Under an angry star the planet Hala is dying, its leader Dar-Benn seeking out an ancient artefact which will allow her to tap the resources of limitless energy, clean water and an unpolluted atmosphere to save it and her people, the Kree; a noble cause, but there are those who will stand in her way, chief among them the Annihilator who first brought disaster upon her planet then abandoned them to their fate.
Elsewhere, on Earth, New Jersey teenager Kamala Khan is living the crazy life of pint-sized proto-Avenger Ms Marvel, drawing herself into a future where she and Carol Danvers, Captain Marvel herself, do the impossible over and over, saving the universe and becoming best friends forever in the process, a fantasy into which she is unceremoniously thrown when her bangle begins to exhibit strange new powers.
Astonishingly the thirty third film of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, an empire which now also encompasses numerous linked shorts and television shows and all their associated crossovers and from next year will embrace the previously separate X-Men universe with the forthcoming Deadpool 3, notably 2024’s only Marvel feature film in what is normally a packed schedule, it is perhaps fitting that The Marvels is a tale of entanglement.
The artefact sought by Dar-Benn (Zawe Ashton) one of a pair, the other already held by Kamala (Iman Vellani), they are linked together, but also tied to Kamala through quantum entanglement are S.A.B.E.R. agent Monica Rambeau (Teyonah Parris) and Captain Marvel herself, Carol Danvers (Brie Larson), both of them in the proximity of a damaged jump gate when it malfunctions and subsequently uncontrollably switching places with the others when they use their powers.
The three leads reprising roles they have played before, Vellani in the Ms Marvel miniseries, Parris in WandaVision and Larson in a trio of Marvel films as lead, ensemble player and cameo, bringing them together generates new sparks, Rambeau still grieving for the death of her mother, best friend of Danvers who abandoned her and the Earth, and Kamala an insatiable fangirl whose sudden proximity to the understandable object of her adoration overrides her awareness of the danger they are in, bringing an infectious joy back to a series which sometimes forgets its purpose above all is to entertain and inspire.
Crucially, directed by Candyman’s Nia DaCosta, The Marvels is also compact both in terms of the number of primary characters and in being focused entirely on the threat of Dar-Benn rather than advancing a number of subplots to be picked up in other avenues, the shortest Marvel feature film yet released and the first to clock in under two hours since Ant-Man and the Wasp, something which gives even the customarily stern Nick Fury (the ubiquitous Samuel L Jackson) reason to relax and smile.
A cosmic travelogue in the same mode as the recently completed Guardians of the Galaxy trilogy, jumping from the desolate moon MB-418 to the industrial ruin of Hala, the refugee colony of Tarnax where the Skrull have made their home with harmoniously curved architecture in the mountains and the musical waterworld Aladna where there’s time for an unexpected but appropriately colourful dance number, each environment is different and dynamic but that is not to say that The Marvels is trivial or superficial.
A war driven by the limited resources of the galaxy, much the same as that initiated by Thanos, Dar-Benn steals from populated worlds which Captain Marvel, Rambeau and Ms Marvel are forced to defend while ignoring the solution which could have avoided conflict, that there are countless uninhabited systems which could supply the same, her insistence on tying the salvation of her people with revenge making her a one-note antagonist, the entanglement undermining her posture as the wronged party when embracing the common ground and placing the task as the challenge which drove the film would have allowed The Marvels to truly fly high and uncompromised under the flag of sisterhood, diversity and unity.
The Marvels is on general release and also screening in IMAX