Brie Larson as Captain Marvel/Carol Danvers in Marvel Studios' 2023...

Brie Larson as Captain Marvel/Carol Danvers in Marvel Studios' 2023 movie "The Marvels." Credit: Marvel Studios

PLOT Three superheroes team up to stop a planet-wrecking supervillain.
CAST Brie Larson, Teyonah Parris, Iman Vellani
WHERE Area theaters
BOTTOM LINE Only the most rabid fans will give this Marvel mess a pass.

With more than 30 films, nearly 500 series episodes and surely millions of comics, the shared Marvel universe would seem to be a bottomless well. But I have seen the bottom, and it is “The Marvels.”

Serving as both a semi-sequel to 2019’s “Captain Marvel” and a big-screen extension of the Disney+ miniseries “Ms. Marvel,” this movie makes no pretense of standing alone. It’s speaking directly, and only, to super-zealots who have hoovered up every scrap of Marvel media. If you’re not among them, this movie will make you feel like a kindergartner in a graduate seminar — unfamiliar, unable to follow along and utterly uninterested.

Things might have gone better had “The Marvels” given us some compelling characters. Instead we get Kamala Khan (Iman Vellani), aka Ms. Marvel, a Jersey City super-teen whose longing to join the Avengers recalls a certain web-slinger from Queens. Brie Larson is once again miscast as Captain Marvel, a godlike being who — thanks to the actor's appealing, down-to-earth presence — always feels more like a fun-loving big sister. (Maybe that’s her appeal?) Finally, there’s brainy Monica Rambeau (Teyonah Parris), whose personality can be reduced to an acronym: STEM. Kudos to this film for being ethnically diverse and female-forward, if nothing else.

If I understand correctly, our three heroes accidentally begin trading places in space-time. After getting to know each other (actually, Monica and the Captain already have some beef), they team up to prevent a vengeful chieftain, Dar-Benn (Zawe Ashton), from draining various planets of their resources. Tiresomely, there’s a mythical artifact — an armband — that grants its wearer untold power. Dutifully, Samuel L. Jackson shows up as Nick Fury. Shockingly, the space villain speaks British.

Directed by Nia DaCosta, who co-wrote with two collaborators, “The Marvels” reportedly required several reshoots. At any rate, the whole movie feels like it was run through a Cuisinart. It’s so nonsensical, so desultory, that I longed for the relative coherence of a “John Carter” or a “Xanadu.” When the movie does come up with a novel idea — such as the planet Aladna, where all communication must be put into song — you’ll wish it hadn’t.

Over the years I’ve made my peace with the superhero genre. Despite all the dopey plots and intergalactic McGuffins, the movies can be funny (“Guardians of the Galaxy”), charming (the current “Spider-Man” entries), even moving (“The Avengers: Infinity War”). Not everything has to be “Citizen Kane.” But there’s no reason to settle for fan-servicing junk, either. Sorry, but “The Marvels” is where I draw the line.

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