There is one thing you can say for sure about THE MARVELS. There is a whole lot of it, and most of it involves overwrought CGI effects. They are beautifully executed, but eventually become tiresome, not just for the repetitive nature of the fight sequences, but also for the sheer scale, which starts at 11 and stays there. It’s exhausting. So is a script that is curiously both over-plotted and underwritten, and a tone that blithely leaps from high-stakes drama to not-quite-camp enough to save it.
The plot involves a pair of cuff bracelets of immense age and power. Of course they are. When the villain of the piece, Dar-Benn (Zawe Ashton) excavates one on a desolate planet somewhere out there in space, she is vexed to find only one. When she wonders where the other could be, we jump to Jersey City, New Jersey. There, Kamala Khan (Iman Vellani) is wearing the other one (a gift from her grandmother) and drawing another graphic novel featuring the thrilling adventures of her alter ego, Ms. Marvel, and her idol, Captain Marvel. Her dream of meeting her idol, whose visage is plastered on every available inch of her walls, is about to come true, to the consternation of her family, and the detriment of the family home where a skylight is punched from the ground floor to the second-floor bathroom.
Why is this happening? Entanglement of the theoretical physics type. For reasons that take up a great deal of exposition without actually explaining too much, Kamala is now playing quantum musical chairs with Captain Marvel aka Carol Danvers and with Monica Rambeau (Teyonah Parris), the former little girl left behind when Danvers followed her destiny to the stars. It’s rough, it’s tumble, and a great many aliens cycle through the Khan’s living room before it all stops as suddenly as it began. When it does, Kamala is recruited from high school to S.A.B.R.E.. that cool super-secret agency headed by Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), that cool super-secret agent.
Meanwhile, Dar-Benn is creating new wormholes with the other cuff and thereby threatening the very structure of the space-time continuum. Never fear, Danvers and her two new teammates will save the day after rescuing some refugees, following some false leads, bonding with a tuneful montage of place-shifting, and taking a detour to a planet where the sartorially bold populace sings instead of speaks. Except for the Prince Yan (Park Seo-joon) because, as Danvers explains, he’s bilingual.
There is nothing new here. The tropes virtually creak with age and creep along, abashed by their hackneyed familiarity. Jackson sparks things up by being Jackson, while Vellani has a refreshingly bubbly, wide-eyed wonder over meeting her hero and living her dream while not being able to control gushing out her every thought. She has nailed exactly how a teenager would behave in this situation. The rest of the cast slip easily in and out of the ci-mentioned tones with ironic takes on the humor, even when it falls flat, and with touching depth when it’s required. The exception is Ashton, who emotes her way through an entirely different film, one firmly rooted in mirthless melodrama. Not that she doesn’t throw herself into the part with a commitment worthy of Lear, but in a much less worthy cause. Give her an epic tragedy, and my guess is she would be brilliant, with nary a bit of scenery chewed, nor even nibbled. There is an intensity there that doesn’t need to feed, and a presence that is arresting. It makes the saccharine touches with which the film is liberally littered all the more annoying by comparison.
THE MARVELS has one indisputably redeeming moment involving weightless kittens floating in space. It is nothing less than enchanting and witty. So is the reason for then being there. The rest is a taxing slog that wants to be too many things at once, and succeeds in being very, very little.