RIP MCU — The Marvels

William J Hammon
13 min readNov 19, 2023

The writing has been on the wall for quite a while now. Ever since Phase Four of the Marvel Cinematic Universe began, the onslaught of diminishing returns has brought us to this inflection point. There have been a couple of bright spots, mostly from fan service films that served as closure for beloved characters that have been developed through this now 15-year endeavor. But apart from the likes of No Way Home, Wakanda Forever, and Guardians 3, it’s basically been one disappointment after the next. Black Widow was a token sendoff to a character that we already saw die, and the credits scene was just a demand that we watch a shitty Disney+ show. Shang-Chi had its charms, but was ultimately forgettable. The latest Thor and Ant-Man movies had confused tones that couldn’t balance humor with stakes, and ended up suffering because of Kevin Feige’s insistence on using green screen studios with 100% CGI backgrounds that eliminate all sense of scale and wonder. And of course, Eternals and Doctor Strange 2 were crass exercises in how Marvel wants to obligate you as a viewer to consume everything across all media in order for anything to make sense.

While most of these films still had something to enjoy (I liked Love and Thunder more than most, for instance), it became clear that the shelf life for the franchise had expired, and that this grand experiment in world-building was finally collapsing under its own weight. Rather than take the dwindling box office and critical reception to heart, Feige et al pressed on, pissing into the artistic winds and doubling down on Marvel and Disney’s need to commoditize the audience. By looking way too far into an idealized financial future, they missed the point of the here and now, which is to entertain and inspire the viewership they currently have. As such, the MCU has effectively signed its own death certificate, evidenced by what may be the nadir of the entire series, The Marvels.

This movie is an absolute mess from beginning to end, and what’s more dispiriting is that we basically got the “fixed” version of it. Originally slated for release this February (typically a studio dumping ground, but Marvel has scored a few surprise hits like the original Black Panther), it switched places with Quantumania (thereby speeding up the other film’s post-production schedule, which no doubt led to some of the more shameful effects in that entry) because the story was so convoluted that it required weeks of reshoots in order for it to even be coherent. That’s how far this franchise has fallen. And even with that extra time, the end result is a shitshow on par with the elephant from Babylon, about as exciting and insightful as dengue fever, with an even more confused tone than its subpar predecessors, terrible effects and editing, and an utterly baffling continuation of the corporate synergy model that has been rapidly failing for the last four years.

That last point is laid bare in the most painful way possible, because our titular team consists of Carol Danvers (Brie Larson), Monica Rambeau (Teyonah Parris), and Kamala Khan (Iman Vellani). Right from the off, in order to understand anything about the dynamic these three might share, you basically had to have watched the previous underwhelming Captain Marvel film, WandaVision, and Ms. Marvel. And since they’re being aided by Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) in space, and there’s some stuff with the Skrull, throw in Secret Invasion for good measure. That means, as a prerequisite for this relatively short movie (mercifully only 105 minutes), the Marvel machine expects you to have taken in and retained over 16 hours of theatrical and streaming content. For those of us with lives outside of Marvel, we get only pithy one-liners to explain anything. When asked how she gets her light-based powers, Rambeau literally says, “Oh, I walked through a witch’s hex shield.” We’re supposed to just take that at face value? Really? I’m sure fans of WandaVision get what this means, but for the rest of us, a character’s ability to see light and pass through matter is reduced to the Marvel equivalent of “A wizard did it.” Ironically, that joke was originally meant as a lazy way to mollify overly obsessive nerds, and now it stands as a lazy way to dismiss those who don’t do enough homework to meet the corporate base requirement for viewership. What the hell have we become?!

Anyway, when it comes to the actual, revamped story, we see our so-called villain, Dar-Benn (Zawe Ashton), a Kree warrior with an absurd costume, dead eyes, and a faux-serious voice. She refers to Captain Marvel as “The Annihilator” with the same frequency that Black Adam says he’s not a hero, and with the same degree of believability. See, in a hasty opening montage of the previous movie, we are briefly reminded that Carol Danvers fought against the Supreme Intelligence of the Kree home world. In flashback, we see that she eventually destroyed the digital nemesis that used Annette Bening as an avatar. This inadvertently led to a civil war that has all but destroyed the planet of Hala, and everyone blames Danvers rather than themselves. So Dar-Benn and her minions destroy some stuff on a moon or something, and she comes across a magic wristband that allows her to absorb light and create jump points in space.

Since Kamala also has one of these bangles (“My grandma gave it to me” counts as exposition), this somehow creates an entanglement where if any combination of herself, Danvers, or Rambeau uses their powers at the same time (but notably not any other MCU characters with light-based abilities), they switch places instantly across the galaxy. This premise is about as flimsy as the cartoon doodle that Kamala draws in her bedroom while she fangirls about Captain Marvel, which I’m guessing is a physical representation of the degree of thought that went into the story. If you found this charming on her show, I can respect that. Everyone’s taste is different. For me as a newcomer to this character, it only serves to make her annoying as all get out, and every time she squeals in excitement I want to sue Marvel for aural rape.

