Let me draw your attention to one thing about The Marvels. It’s the running time, a crisp 100 minutes even including the mid-credit sequence (which is worth sticking around for). That’s shorter even than the original Iron Man. It’s not just that you can take the kids to an evening showing and still get them into bed at a reasonable hour. The shorter time means that this movie is cleaner and sharper, free of the bloat that has accompanied even the good Marvel films of late. It’s one thing I find refreshing in this latest installment.
The film begins with Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) sending a grown-up Capt. Monica Rambeau (Teyonah Parris) to check out an anomaly near the space station that’s orbiting Earth. To his surprise, she vanishes and is replaced by Kamala Khan a.k.a. Miss Marvel (Iman Vellani). A scientific event that I don’t care enough about to get into has resulted in the two women and Carol Danvers (Brie Larson) all exchanging places when they exercise their superpowers. This happens just as Kree leader Dar-Benn (Zawe Ashton) comes after Captain Marvel harboring a highly personal grudge against her. Turns out Carol is known as “The Annihilator” among the Kree, not unjustifiably.
Director/co-writer Nia DaCosta proved her sense of visual precision in her recent Candyman sequel. Here she’s dealing with protagonists who switch places on a dime, and she captures the chaos of an early fight sequence when the ladies teleport unpredictably among a barren exoplanet, the space station, and Kamala’s house in Jersey City. This contrasts neatly with the climactic fight, when all three of our heroines take on Dar-Benn and smoothly coordinate their movements. Reportedly this film required some weeks of reshoots, but the action at least does not turn to egg salad in the process. Despite the noticeable economy here, the film retains a feeling of looseness and not taking itself too seriously, as the plot stops for a dance number on a planet where everybody lives inside a Disney musical number. The space station is overrun by a herd of newly hatched baby Flerkens, and if the resulting needle drop is on the nose, it still made me laugh and laugh.
Maybe the most important thing is that these three lead actresses seem to take palpable joy in one another’s company. Vellani pulls her weight whether Kamala is fangirling over Carol or trying to come up with a superhero nickname for Monica, and Parris shows a comic touch here that she didn’t in Candyman or Chi-Raq or even in Dear White People. Their rapport carries the movie over its wobbly plot developments, and Ashton makes a more effective villain by being immune to the hijinks around her. Tessa Thompson drops in as Valkyrie, who turns out to have a pre-existing relationship with Carol, and I’m shipping them. It just makes too much sense not to happen.
I tend to keep my eye on the small picture when I’m reviewing these Marvel films, so I’m not sure whether the series has spread itself too thin with its TV entries. I don’t know if the superfranchise needs a hard reset. If it does, The Marvels isn’t it. I’m a simple creature, and all I know is that this movie delivers its payload of diverting business and then gets off the screen before it wears out its welcome. So I go home happy.
Starring Brie Larson, Teyonah Parris, and Iman Vellani. Directed by Nia DaCosta. Written by Nia DaCosta, Megan McDonnell, and Elissa Karasik. Rated PG-13.