As with a lot of studio-created girl groups, the women fronting “The Marvels” are carefully styled, wear coordinated outfits during their big numbers, have a few flashily choreographed moves and, because they’ve clearly put in the rehearsal time, know how to harmonize (more or less). The group has been created for maximum bankability, familiarity and relatability, and to that instrumental end, it delivers exactly what you expect of it and not a single thing, idea or beat more. Its members are nice, even at their most ostensibly fierce, and so unrelievedly bland that it feels like an affront, especially to all the women here doing so much hard work.
This is the 33rd movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which continues to expand even as its cultural interest and resonance diminish. “The Marvels” will dominate the box office, of course, at least during its opening weekend, just because it will flood theaters. It’s pointless complaining, I know (believe me), but it’s frustrating what weak tea this movie is because the director, Nia DaCosta (“Little Woods,” “Candyman”), has talent, the cast is appealing, and there’s a lightly gonzo scene that shows you what the other 100 minutes could have been. It’s almost as if the suits at Marvel Studios know it doesn’t matter if their movies are any good.
Once again, Brie Larson plays Captain Marvel a.k.a. Carol Danvers, a former Air Force pilot who inadvertently picked up her superpowers once upon a time. She kept on flying throughout the decades, though sometimes without a craft, hurtling through space and fighting alongside the Avengers all while maintaining her dewily youthful looks. When she first appears here, she is hanging out with her scene-stealing orange tabby, Goose (played by Tango and Nemo), on her spaceship and doing something important-looking. Soon, with Goose perched on one shoulder — no spacesuits here — this very special cat lady is zipping off to a planet and into another over-plotted, overextended escapade.
This time she’s joined by two super-empowered beings from the small screen: Kamala Khan a.k.a. Ms. Marvel (Iman Vellani), a Captain Marvel superfan from Jersey City (and Disney+); and Monica Rambeau (Teyonah Parris), an astronaut (introduced as an adult in the series “WandaVision”) who’s part of S.A.B.E.R. In the interest of moving this review along — and because I had no idea what Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) was doing in space with a bunch of uniformed lackeys (other than barking orders with his usual gruffness) — here is how the movie’s production notes describe S.A.B.E.R: “a space station covertly acting as Earth’s first point of contact and defense from a rapidly expanding universe.”
Written by DaCosta, Megan McDonnell and Elissa Karasik, “The Marvels” reunites old friends and foes while introducing new characters and developments, all of which will presumably be folded into future installments, as is the Marvel way. The big fights and minor tension are principally generated by the villainous Dar-Benn (Zawe Ashton), the ruler (or, in Marvel-speak, Supremor) of the Kree people; she wields a mighty hammer and bears a grudge against Captain Marvel. In one of the larger set pieces, Dar-Benn takes brutal aim against other enemies. As terrified men, women and children flee and buildings fall, the scene briefly summons up visions of our world, which the movie otherwise strenuously ignores.
As is always the case with Marvel directors, DaCosta’s principal job seems to be to keep the greased gears moving as she folds in innumerable close-ups of happy, sad and mad faces, all of which are meant to remind viewers that their heroes are just like us, only super. To underscore this point, Kamala’s fangirl shtick goes on too long; the character is doodling images of her idol when the movie opens and sometime later wears a T-shirt emblazoned with Captain Marvel’s image. Once the character calms down, so does Vellani, an appealing performer with comic timing who nicely bounces off both Larson and Parris. They, in turn, have been given an unfortunate surrogate mother-daughter dynamic that is fortunately underdeveloped because all you really want to do is watch Goose, who’s indeed golden.
Rated PG-13 for bloodless cartoon violence. Running time: 1 hour 45 minutes. In theaters.