The Marvels

4K ULTRA HD REVIEW:

Street Date 2/13/24;
Disney/Marvel;
Action;
Box Office $84.5 million;
$29.99 DVD, $36.99 Blu-ray, $44.99 UHD BD;
Rated ‘PG-13’ for action/violence and brief language.
Stars Brie Larson, Teyonah Parris, Iman Vellani, Zawe Ashton, Gary Lewis, Seo-Jun Park, Zenobia Shroff, Mohan Kapur, Saagar Shaikh, Samuel L. Jackson.

There’s no disputing it anymore. The Marvel Cinematic Universe has lost its way.

The Marvels, the 33rd film in the MCU, is just the latest stumbling block for a franchise trying to rediscover its creative focus following the immense success of the “Infinity Saga” that concluded with Avengers: Endgame and Spider-Man: Far From Home.

Almost all the films of the three phases that constituted the Infinity Saga were notable for being able to not only introduce new characters and ideas to the audience, but also tell compelling stories that were also clearly building into a larger narrative in a way that excited viewers and fueled anticipation for the next installment. With that first big story arc having concluded, the attempts to follow it up have been muddled at best, lacking in a discernable direction or stakes to sufficiently fuel the fans’ enthusiasm. Further diluting the brand with a string of television projects that vary widely in quality hasn’t helped. In fact the best MCU content the past few years has been either largely unconnected to the wider franchise or wrapping up loose ends from the Infinity Saga.

Primarily a sequel to 2019’s Captain Marvel, The Marvels is the 10th MCU movie since the beginning of “Phase Four,” otherwise known as the “Multiverse Saga.” But it’s also a sequel to several of the MCU’s Disney+ limited series, including 2021’s WandaVision, 2022’s Ms. Marvel, and last year’s awful Secret Invasion, which might as well not exist given how much its storylines are ignored by The Marvels. Even so, that’s a lot of background material for casual viewers to keep track of.

The main thrust of The Marvels is to team Carol Danvers (Brie Larson), aka Captain Marvel, with Monica Rambeau (Teyonah Parris), seen as a kid in Captain Marvel but imbued with photonic powers in WandaVision, and Kamala Khan (Iman Vellani), the title hero from Ms. Marvel who is empowered by a magical bracelet of mysterious origins.

They meet due to the entanglement of their powers causing them to switch places following some manipulation of an interstellar travel network by the Kree villain Dar-Benn (Zawe Ashton), who wants to restore her homeworld, which was devastated by a civil war caused by Captain Marvel in the 1990s-set aftermath of her solo movie. Her plan is essentially the plot of Spaceballs — steal the air and resources from other planets to rebuild her own.

With some coordination by Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), the three marvels are able to team up to confront Dar-Benn and put a halt to her campaign of collateral damage.

The movie eventually gets to where the MCU needs it to go in terms of setting up future storylines, but it’s not a smooth ride to get there. Dar-Benn ends up being one of the most forgettable antagonists in the canon, the tonal shifts of the story are jarring, and too many of the key setpieces are just plain goofy. First, there’s a planet where the population communicates through musical numbers, which just seems like the writers being too clever for their own good. Then, later in the film comes a comedic subplot involving alien cats that doesn’t seem to serve much of a purpose other than keep Nick Fury, Kamala’s family and the rest of the supporting cast busy.

The most memorable aspect of The Marvels is the chemistry between the three heroes as they reluctantly learn to act as a team, the highlight being the endearing energy exuded by Vellani as Kamala, a die-hard fan of Carol who just seems happy to be involved. Ultimately, the film’s best assets are a pair of epilogue scenes that tease an expansion of the MCU that fans have been anticipating, including a cute callback to Iron Man that begins to address the slew of younger heroes being gradually introduced the past few years. Hopefully with some time to reassess Marvel can coalesce these threads into the higher tiers of entertainment quality the studio has proved capable of in the past.

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The Blu-ray of The Marvels includes a smattering of extras that give viewers the gist of the making of the film. The 11-minute “Entangled” is the primary behind-the-scenes featurette, supplemented by five minutes of production diaries focused on amusing stories from the set.

Director and co-writer Nia DaCosta joins VFX supervisor Tara DeMarco for a feature-length commentary track punctuated mostly by comic book fan DaCosta’s excitement for the project.

There are also four decent deleted scenes that run a total of about six minutes, and a two-minute gag reel.

In the 4K combo pack, the commentary is included on both the 4K disc and the regular Blu-ray, while the rest of the extras are contained on just the Blu-ray.

Interestingly, the Disney+ streaming service includes an hour-long making-of The Marvels documentary as part of its “Marvel Studios: Assembled” series that, while using some common footage, offers a lot more detail than the featurettes included on the disc.

