The Marvels (Christian Movie Review)
About The Movie
Let’s cut right to the chase: Is The Marvels a good movie? No, it’s not. Is it the unadulterated disaster that much of the early buzz has suggested? Not really. It is not as borderline unwatchable as Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania or Thor: Love and Thunder, but it certainly belongs among the worst entries in the MCU. The issue with The Marvels is not that it’s objectively terrible but that it’s hollow. It doesn’t offer much beyond “more MCU content!” And at this point, I’m not sure if that is enough to satisfy viewers beyond the most devoted Marvel fans.
In many ways, The Marvels feels like the convergence of all the worst tendencies that have caused the once invulnerable MCU to stumble in recent years. The movie spends so much time picking up the baton from previous stories or trying to arrange the game pieces on the board for future stories that it never gets around to telling a compelling story in the present. Yes, there are some entertaining action scenes, patented Marvel jokes, and glossy CGI spectacle, but I left the theater wondering, “What was the point of any of that?” It’s a film that’s not really about anything other than Marvel itself.
One of the gimmicks in the story is that the three heroes switch places whenever they use their powers. The idea itself is fun, and it results in some enjoyable action scenes and clever moments. Unfortunately, the gimmick is a suitable metaphor for the film itself. The Marvels feels like a story that was created by a committee who couldn’t agree with each other. Various discordant pieces are graphed together to fill the runtime, but they don’t come together with much cohesion.
The tone is all over the map. Sometimes it plays itself seriously, but other times it veers into over-the-top spoof territory. The film becomes a musical in one scene because…it’s funny, I guess? Another goofy sequence involving alien cats seems like a leftover Guardians of the Galaxy outtake. In fact, there are some entirely inconsequential subplots that feel left over from earlier drafts of the script. Even Captain Marvel’s personality seems to fluctuate from scene to scene. The film doesn’t lack vision; it lacks commitment to any of its conflicting visions.
The main problem with The Marvels is that it doesn’t give audiences enough reason to care about the characters or events beyond a pre-existing investment in the larger unfolding story. Brie Larson is a talented actress, but I struggle to put my finger on who Captain Marvel is as a character. What are her defining character traits? She’s just kind of there. The audience roots for her because she’s the protagonist, but the story fails to establish any other compelling reason to get behind her.
The villain suffers a similar fate. She’s fine but totally forgettable. Unlike Captain Marvel, she is at least given a clear goal, but her character isn’t developed beyond that singular motivation.
The one exception that pierces through my overall apathy toward this film is Iman Vellani as Ms. Marvel. She’s a delight. I didn’t watch the Ms. Marvel show in Disney+, but it’s easy to see why the character has become a fan favorite. Beyond her vibrant energy and charisma, her character is refreshingly relatable and grounded. Rather than being just another superpowered person in a sprawling story of cosmic struggles and infinite multiverses, she’s a young girl with big dreams. She has a family and personal attachments that tether her to the real world. Without her character, this film would have been a disaster. If the future of the MCU looks more like Ms. Marvel than Captain Marvel, then perhaps it can regain some of its lost sparkle.
The Marvels doesn’t do anything to change the unfavorable narratives that have developed about the MCU in recent years. There are some sporadic enjoyable moments. Diehard Marvel fans may get excited by some hints at where the larger story is headed, and audiences with modest expectations who merely want to watch some superpowered women punch nameless bad guy goons into the distant horizon will find something here to scratch that itch. But this movie seems like more evidence that the MCU has overstayed its welcome. The Marvels might not be an awful movie, but it’s a boring and vacuous one. In a way, that’s almost a worse fate.
Engage The Film
Names and Identity
How much power is in a name? In the Bible, people’s names were often changed to reflect God’s new calling on their life (Abraham, Peter, etc.). In The Marvels, names are intertwined with a character’s identity. Throughout the film, the characters attempt to give Monica Rambeau a “code name” but are unable to land on one. There is a sense that she has not yet “earned” an alter ego and that adopting a heroic persona before living as a hero is an empty gesture.
Captain Marvel also wrestles with names and how they reflect her identity. Ms. Marvel idolizes her from afar, so much so that she initially struggles to see the human Carol Danvers behind the Captain Marvel persona. On the other hand, Captain Marvel is repeatedly called “The Annihilator” by her adversaries due to the destructive (but unintended) consequences of her actions. The question is, which of these names reflects her true identity?
The film seems to suggest that it is our actions that give meaning to our name, not our name that gives meaning to our lives. Carol may be called “The Annihilator,” but her choices can either affirm or debunk that title. At one point, Captain Marvel admits that she has kept her distance from Monica for many years because she was ashamed of how she failed to live up to Monica’s lofty expectations of her, to which Monica says that she never saw her as her hero’s persona but only for who she really was—her friend.
In a time when labels are plentiful (some we claim and others that are attributed to us), the movie is a reminder that ultimately it is what we do that defines us. We are known by the “fruit” of our actions (Matthew 7:15-20), not the labels we may have adopted or been given.