The arrival of a solid contender for the worst Marvel film yet will do little to dispel suggestions that this cinematic universe is disappearing up its own black hole. To say The Marvels is hard to watch would be to risk understatement. It’s not just that it’s not very good. It is hard to watch in the sense that a tree is hard to defibrillate. This chaotic, ugly, incoherent picture barely seems intended for exhibition. The horrible purple CGI. The characters magically swapping locations. The long breaks for utterly fruitless exposition. Our brains are not sufficiently evolved – or perhaps they are too evolved – to make sense of this audiovisual chop suey.
In recent weeks Marvel’s overseers have been grappling with the complaint that each content drop now demands too much familiarity with previous films and series. The new film does, indeed, have much to do with Kamala Khan (Iman Vellani), protagonist of Disney+’s Miss Marvel, and Monica Rambeau (Teyonah Parris), from WandaVision, but, insofar as I can judge, the unintelligibility emerges independent of unfamiliar ancestors. Zawe Ashton, one of many rising above the material, arrives as messianic villain with little explanation, but it seems she has made no previous appearance in the MCU. Dar-Benn (for it she) is just suddenly there.
At the centre of it all is Brie Larson as poor Captain Marvel. It has been just four years since her eponymous origin story made $1 billion, but already the character seems emblematic of a fading, increasingly decadent realm – a late Roman emperor sighing as Vandals urinate in the Forum. It doesn’t help that the current story (hurriedly trimmed?) is so haphazard. She joins Monica, daughter of her late pal, and Vellani, a mutant Captain Marvel fan girl, to intervene in some civil war on another planet. Events are confused by magic bands that allow wearers to leap across space. Did you catch Strictly this week? I thought the rumba ... Sorry? Where was I? It really is close to impossible to remain focused on this stuff.
A scene in which kittens eat up space travellers to the strains of Memory, from Cats, allows a rare moment of welcome surrender to absurdity, but for the most part the picture makes no virtue of its incoherence. Pity Samuel L Jackson. Back as Nick Fury, he now comes across as a dignified janitor in a permanently collapsing skyscraper. All involved deserve better.