With this sequel, it looks like Marvel finally got the girl power memo
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THE MARVELS ★★★
(M) 105 minutes
It’s too early to judge whether Marvel Studios might be losing its grip on the global box office at long last. But some kind of transition is evident in Nia DaCosta’s The Marvels, an outlier in the Marvel Cinematic Universe in several respects.
Brie Larson is back as Captain Marvel/Carol Danvers in the long-awaited sequel The Marvels.
This is the third Marvel movie directed solo by a woman (of a total of 33, which by my count means gender parity is just 29 films away). At 105 minutes it’s also shorter than any of its predecessors – and not far in scale and rhythm from an extended TV episode, despite the flair for colour carried over from DaCosta’s 2021 Candyman reboot.
Extensive post-production tinkering seems more than possible, but in any case what has emerged is the first all-out Marvel chick flick, if the term can be used without offence: short on action, long on female bonding, and pitched at essentially the same audience that flocked to the Frozen films and most recently Barbie.
“Woke”, an easy putdown, isn’t entirely the right word for the film’s vision, which transports us beyond Earth to a zany fairytale cosmos where matriarchy is taken for granted, somewhat in the spirit of L. Frank Baum’s later Oz books.
Iman Vellani (left) as Ms Marvel, Brie Larson as Captain Marvel, and Teyonah Parris as Captain Monica Rambeau in The Marvels.
The ‘Dorothy’ equivalent is Kamala Khan (Iman Vellani), a gushy teenage superheroine living with her immigrant Pakistani family in New Jersey. At the story’s outset Kamala has already gained access to her cosmic powers, which she uses to fight crime on a local level under the alias Ms Marvel, as chronicled in the recent TV series of that name.
But she’s every inch a fangirl when it comes to Captain Marvel, aka Carol Danvers (Brie Larson, still the image of clean-scrubbed perfection). She even draws comic books featuring her heroine, brought to life in an animated sequence that recalls the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series – and when she and fellow mutant Monica Rambeau (Teyonah Parris) are enlisted as the Captain’s travelling companions, Vellani’s expressive face is an image of the word “squee”.
A large portion of The Marvels feels designed to troll the fanboys, and god bless DaCosta for that. Carol’s spaceship resembles a comfy student common room, with throw cushions and popcorn on hand. The plot has the leads vying with the wicked Dar-Benn (Zawe Ashton) for a pair of sparkly bangles, wearable equivalents of Marvel’s previous Infinity Stones.
Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), once puppet master to the whole Avengers crew, has little to do beyond checking in occasionally in the manner of Bosley in Charlie’s Angels. Most delightfully, there’s a visit to a planet where the lingua franca is faux-Bollywood song and dance – and while DaCosta doesn’t quite deliver the full-blown production number she promises, one suspects she had to fight to get as close as she did.
Still, anyone craving or fearing a subversive agenda shouldn’t get too excited. Subtextually this may be the queerest Marvel production yet, but the text remains chaste even by the studio’s standards (admittedly, Kamala’s schoolgirl crush on Carol might play differently if Vellani looked her actual age of 21 rather than 14).
As for the allegory for US foreign policy, which Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden slipped into their 2019 Captain Marvel, this has faded into the background almost entirely, and even when Carol reveals the dark truth about how she gained the nickname “Annihilator”, her supportive friends are quick to assure her that everybody makes mistakes.
The Marvels is screening in cinemas now.
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