Marvels, The (4K UHD Review)

  • Reviewed by: Stephen Bjork
  • Review Date: Feb 21, 2024
  • Format: 4K Ultra HD
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Marvels, The (4K UHD Review)


Nia DaCosta

Release Date(s)

2023 (February 13, 2024)


Marvel Studios/Disney (Buena Vista Home Entertainment)
  • Film/Program Grade: B
  • Video Grade: A
  • Audio Grade: A-
  • Extras Grade: B-

The Marvels (4K UHD)

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The Marvels is a fascinating example of Marvel Studios simultaneously falling victim to its own success, the expectations of a recalcitrant corner of its fanbase, and circumstances beyond its control. All of that combined to result in the lowest box office take of any Marvel production to date. Yet contrary to what some people may think, that’s not necessarily a commentary on the quality of the film itself. Plenty of fine films have been box office disasters, while plenty of genuinely terrible ones have been smash successes. There just isn’t a one-to-one correspondence here. Yet that hasn’t stopped some people from crowing about the commercial failure of The Marvels simply because it fits the narrative that they want to advance. That’s the trouble with narratives: by definition, they tend to exclude subplots that don’t support them. In the case of The Marvels, reality isn’t quite so straightforward.

The simple fact is that the unprecedented success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe has resulted in the studio expanding its efforts into too many different directions at once, and into too many different media as well. During the first few Phases of the MCU, the Infinity Stones and Thanos were always lurking in the background, even when their purposes were still a bit more nebulous, and moviegoers didn’t have to work quite as hard to keep track of the overarching thread that was loosely tying everything together. That simpler continuity has gone out the window ever since Marvel introduced all of its seemingly endless streaming shows on Disney+. The Marvels is a more or less direct sequel to 2019’s Captain Marvel, but instead of fans only having to keep track of any possible cinematic appearances that Carol Danvers (Brie Larson) has made since then, now there’s the whole streaming continuity to worry about. It’s not just Danvers, either, because the storyline of The Marvels also revolves around Monica Rambeau (Teyonah Parris) and Kamala Khan (Iman Vellani), each of whom were introduced in the WandaVision and Ms. Marvel Disney+ series. Any viewer who walks into The Marvels cold is going to be left out in the cold, and that’s a genuine problem for the MCU going forward.

The second problem plaguing Marvel right now is a vocal contingent of its own fanbase that’s resistant to even mild attempts at increasing diversity and representation within the MCU. Captain Marvel faced a bit of a backlash in that regard despite the fact that it was a huge hit, with some fans upset about Marvel’s decision to use the Carol Danvers version of the character, and they were even more upset that Brie Larson isn’t shy about voicing her own opinions. It was all taken as evidence that Marvel had gone “woke.” Never mind the fact that Carol Danvers first appeared in the comic world back in 1968, gained powers as Ms. Marvel in 1977, and has been Captain Marvel since 2012. Or that Monica Rambeau has been around since 1982, and has also worn the mantle of Captain Marvel during that span of time. Even Kamala Khan has been Ms. Marvel for more than a decade now. Marvel hasn’t suddenly gone “woke”; they’ve been slowly waking up for many decades. Some Marvel fans may still be stuck in the Silver Age, but the books aren’t.

Plus, Marvel Studios has barely woken up yet anyway. They may be taking cautious baby steps into the larger world of their own comics, but they’re still hesitant about making any major leaps in the process. For example, in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, they did introduce America Chavez and showed the fact that she had two mothers, but those were purely background characters, and the film completely elided Chavez’s own sexuality. For a company that’s supposedly gone “woke,” Marvel hasn’t even come close to catching up with the diverse universe(s) of its own comic books yet. That diversity isn’t “wokeness,” either; it’s simple commerce. Marvel’s consumers have diversified, and their comic book portfolio has followed suit. So, it’s ironic that some Marvel fans are among the ones who are leveling this particular accusation. Of course, that hasn’t stopped them from pointing to the commercial failure of The Marvels as proof.

The third problem that ended up hamstringing The Marvels was a lackluster marketing campaign that was exacerbated by the SAG strike. Marvel has a well-oiled publicity machine that’s heavily reliant on cast members doing press junkets and running the talk show circuit in order to pump up the volume, and with the actors unavailable this time, the marketing foundered with little more than a few mediocre trailers and no real sense of momentum. It was easy to miss that The Marvels had even opened, and for a genre heavily reliant on opening weekend ticket sales, that’s the kiss of death. No hype, no Buck Rodgers.

So, an increasingly too-diffuse shared universe, disgruntled fans, and problematic marketing all combined to make The Marvels a disappointment at the box office. Does that mean that it’s a bad film? Far from it. What’s gotten lost in all the post mortems about the financial failure of The Marvels is that it’s actually one of the breeziest and most entertaining MCU entries in ages. It may be one of the least consequential, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes, you just have to let your hair down and relax. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t the usual world-breaking stakes involved in the story, but they’re entirely secondary to the relationship between Carol Danvers, Monica Rambeau, and Kamala Khan.

