The Marvels: Nia DaCosta blends action and farce in this good-natured fantasy adventure

Three superheroines get their powers – and plot lines – entangled during a cosmic crisis, but director Nia DaCosta and a bright cast bring back much of the fun, verve and emotion lacking in too many recent Marvel projects.

13 November 2023

By Kim Newman

Brie Larson as Carol Danvers in The Marvels (2023)
Sight and Sound

This sequel to Captain Marvel (2019), which introduced Brie Larson to the MCU as a star-spanning high-flyer, teams the Captain (aka Carol Danvers) up with characters previously established on Disney+ Marvel shows – Monica Rambeau (Teyonah Parris), who was empowered by a witch hex on WandaVision, and Kamala Khan (Iman Vellani), a Captain Marvel fangirl who joined the superheroic community in Ms Marvel.  

Given that Marvel backstories have become increasingly unwieldy and impossible to follow, it’s refreshing that this film makes a fist of being a jumping-on point. It deftly sketches what you need to know, then gets on with the space-faring adventure as a grudge-holding alien queen (Zawe Ashton) sets out to steal vital resources (atmosphere, sea, sun) from planets Captain Marvel has a stake in.

The smartest decision is using carefree teenager Kamala, who is giddily delighted to be on a team with her heroine, as viewpoint character, which allows for grounded comedy – Zenobia Shroff is a hoot as Kamala’s disapproving mother – but also a streak of honest idealism. Larson’s sometimes overly earnest Captain unbends under Kamala’s influence, especially when revisiting an all-singing planet where she is literally a Disney Princess.  

Nia DaCosta, who directed Candyman (2021), shuffles farce and action as the central trio of Marvels switch places at moments of crisis. It leans into the light space-operatic Marvel mode of James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy films or Taika Waititi’s Thors, but leaves out the adolescent snark – weighted to appeal to girls the way Gunn’s films do to boys. A joke poking fun at Cats (2019) arguably goes too far but emotional moments (once a key Marvel ingredient) give a rooting interest in planets-at-stake superpowered battles.  

The MCU is in choppy waters at the moment – making more accessible, good-natured, teen-appeal fantasy adventures like this might be a way forward.

 ► The Marvels is in UK cinemas now. 

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