“The Marvels” is a movie about a fashion accessory collector who covets a complete set of forearm bling — four glowing bracelets, known as Quantum Bands — so, as the fearsome leader of the Kree alien race, she can start tearing the galaxy a new one.
“The Marvels” also concerns the three women, Marvels all, determined to prevent that narrative from its apocalyptic conclusion. Of course nothing ever concludes, conclusively, in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. This is the 33rd film in the officially sanctioned MCU, which at this point also stands for More Chapters Unnecessary.
On the other hand: Director and co-writer Nia DaCosta’s agreeable weirdo of a movie has a few things going for it. It’s genuinely peculiar, its nervous energy keeping things reasonably diverting. Also there’s an extended scene of Flerken. You may recall from earlier Marvels that Flerken are disguised as cats, with stunningly quick and lengthy fanged tentacles flying out of their wee mouths, able to gobble up dozens of humans to transport them to saliva-drenched safety. And then hork them up later.
That scene goes on for a bit, because the accompanying music — Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Memory” — does, too, if “a bit” is a synonym for “it’s still going on.” Another detour takes place on a serene and vaguely cultish theater camp of a planet ruled by the benevolent Prince Yan (Park Seo-joon), who has a history with Captain Marvel. In this kingdom, song is the native language and, for a few giddily bizarre minutes, “The Marvels” teleports itself to a remake of the “Lost Horizon” musical.
Brie Larson returns as Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel here, and is reunited, uneasily at first, with her late friend’s now-grown daughter Monica Rambeau (Tayonah Parris). Jersey City teen Kamala Kahn/Ms. Marvel (Iman Vallani) is from another Disney/Marvel TV series, “Ms. Marvel.” She has dreamed of meeting her highflying idol her entire young life and gets her chance in “The Marvels.”
There’s more to the plot, but I haven’t seen the movie for hours now, and honestly if you’re going to these things for the plot, then I hope things on your planet are going OK. Main points: The coveted Quantum Bands enable the Marvels trio to swap and share superpowers in an eyeblink. The antagonist villain, Dar-Benn (a fierce and welcome Zawe Ashton), has reasonably intriguing resentments. Primarily she has beef with Captain Marvel, known to the Kree as “The Annihilator” for bringing the planet Hala to the inadvertent brink of ruin. And wrack. Wrack and ruin.
The movie’s benchmarks are many: all female leads; dominant female creative collaborators; first Marvel film directed by a Black woman; and shortest Marvel film, at 105 minutes, which means closer to 95 minutes minus end credits. DaCosta’s a huge talent, and — this is a good thing — with her daringly unconventional “Candyman” remake and now “The Marvels,” she’s both embracing genre demands, to a degree, and testing their limits in unpredictable directions. The action is fast, furious and mostly lucid, played for violent slapstick more than wearying violence in the guise of comic-book kinetics.
It’s probably the most diverting Marvel movie since “Spider-Man: No Way Home” two years ago, but remember that the world has seen six Marvel movies since then, including this one. That’s too many, and recent grosses for forgettable franchise entries reflect that. At her sharpest, working with a uneven script, DaCosta works more in the spirit of the invigorating animated “Spider-Verse” movies. Too often the movie’s franchise mechanics and green-screen overload have a way of dragging “The Marvels” into generic sequeldom. But the stars give us something to hang onto, even if Larson — so good in so many films — has yet to master the useful trick of looking neutral yet invested in her many, many reaction shots.
It can’t be easy. Related matter: I’m not sure how Samuel L. Jackson’s staying awake at this point as Nick Fury, here relegated to the role of a beleaguered telecom employee coping with power surges and lousy Wi-Fi.
“The Marvels” — 2.5 stars (out of 4)
MPA rating: PG-13 (for action/violence and brief language)
Running time: 1:45
How to watch: Premieres in theaters Nov. 9
Michael Phillips is a Tribune critic.