The hook this time is that the new leader of the Kree, Dar-Benn (Zawe Ashton), has discovered a Quantum Band and uses it to open up a jump point for herself. Since Kamala has the other band back on Earth, this ends up creating an anomaly that causes the three superheroes to become quantum entangled due to their light-based powers. Whenever one of them uses a power, it causes her to switch places randomly with one of the others. Dar-Benn continues to create more jump points, which threatens the fabric of the entire universe, so all three Marvels will have to figure out how to control their personal chaos in order to stop the destruction. That means putting aside their differences in order to entangle themselves on a different level.

While the whole Quantum Band thing is a pretty standard comic book McGuffin, in practical terms, Dar-Bann herself is little more than a McGuffin. That doesn’t mean that she’s not a compelling villain, but it does mean that her primary purpose in the story is to cause the rift in the universe that ends up forming the bond between Carol, Monica, and Kamala. It’s their relationship that’s front and center regardless of any other cosmic shenanigans, and that’s what helps to set The Marvels apart from many other recent MCU titles. The trio have an easygoing chemistry together that really helps to smooth over any rough patches in the film. They all have some personal issues to work out: Carol is facing the consequences of some previous decisions that she made as Captain Marvel; Monica is dealing with the pain of abandonment by different loved ones in her life; and Kamala is still trying to figure out how to reconcile teenage life with being Ms. Marvel. In learning to understand each other, they finally learn to understand themselves.

It helps that co-writer/director Nia DaCosta creates a solid environment in order to help all three actors to shine. One valid criticism against the original Captain Marvel is that Carol Danvers was far too uptight in that film, but Brie Larson gets to let her hair down this time, both literally and metaphorically. It also helps that she gets to play off the effortlessly charming Iman Vellani. With all due respects to Teyonah Paris, who is perfectly fine as Monica Rambeau, Vellani is a born scene-stealer. Well, up to a point, anyway—Kamala’s family gets to come along for the ride in The Marvels, and there isn’t a single other person in the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe who can hold a candle to Zenobia Shroff as Kamala’s mother Muneeba. As long as Shroff is around, God’s in his heaven, all’s right with the world.

While the relationship between Carol, Monica, and Kamala is the heart of The Marvels, the basic concept of the story does offer the opportunity for a few other nice touches. Action scenes in the MCU tend to be a bit repetitive and unimaginative, but the nature of the quantum entanglement between the lead characters results in one of the best MCU fights in recent memory. It involves the three women battling different groups in different settings while uncontrollably changing places whenever they try to use their powers. It’s a memorably energetic sequence, yet DaCosta and her crew manage to keep it surprisingly coherent without ever letting everything devolve into too much chaos. Plus, The Marvels continues the welcome MCU trend of embracing the weirder corners of the comic book world, in this case by traveling to the planet Aladna where the inhabitants communicate entirely in song. That may be a bridge too far for some viewers, but it’s still a fun way to allow everyone to really let their hair down. All that, plus there’s substantially more mother Flerken going on back home. ‘Nuff said.

Cinematographer Sean Bobbitt captured The Marvels digitally at 4.5K resolution in the ARRIRAW format using ARRI ALEXA 65 cameras with Hasselblad Prime DNA lenses. Scenes were captured in the IMAX format used ARRI ALEXA LF IMAX and ALEXA Mini LF IMAX cameras with ARRI DNA LF lenses. While most recent Marvel projects have been completed as 4K Digital Intermediates, according to IMDb at least, The Marvels utilized a 2K DI. Still, the reality is that the massive quantity of digital work in all Marvel productions these days means that there’s just not much perceptible difference between a native 4K presentation and one that’s been upscaled from a 2K DI. (The quality of upscaling algorithms these days further blurs the differences between the two.) While The Marvels was released theatrically in variable 1.90:1 and 2.39:1 for IMAX presentations, per Disney’s usual policy, only the 2.39:1 framing is included on UHD and Blu-ray—the variable aspect ratio version is available exclusively streaming on Disney+. The High Dynamic Range grade has also been limited to HDR10 here, with Dolby Vision also reserved for Disney+ only.

Regardless of whether it’s native 4K or upscaled 2K, the results are sharp, crisp, and clear. While Disney is still offering the film on a BD-66 rather than a BD-100, the shorter running time of The Marvels means that the encoding is more robust than on many other Disney titles, with a bit rate that runs somewhat higher than usual at times—not consistently so, but the extra bandwidth is there when the film needs it. Textures are consistently well-resolved throughout, even if they lack the pinpoint fine detail of material that’s been captured at 4K resolutions (or higher) and not run through the digital wringer afterward. Unsurprisingly, given the fact that all three Marvels use different light-based powers, it’s the HDR grade that really shines here (once again, both literally and metaphorically). The Marvels offers some of the best contrast of any Marvel title to date, with genuinely deep black levels and blindingly bright highlights. The strong contrast helps to add to the perception of detail in the image. While The Marvels may be less colorful overall than the openly cartoonish Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 was, there’s still plenty of dazzling hues to be seen in the various light shows on display (including a welcome appearance by the Rainbow Bridge), and the scenes set on Aladna look like they could have been borrowed from James Gunn’s film. There’s some nice demo material to be had here.

