Don’t expect any ‘Marvels’ from this superhero tale

“The Marvels”

Rated PG-13. At the AMC Boston Common, AMC South Bay and suburban theaters. Grade: B-


Not quite as bad as advertised by stories about re-shoots, “The Marvels” is just another Marvel entry sporting a plot that never seems important enough to keep track of and ends up being a collection of special effects scenes and female-bonding moments. In this installment, Carol Danvers (Academy Award-winner Brie Larson), Monica Rambeau (Teyonah Parris, “If Beale Street Could Talk”) and Pakistani-American Jersey City, N.J. high school student Kamala Khan (Iman Vellani, TV’s “Ms. Marvel”) aka the Marvels, meet one another and discover that when they use their superpowers at the same time, they switch places via teleportation. Ms. Marvel gets her powers from a super bangle that she wears. Rambeau, who knew Danvers as a child in Louisiana and used to call her “Auntie,” gained her powers after being bombarded by “inter-dimensional energy.” Rambeau is also at times called Captain Marvel. Danvers was also bombarded by energy, but in her case it was from another source. Confused yet?

The plot involves, yes, a scheme by regal, hammer-wielding Kree leader Dar-Benn (the striking Zawe Ashton) to find the second of two Quantum Bands. She finds the first in early scenes on a dark planet. Unbeknownst to her, Ms. Marvel possesses the second one in the form of her bangle. Dar-Benn’s planet Hala is dying from deprivation of water and sunlight. Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson in his umpteenth appearance in a Marvel film) is on an enormous outer-space facility, brokering peace talks between the Kree and the Skrull. He asks Carol Danvers and Monica Rambeau to investigate a “jump point anomaly.” This is the kind of superhero-movie talk that makes my mind wander. Danvers lives for the time being aboard a beautiful space ship with Goose, who only looks like a cat. Outside in the vacuum of space, Danvers’ Captain Marvel does not need a spacesuit. Soon, we will have little, brain-shaped things popping up aboard the peace facility (shades of Tribbles). What could they be?

Co-written by director Nia DaCosta (“Candyman”), Megan McDonnell (TV’s “WandaVision”) and Elissa Karasik (“TV’s “Loki”), “The Marvels” story line is as “entangled” as its heroines. At times, it seems more like a “Star Trek” entry (those Tribbles, spaceships, warring aliens) than a Marvel film. When in doubt, abandon ship. All of the trading places among the Marvels while they are in the middle of fighting the minions of Dar-Benn both on Hala and in the Jersey City home of Kamala’s parents and her older brother (Saagar Shaikh) is just more narrative mash.

But as Kamala’s very protective mother, Indian actor Zenobia Shroff (“The Big Sick”) just steals every scene she’s in and becomes one of this film’s surprise standouts. In this mental storm of “jump point anomalies” and “Marvels trading places,” we seek the simple refuge of an actor bringing comical humanity to her role. As her daughter Vellani is even better. Her Ms. Marvel is the ultimate fan-girl-turned-superhero, and her enthusiasm and joyousness are infectious. Larson’s attempts to bond with her new “twinsies” seem forced. I had the feeling a hair wrangler was at Larson’s side before every shot. Parris brings a certain gravitas to Rambeau. But at times, she can seem moody. A scene in which the three Marvels skip rope to music comes off as contrived. In another sequence, the Marvels visit a world where Danvers is considered “ a princess” (her “prince” is played by a South Korean YouTube star) and the people speak in song. Is Marvel trading places with Disney? Can Rambeau use her powers to repair a hole in space-time? Can someone write a Captain Marvel screenplay that tells a memorable story?

(“The Marvels” contains superhero film violence and action)

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