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The Marvels (2023)::rating::2.5::rating::2.5

As a Star Trek nerd, I remember the 90s as an embarrassment of riches.  Actually, it was a never-ending glut:  We got seven seasons of The Next Generation, plus seven of Deep Space Nine!  But wait, there’s more–seven seasons of Voyager, featuring a holographic doctor and a chef that looks like a warthog!  Toss in four feature films and a litany of comic book tie-ins, and you’ve officially got more sci-fi than my little brain can handle.  At this point, I became Homer Simpson in that Halloween episode:  I’m no longer eating donuts because I want to; I’m eating them because Satan is poking me with a pitchfork.  When Enterprise debuted, I jumped ship, never to return.

I touch on that nerdery because that’s where I’m at with the MCU.  Exhausted, bloated, and covered in sprinkles.  The Marvels, the latest lackluster extravaganza, assumes you’ve seen Captain MarvelMs. MarvelWandavisionSecret Invasion, and probably the last two seasons of Growing Pains to understand any of it.  At one point, probably twenty-five or so movies ago, the Marvel Universe was a fun, freewheeling experience–the antidote to the drab, dishwatery DC films.  Now, it’s officially become a slog.  I’m no longer here because the donuts are tasty.  No, Satan is jabbing at my ribs and cackling manically, content that his sugary onslaught will never come to a stop.

In fact, I’m not really sure how to describe the story of The Marvels without referencing the hours of prerequisite homework you’ll need to keep your eyes from glazing.  I mean, I guess it could function as a standalone, but that would be like jumping right into season 6 of Growing Pains without really getting to know the Seaver clan.  (And trust me–you’ll never figure out the genius of “Boner” Stabone, or how Chrissy Seaver ages so fast.  It’s in your interest to enjoy the story from the beginning.)  Anywayyy…I’ll do my best to break this down for the noobs:

Okay, you’ve got Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel (Brie Larson).  She’s the cosmically powered superhero who once led the battle against Thanos.  Since then, she’s been traveling the galaxy, putting things right that once went wrong.  Carol’s journey hasn’t been without emotional and moral baggage:  She’s made mistakes, with the resulting casualties on a planetary scale.

Next, there’s Monica Rambeau (Teyonah Parris).  She’s the daughter of Maria (Lashana Lynch), Carol’s late bestie.  Monica has some serious abandonment issues with her estranged “Aunt” Carol.  She’s also picked up some wicked superpowers from the events of Wandavision.  As the film begins, Monica is in low Earth orbit, helping out Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson).

Finally, meet Kamala Khan (Iman Vellani).  In Ms. Marvel’s first season, Kamala inherits her grandmother’s bangle, which imbues her with Green Lantern-ish powers to create crystalline structures to help her fight bad guys.  She’s also a serious fan girl for Captain Marvel, and the rest of the Avengers, for that matter.  At the same time, Kamala’s also coming to terms with both the great power and responsibility that come with her sudden powers.

Even though the Marvel ladies are light years away from each other, their lives are about to intersect in a most awkward way.  It seems that when one of them uses their powers, they swap places with each other.  That means Ms. Marvel might drop into a firefight on a distant planet, while Captain Marvel crash lands in Kamala Khan’s closet.  (If you’re thinking that all this body-swapping will make for some confusing, incoherent action beats, you’d be absolutely right.)

Unfortunately, the Marvels’ interdimensional chaos coincides with the arrival of Dar-Benn (Zawe Ashton).  She’s a fanatical Kree with a grudge against Danvers and a strong desire to annihilate Earth.  So, if this makeshift team is going to take down this overpowered supervillain, they’re gotta work around their issues, both cosmic and interpersonal.

At a paltry 105 minutes, The Marvels crams in exposition until it threatens to bust at the seams.  So many plots; so many subplots.  This movie is essentially an ungainly mound of stuff for you to not care about.  Most of the character tension feels shoe-horned into the script.  Dar-Benn feels is a pretty generic villain, although Ashton gives her a really good scowl.  Other aspects–for instance, Kamala’s hero-worship and overprotective, hen-pecking parents–are just recycled elements from the TV shows.  Even with its brief runtime, The Marvels rarely seems like anything more than a rehash.

That’s a shame, as all three leads are compelling actresses.  Larson is spot-on as the lonely warrior, wracked with guilt from several directions.  I also enjoyed Parris as Monica, who’s just beginning to make sense of her immense gifts.  With that said, the real star here is Vallani, who single-handedly made Ms. Marvel into one of the most entertaining MCU shows yet.  She’s silly and self-assured, everything these Marvel movies used to be.  With stronger material, such talented players could’ve turned this into a team-up for the ages.  As is, we’re left with another product off the assembly line–another donut we can’t bear to eat.

When I finally turned away from Star Trek, I wasn’t aware of the term “franchise fatigue.”  Now, with every MCU release, that concept never escapes my mind.  The hard truth is that Avengers: Endgame felt like such a strong, organic conclusion to the Marvel storyline that everything beyond it plays like an epilogue no one is asking for.  Exhaustion is already creeping into box office returns and viewing figures.  Fans are eager for something fresh, and I can sadly say that The Marvels is just another verse of the same old song.

105 min.  PG-13.  Disney+.



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