So Carol’s in space fighting Kree, Rambeau’s also in space, though closer to Earth, working at the S.A.B.E.R. station with Fury (because S.H.I.E.L.D. wasn’t lame enough), and Kamala’s being an irritating teenager in Jersey City. With a flick of the wristband, however, shit begins going crazy, with all three trading positions and various things being destroyed (like the Khan family home; I will concede that Zenobia Shroff, Mohan Kapur, and Saagar Shaikh as Kamala’s family are darling, the only potential incentive I would ever have to watch the show) as they fight various goons.

This should have been an amazing and thrilling action set piece, but unfortunately, it suffers from all the trappings that have made the MCU borderline unwatchable for years now. There’s no rhyme or reason to how the switching mechanic works, just about everything is lazy CGI, including the locations (Kamala’s house is one of about six physical sets I counted in the entire film), the camera moves and the editing cuts so frequently and feverishly that there’s no ability to focus on anything for more than a split second, and the soundtrack (Missy Elliott’s “RATATA,” one of her lesser works) is more distracting and annoying than engaging.

To make matters worse, there are so many basic continuity errors that I have to wonder if there was a script supervisor on set for the reshoots. The most obvious example is Kamala herself. When the sequence begins and she’s sketching in her room, she’s wearing normal street clothes. After she senses something on her bangle that eventually triggers the first warp, she’s in her Ms. Marvel costume. This changes back and forth throughout the fight, with people jumping in and out of Rambeau’s space suit above Earth, and in the climactic bit, as Kamala’s falling through the sky because she materialized in mid-air, she’s back in her streets. If this is something that she does in the show and it’s explained, then it’s bad form for the movie to not make this clear. And if it’s just bad editing and costuming because no one was paying attention to continuity, then it’s bad production. Either way, it’s a glaring reason why this movie sucks, and this is but the first of several times where this obvious problem happens.

Dar-Benn (I swear I have to keep looking up her name, that’s how generic and forgettable she is) has decided to exact her revenge on Captain Marvel (for a movie so fast-paced, it feels like half the runtime is used up by how slowly she talks) by destroying the worlds that she calls home in order to restore her own. Through the civil war, Hala’s atmosphere has thinned, the seas have lowered and turned toxic, and its star has dimmed and shrunk. How either a war or Captain Marvel could have caused any of this is completely glossed over, mostly because it would have required actual thought. I mean, seriously, how does destroying the Supreme Intelligence lead to a fucking star dying in just 30 years? Also, if it’s going that rapidly, how is there even a planet of Hala left to save? Cataclysmic astronomical and weather events would have destroyed all life in a fraction of that time. Setting that aside, how could this possibly be Danvers’ fault unless she physically set the star’s death in motion? Even if you blame her for starting the war, surely some other asshole is more directly responsible for the potential death of the solar system, right? Nah, you have to have functioning brain cells to think that.

Moving on though, using her mystical plastic spray-painted wrist thingy that you can easily buy at Spirit Halloween — one that a teenager in New Jersey also randomly has — and her Accuser’s hammer (similar to the thing Lee Pace’s character from the first Guardians movie had), she first invades the planet Tarnax, home to a Skrull refugee colony. After some disingenuous negotiations with Emperor Dro’ge (Gary Lewis), who apparently we’re supposed to know and care about, Dar-Benn uses her toys to open an unstable jump point to Hala to literally steal Tarnax’s atmosphere, killing all those that the Marvels can’t save in time.

It’s scenes like these that demonstrate the core problems with the film, and the latter-day MCU in general. I have no idea who half these characters are, much less do I give a shit about them. First, the only way I could would be to memorize hours of streaming content and commit myself fully to Marvel’s business model. Even if I was a fan of the first Captain Marvel film, or her cameos since, that’s asking far too much of a viewer. Second, there’s no sense of scale, time, or place for any of the goings-on. I can suspend my disbelief with the best of them, but outer space is HUGE, and you’re not giving me anything to latch onto to show how any of this is possible, even within the fantastical worlds of comic books. With the Guardians series it’s largely forgivable, because that has always been about comedy and spectacle first, leaning into the absurdity. But Captain Marvel, as presented in this franchise, is meant to be more serious and grounded. It can still be lighthearted and funny in places, but the film doesn’t even pretend to have some basis in reality for a character established as having much more tangible and Earthbound bona fides.

