Right from the start, “The Marvels” operates at a breathless pace. In no time at all, the script (credited to DaCosta, Megan McDonnell, and Elissa Karasik) breezes through the obligatory table-setting to establish the villainous Kree warlord Dar-Benn (Zawe Ashton, a performance that’s done no favors by such a paper-thin role). On a quest to save her dying homeworld of Hala and willing to do anything to accomplish it, even if it means waging genocide against their shape-shifting Skrull enemies, her early discovery of a magical bangle that looks suspiciously like the one Kamala wears kicks the rest of the plot in motion. Despite mountains of exposition, largely dumped onto the shoulders of Teyonah Parris, it’s never made 100% clear why any of this leads to our three heroes suffering from “quantum entanglement” as they essentially body-swap whenever they use their light-based powers scattered across the galaxy. We’re clearly expected to turn our brains off in order to get to the moments of creatively-staged action and that “Just go with it” attitude glosses over a metric ton of nonsense throughout the plot. You’ll either be along for the ride or not.
“The Marvels” isn’t able to sustain this early momentum, unfortunately, and that becomes clear right from our introduction to Kamala. To its credit, the film effortlessly lays out her story for those who may have missed “Ms. Marvel,” largely through visuals of the same hand-drawn animation from the series that felt so charming and made it stand out from the rest of the franchise. (Subsequent attempts to catch audiences up to speed are far clunkier and less character-based, resorting to extended flashback reels of the first “Captain Marvel” or unimaginative dialogue explaining what happened in “WandaVision.”) But in a slightly too on-the-nose metaphor for what plagues so much of the movie, those brief flashes of creativity and genuine inspiration are completely dropped and never appear again.
Much like how the power-swapping gimmick forces Kamala, Carol, and Monica to fight at a severe disadvantage, the movie itself can’t seem to get out of its own way. Despite its runtime, the script stuffs in almost three hours’ worth of story involving the Kree/Skrull war, the Marvels’ attempt to come together as a team, a B-plot focusing on Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), and all of Kamala’s scene-stealing supporting cast of family, and more. By the time the perfunctory third act rolls around, “The Marvels” might as well be on autopilot.