2023, Movies

The Marvels (2023, Nia DaCosta)

There was a time when certain movies would be put in front of test audiences and feedback would be incorporated into the film, often against the creative team’s wishes. (This may still happen, I have no idea.) Those movies were “focus grouped to death” or what have you, where vague feedback from audience members was incorporated into the film due to film executive fiat, often at the protest of the director and/or writer and/or main producer. This film, yet another poorly reviewed MCU film, feels like one of those movies. I have no idea if it went through that process, or whether some executive just said “Make a really diverse Marvel film and don’t worry about, you know, whether or not it works as a film” but it sure feels that this isn’t the work of a small group of creative people, it feels like it was focus grouped. (To fully lean into my Old Man Yelling at Clouds, it feels like it was focus grouped by Gen Z.)

I used to eventually watch all MCU movies, despite complaining about all of them. But it became increasingly difficult to keep up with all the different threads once these threads moved into TV too and once the “Infinity Saga” ended, I lost my willingness to even try keeping up. And so I found myself aware that I had, um, “missed” some things between the first Captain Marvel and this film. There were references to properties I have absolutely not seen or perhaps might not even been aware of. (I just re-learned of Ms. Marvel‘s existence. So I guess this is related to that.) It’s possible that this lack of knowledge affected how I viewed the film but I doubt it. I really do think it comes down to something much more fundamental in how this movie was made. Well, more than one thing.

The plot of this film involves a villain searching through the galaxy to unite two ancient artifacts to give herself more power to… Doesn’t this sound just the slightest bit familiar? I understand comic book plots are recycled a lot but, at some point, the “bad entity collecting all the artifacts to destroy the universe” thing should probably be retired. I’d say there’s a new spin here, as it’s the consequences of Captain Marvel’s past actions that have come back to haunt her. However, I think this was a plot point in Jennifer Jones and in, I believe, at least one Avengers film, so…

But that isn’t really the big problem. It wouldn’t be a great movie with its recycled plot, but the bigger problem is the script and story. The script incorporates a lot of discussions about misunderstandings. I saw this film a day ago on a plane, and didn’t take notes (and then watched another, better movie), so I can’t pinpoint every issue but there are multiple conversations throughout the film where you’re wondering whether you’re watching a comic book superhero movie or something entirely different. It also shifts constantly from goofy entertainment to trying to get us to care about the really big problems at stake (planet-sized) or these little misunderstandings (some of which happened outside of this main story), and this stuff is played seriously.

There’s also, for lack of a better word, the Bollywood planet. It’s a planet where they don’t speak a language other than English, instead they [redacted]. But they only do it as long as its serviceable for the plot. It feels like the dream of some tweenaged fanfic writer and honestly so much of the film feels like somebody was on some message boards or Tumblr or something looking for how certain niche groups of fans would like the Marvel movies to actually be.

One thing I forgot to mention above is the kittens. Another aspect of this movie that feels like it is pandering to a particular group of young people is the rampage of kittens. Notably, the kittens do not eat [redacted] because they all have speaking roles. Most, if not all, of the people who get eaten don’t have any lines.

This all might have worked if the story hadn’t been a rehash. Or if the technobabble around every aspect of the main story and its conclusion made any kind of sense. (A little like a Dr. Strange film, there’s some weird shit we’re supposed to accept on face value even though little effort is put towards making it make sense.) I have no idea what they are talking about in the climax, or why Captain Rambeau is able to do what she’s able to do. (Hey, at least a character actually [redacted].)

I found it extremely tedious and rolled my eyes super hard more than once. Yesterday, on the blame, I was going to give it an even lower rating but I guess time has made me dislike it slightly less.


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