This leads to the third, and largest issue. We’ve seen it before, most recently with Quantumania, but this is even worse, and that’s the fact that Marvel has seemingly forgotten how to balance tone. Half this film wants to be a space-faring buddy comedy with three charismatic leads (only Danvers comes close to really working for me, but if you like all three of them, more power to you), and the other half wants to be this dour, high-stakes, world-ending threat to all we hold dear, because of course Earth is one of Dar-Benn’s targets. Rather than trying to ride the thin line between comedy or drama, or simply picking a lane and allowing for brief asides to the other, the movie thinks it can have it both ways, and it simply can’t. You can’t expect me to laugh at Kamala’s giggly, doe-eyed hero worship while at the same time destroying entire planets. This is why Star Wars fans hate Jar-Jar Binks. Even if you find his antics charming or amusing once in a while, there’s a time and a place for it, and it just doesn’t fit the tone of what the original film, or the larger series, is supposed to be. Now imagine if you put him in A New Hope. Think how awful that would be. You can’t have a goofy clown character and then blow up Alderaan in the same picture. It would have ruined everything.

That’s what happens here. There are some decently creative ideas amidst the deluge of utter crap, like a planet where everyone communicates through song, featuring Park Seo-joon as its prince (I literally saw him in a private screening of South Korea’s Oscar entry, Concrete Utopia, the same day I saw this; review to come as we get closer to its release date). It’s an intriguing concept that could be explored for a ton of humor and whimsy. Instead we only stick around long enough for Kamala and Monica to get new outfits before the whole thing is abandoned for Dar-Benn’s next attack that presumably wipes out that entire world. Similarly, you have the utter delight that is Kamala’s family, but they only make you yearn for a better movie, and there’s a jaw-dropping sequence featuring flerkin kittens set to “Memory.” In a Guardians film or one of the first two Ant-Man movies, this might have worked, because it would lean into their lighter, sillier motifs. Here, though, it’s counterbalanced by actual genocide, making the end result literally worse than Cats. Nothing ends up being funny, just about every plot turn feels insulting, and not a single ounce of pathos is earned. You can’t kill billions of people and then expect me to feel anything but rage at your Three’s Company bullshit where you’re both trying to workshop a superhero name for Monica Rambeau while also using her to emotionally blackmail Danvers for not being there when Lashana Lynch’s Maria died (Is that a spoiler? At this point, who gives a crap?) simply because those other billions are AI-generated CGI models rather than live-action people. This is the world YOU created, that YOU seemingly want me to care about, and then you casually throw in sarcastic quips as you murder entire civilizations. Remember when Thanos doing that was a bad thing? How is the cavalier attitude of the filmmakers here supposed to be any different?

This movie is the poster child for everything wrong with the MCU, and why the franchise has been over in the hearts and minds of general audiences for a while now (and that’s to say nothing of horrible credits teases for a new Avengers Initiative or bringing back Kelsey Grammer’s Beast only to have him be yet another CGI abomination rather than just spending the money to put him in makeup for a day). Everything is about the brand, not the characters or story. The production values are shoddy at best. The visual effects are rushed and shameful, taking the proceedings further and further away from anything resembling the physical world of reality. Rather than opting for comedy, drama, or a subtle blend of the two, Feige and director Nia DaCosta go for the absolute extremes, torpedoing both sides so that nothing resonates. And somehow, the oversaturation only gets more craven, once again actively punishing the audience for not devoting their lives to absorbing everything Marvel puts out, as if we’re the light bangle things in human form.

And again, this is the version of The Marvels we got AFTER the powers that be started to realize that there was a problem. This, somehow, is the end result of an extra nine months of work. I can’t imagine how horrible the original version was going to be, if this is considered an improvement.

Seriously, what else can we do? In order for the series to continue, there are so many things that need to be done, but Feige basically refuses to do them. After all the hype for Kang and the Multiverse, at minimum he now has to recast the character, as Jonathan Majors is looking at possible jail time, or completely retool the direction of the “saga.” There’s now so much content that the MCU itself is the media equivalent of the Gluttony victim from Se7en, and rather than ease off the gas, we’re still going full speed ahead with the overstuffing, even when we’re given a film that literally shows the insanity and dangers of “entanglement.”

So let’s just call it. The MCU is dead. This franchise is no more. It has ceased to be. It’s expired and gone to meet its maker. It’s a stiff. Bereft of life, it rests in peace! Other Monty Python lines! This is what happens when you don’t quit while you’re ahead. You’re supposed to leave the audience wanting more, not throwing everything possible at them and then blaming them for not wanting it. Everything ends eventually, whether Feige wants to admit it or not. Most of us are ready to move on, though, and The Marvels will stand as a prime example as to why. If nothing else, remember this. The very last sound you hear at the end of the credits is a vomiting flerkin. If that doesn’t sum up the experience, I don’t know what else possibly could.

Grade: F

Join the conversation in the comments below! What film should I review next? When did you check out of the MCU, or are you still fully committed? Is Dar-Benn the worst villain in the franchise’s history, and if not, who is? Let me know! And remember, you can follow me on Twitter (fuck “X”) and YouTube for even more content!

Originally published at http://actuallypaid.com on November 19, 2023.

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William J Hammon

All content is from the blog, “I Actually Paid to See This,” available at actuallypaid.com