The Marvels is not a great movie, even if it’s not a terrible one either. Marvel Cinematic Universe films—especially those of late—are already graded on a well-grooved curve, and The Marvels is pleasurable as a patchwork quilt of recognizable MCU signatures: the quotable quips, the adrenaline-pumping fight sequences, the feel-good beats of an ensemble realizing its chemistry. And there are far worse options to explore, if—like me—your appetite for superhero fare remains miraculously, inexplicably un-satiated.
Still, the characters in The Marvels are spread thin; the villain much thinner. The story—heavy on the values of teamwork, light on the ramifications of superhuman meddling in intergalactic politics—glosses over the origins of a civil war, induced by none other than Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel (Brie Larson) herself. Monica Rambeau (Teyonah Parris) gets little more than a few moments to express the depths of her grief, after having awoken post-Infinity War blip to realize her mother has died. Even an instantly iconic needle drop involving hordes of cat-like aliens (a.k.a. flerkens) and Samuel L. Jackson’s increasingly begrudging Nick Fury can’t capture the energy needed to rescue The Marvels. And neither can Kamala Khan/Ms. Marvel (Iman Vellani), despite her admirable comedic chops and seamless integration with the older, wiser Carol and Monica.
Kamala’s Ms. Marvel, one of relatively few gems in the recent MCU, can’t carry The Marvels on her shoulders, much as she’s game to try. There’s not enough for her to work with beyond her own infatuation with the Avengers—particularly, with Carol herself. Kamala’s parents and brother appear throughout the film, and they’re a welcome inclusion, adding a hint of familial dynamics to a group too fresh to call itself “family.” But that’s precisely the problem with The Marvels itself: Few, if any, of these characters feel like family in the manner of early-MCU characters—Tony Stark, Steve Rogers, Natasha Romanoff, and so on—with whom many fans felt deep parasocial relationships.
But if anyone has the talent to shift that trend, it might be Kamala herself. Vellani has that classic Marvel wise-cracking charisma, the earnest relatability, and—with any luck—a narrative foundation from which to sprout a new, better future for her character … and, we can hope, those who come into contact with her. The ending of The Marvels gives a tease of this possibility in action. After conquering the villainous Kree leader Dar-Benn (Zawe Ashton) and closing the space-time wormhole she ripped open—unfortunately losing Monica to another side of the multiverse in the process—Carol and Kamala return home to Earth, where Kamala decides she’s learned her lesson: Superheroics are more potent in numbers. In the film’s final sequence, she takes it upon herself to echo a younger Nick Fury and “put together a team,” starting not with Tony Stark’s protege but with Hawkeye’s.
Kamala confronts Kate Bishop (Hailee Steinfeld) in her apartment, where Lucky the Pizza Dog, apparently, didn’t seem to mind her intrusion. Neither does Kate appear shocked to find another superpower-imbued high school student hanging out in the shadows of her kitchen—and when Kamala announces her intentions for a new iteration of Avengers, Kate’s smirk signals she needs no convincing.
What exactly this means for the future of the MCU is undetermined. The team-up of Kamala and Kate could point to a film or TV adaptation of the beloved Young Avengers comics, in which Kamala, Kate, and a number of other young heroes explored their own stories apart from the larger (and older) Avengers network. That team included several characters that have already appeared or are slated to appear in the MCU, including Billy (Julian Hilliard) and Tommy (Jett Klyne) Maximoff; America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez); Cassie Lang (Kathryn Newton); Riri Williams (Dominique Thorne); and Kid Loki (Jack Veal). But the MCU has not announced any official plans for a Young Avengers adaptation, which could mean this team-up will simply be one of two to dominate the next Avengers movies, Avengers: The Kang Dynasty and Avengers: Secret Wars. (That would be a lot of characters to juggle, but it wouldn’t be the first time the MCU has tried.)
Either way, it’s Kamala who seems to recognize—in a very meta sort of way—that the MCU has become too stratified for its own good. The endless onslaught of loosely affiliated TV shows and films have done little to stitch together a cohort of characters fans can consistently recognize, let alone connect with. The ending of The Marvels is a small but nevertheless hopeful signal that Marvel Studios knows it needs to get its act together—and, as Kamala understands by way of roping in Kate—good team leadership starts at the top.
Lauren Puckett-Pope is a staff culture writer at ELLE, where she primarily covers film, television and books. She was previously an associate editor at ELLE.