Primary audio is offered in English Dolby Atmos that’s above average for a Disney/Marvel title, if still a bit shy of being demo-worthy. The usual caveat applies, that it’s mastered at too low of a level, but bumping up the volume doesn’t prove detrimental to the dynamics. There’s a decent quantity of deep bass at times, even if it doesn’t plumb the depths of what’s possible. All channels are engaged throughout, and there are plenty of panning effects from channel to channel, including the overheads. It all proves nicely immersive. The score by Laura Karpman works quite well, offering some deliberate echoes of the themes that Alan Silvestri developed for the first Avengers film.

Additional audio options include English 2.0 Descriptive Audio, French 5.1 Dolby Digital, and Spanish and Japanese 7.1 Dolby Digital Plus. Subtitle options include English SDH, French, and Spanish.

Disney’s 4K Ultra HD release of The Marvels is a two-disc set that includes a Blu-ray with a 1080p copy of the film, as well as a Digital Code on a paper insert tucked inside the case. As usual, it’s branded as a Cinematic Universe Edition (I’ll hold my tongue about that this time) and it also includes a slipcover that duplicates the artwork on the insert. Aside from the commentary track, all of the extras are on the Blu-ray only, and they’re all in HD:


  • Audio Commentary by Nia DaCosta and Tara DeMarco


  • Audio Commentary by Nia DaCosta and Tara DeMarco
  • Entangled (10:47)
  • The Production Diaries (5:30)
  • Gag Reel (1:59)
  • Deleted Scenes:
    • Captain-in-Residence (2:23)
    • It’s Under Control (1:31)
    • Space Yoga (:59)
    • The Chase (:55)

The commentary track pairs Nia DaCosta with visual effects production supervisor Tara DeMarco. They do spend a lot of time talking about the blend between practical work and digital effects in the film, which was more complicated than just putting all of the actors in front of a Volume LED screen (although they did use one at times). DaCosta loves sets, so they did build practical sets for the actors to interact with and then extended those digitally. They were also careful to use real reference material to help design the digital work, including real cats, footage of the ISS astronauts doing spacewalks, the Cassini probe Saturn flybys, and even taking a helicopter over Jersey City and New York City to design the digital background plates for the aerial sequences. In doing that, they had to find a balance between respecting reality and making things look right for the audience. While The Marvels is as awash in CGI as any other Marvel film, the extra care does show. They also explain some interesting details like how the body swaps are color-coded as a subtle way to help keep the audience anchored during the chaos; the color of the lighting at the beginning of a swap indicates which Marvel is incoming. DaCosta is clearly a true comic book nerd who wasn’t just a director-for-hire, but who had a direct influence on the final film. Incorporating the Quantum Bands was her idea, and she made sure to keep the whole Kahn family as the heart and soul of the film. (The Memory needle drop during the Flerkin scene was her idea, and she jokingly calls it the proudest moment of her directorial career.) DaCosta admits that she initially fought against some elements like the split screens and the musical number, but she made sure that they all worked to her satisfaction. While this commentary track may not change anyone’s minds about The Marvels, there’s plenty of interesting stuff here for those who are open to its charms.

The rest of the extras are pretty standard Disney/Marvel EPK fare, featuring behind-the-scenes footage and interviews with Brie Larson, Teyonah Parris, Iman Vellani, Zawe Ashton, Nia DaCosta, co-writers Elissa Karasik and Megan McDonnel, executive producer Mary Livanos, and more. Entangled is an overview of the design of the film, from its story to the sets, costumes, and makeup. The Production Diaries lean more into on-set footage of the cast and crew horsing around during the production—including a montage of birthdays that were celebrated during the 108-day shoot. The Gag Reel is mostly the usual unfunny mugging for the camera, but there are a few interesting Sam Jackson moments like a series of improvs and a montage of him being bleeped. Finally, the Deleted Scenes are all trims that were best left on the cutting room floor, although Captain-in-Residence does offer another cameo by Tessa Thompson that sets up a line used later in the film, and It’s Under Control shows that the scarf weapon that Ms. Marvel ends up using wasn’t as far out of left field as it may seem.

As a whole, The Marvels holds together well enough despite any flaws. It’s far from a great film, but that hasn’t stopped plenty of other entries in the MCU from being much more successful. So, it will be interesting to see what lessons that Marvel Studios takes from the box office failure of The Marvels. Will they end up listening to a vocal minority of their fanbase and try to course-correct like J.J. Abrams did with Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker? Hopefully not, since that resulted in a film that pleased pretty much no one, disgruntled fans included. No, what they need to do is to recognize that their reach has exceeded their grasp in terms of maintaining a shared universe across too many different intellectual properties in too many different media. It’s not the growing diversity within the MCU that’s the issue; it’s the fact that they’ve diversified their entire portfolio to such an extent that even their most loyal fans can’t keep up with all of it. The real solution is to rein everything in a bit and provide a clearer focus to the shared storytelling, but only time will tell if Marvel is willing to rip off that particular Band-Aid.

- Stephen Bjork

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