and also rather more PG 13 Disney than hardcore Marvel.  

Kamala Khan – Ms Marvel in Civvy Street - is bit of a cartoon teenager – all OMG and LOL!  She’s also like, totally star struck by grown-up superheroes like Carol, Monica and Nick Fury.

“You mean, like a female Spiderman?” I’m hearing from those of you still keeping up. I’m sure that’s the aim, but I’m more reminded of other teen super-heroes like Sailor Moon and the dreaded Josie and the Pussycats.

At least the cast of The Marvels is a cut above. Led from the front by no less than Brie Larsen.

After years of toiling in the fields of independent movies, culminating in an Oscar for Room, Larsen walked into a giant, Marvel payday when she signed on as Captain Marvel.  

To be fair, she does try to do something with what she’s given – higher, further, faster baby, as they say.

Her backup is serviceable and hard-working rather than inspired and brilliant – Samuel L Jackson doing Samuel L Jackson, stars-on-the-rise Iman Vellani as Kamala, and Teyonah Paris as Monica. 

Paris is the one who drew the short straw when it came to pages of exposition.

The villainous Dar-Benn – like most recent Marvel villains – is a bit forgettable. Zawe Ashton paces about looking unbeatable until eventually she does get beaten. 

Er, spoiler alert, I suppose I should have said there.

The Marvels earns brownie points for inclusiveness, certainly. The writers, director and most of the stars are women, as is the editor, designer, composer, costumes and makeup.  

But the audience remains predominantly male, and not noticeably in the mood to give anyone brownie points for anything. 

And I wonder if even a potential young female audience might be put off by Marvel’s most alarming character, Goose – part cute pussycat, part all-devouring giant octopus.  Don’t say you weren’t warned.

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