WandaVision

STREAMING REVIEW: 

Disney+/Marvel;
Sci-Fi/Fantasy;
Not rated;
Stars Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Bettany, Kathryn Hahn, Teyonah Parris, Randall Park, Kat Dennings, Josh Stamberg, Julian Hilliard, Jett Klyne, Evan Peters.

The way it plays out, WandaVision could leave viewers both glad to welcome the return of the Marvel Cinematic Universe after a year-and-a-half hiatus, and cautiously optimistic about its future following the events of Avengers: Endgame.

However, it’s definitely a fitting choice for Marvel Studios’ first direct foray into television with MCU content (previous shows such as Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and the Netflix “Defenders” group were supposedly set in the MCU as well, but they were produced by a different studio division and their canon-status has fallen into doubt).

Due to the pandemic, the last MCU release before this was Spider-Man: Far From Home in July 2019. Since then, Marvel has been preparing a slate of Disney+ shows, but its schedule has been rearranged a bit, most notably the delay of the Black Widow movie for more than a year.

Thus it is that “Phase Four” of the MCU kicks off with WandaVision on the small screen.

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WandaVision embraces its television origins, as several episodes pay homage to classic sitcoms of the past. Right off the bat, viewers are treated to what sounds like a typical 1950s family sitcom theme song, revealing that Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) and The Vision (Paul Bettany) of the Avengers are now married and moving into a house in the suburbs. This of course raises many questions, as Vision died in Avengers: Infinity War.

In fact, the first three episodes are devoted to parodying the sitcom format, from the 1950s in episode one, to the 1960s in episode two, and the 1970s in episode three, complete with bespoke title tunes and elaborate credit sequences. There are hints of the outside world trying to break into whatever reality we’re watching before we finally get a sense of what’s happening in episode four. It’s a slow burn, but worth it. Heck, the stylings of classic TV should be enough of a draw, especially for viewers who enjoy identifying all the tropes on display and guessing where the show’s creators drew inspiration. My favorite is the 1980s-style in episode five, particularly the pitch-perfect ’80s-style theme song.

For the rest of the nine episodes, the limited series slips back and forth between TV parody and the outside world trying to figure out why an energy field has turned a small town in New Jersey into an evolving sitcom. The team trying to figure things out involves a number of established MCU characters, from Randall Park as FBI Agent Jimmy Woo from Ant-Man and The Wasp, to Kat Dennings as Darcy Lewis from the “Thor” movies, and Teyonah Parris as the grown up Monica Rambeau from Captain Marvel.

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The show will likely take a few rewatches for fans to truly appreciate it, especially when placed in the context of the future movies and TV shows it sets up. Some mixed reaction after its finale probably stems from the usual debate over releasing streaming shows for bingeing or week-to-week. As with all its shows, Disney+ released WandaVision as a weekly over the course of two months, allowing the mystery to build up and the audiences questions to mount as so many plot twists and revelations episode-to-episode fueled fan speculation about what was going on and who the new characters would turn out to be. Given the rabid expectations that had been built up for the ending, what turns out to be a low-key finale may not have sated the appetites of hardcore fans, and leaves a few questions hanging. Maybe they will be addressed when this story supposedly picks up in the next “Spider-Man” and “Doctor Strange” movies over the next couple of years. Maybe not. But there is no doubt that the show’s craftsmanship is impeccable.

I suspect those bingeing WandaVision going forward will not have the same issues with the slow buildup, since they won’t be waiting the whole week for answers, and the show will play more like a five-hour movie.

Still, the show is a trove of references to previous MCU movies involving Wanda and Vision, and the comics on which they are based. The performances are uniformly excellent, particularly Elizabeth Olsen as the heart of the series, both the sitcoms that seem built around her and WandaVision itself. She does a great job playing to each period while also bringing depth to her character at those times when the illusions are broken, as Wanda starts to learn the true limits of her powers, which may not have originated from where the audience has been led to believe. 

Kathryn Hahn is a delight as Agnes, Wanda’s nosy neighbor who keeps popping up and opportune times and turns out to be more important to Wanda’s fake reality than it seems. And Evan Peters, who played the “X-Men” movies version of the speedster Quicksilver, Wanda’s brother (played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson in the MCU) provides what could have been Marvel’s most meta cameo ever had the show pushed the implications of it to their natural storytelling conclusions rather than walking it back a bit with subsequent revelations.

And then there’s Paul Bettany, the veteran character actor who took on a small voiceover role as Tony Stark’s computer system in the original Iron Man, which blossomed into one of the key characters on the Avengers, to the strange but satisfying offbeat superhero love story of WandaVision. It just goes to show you never know where the smallest decisions could lead when you’re making it up as you go along. But that’s the kind of thing the MCU excels at, constantly.