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Feature News | Saturday, November 18, 2023

'The Marvels': 'confusing,' with 'sexual undertone'

Plus capsule reviews of 'Napoleon' and other recent films

Iman Vellani, Brie Larson and Teyonah Parris star in a scene from the movie "The Marvels." The OSV News classification is A-III -- adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 -- parents are strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13. (OSV News photo/Marvel Studios)

Photographer: Marvel Studios

Iman Vellani, Brie Larson and Teyonah Parris star in a scene from the movie "The Marvels." The OSV News classification is A-III -- adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 -- parents are strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13. (OSV News photo/Marvel Studios)

By John Mulderig

NEW YORK (OSV News) | Considered artistically, the quirky, sometimes humorous but more often confusing superhero adventure "The Marvels" (Disney) presents a mixed bag of ingredients that will likely appeal to some viewers but not others. Assessed for its morality, the film is equally miscellaneous and confronts parents with a potential quandary. 

There are few explicitly troublesome elements included in the comics-rooted script director Nia DaCosta co-wrote with Megan McDonnell and Elissa Karasik. Yet one of the central relationships binding the picture's threesome of female main characters comes freighted with a distinct sexual undertone. 

Given the Magic Kingdom's recent record of propagandizing on behalf of homosexuality, this skirting of the line between adulation and desire complicates evaluation of the movie's appropriate audience. If older teens are given the go-ahead, it should probably be accompanied by a family discussion about church teaching on the subject of same-sex activity.

Like their elders, however, adolescents who do obtain permission to patronize "The Marvels" may be too distracted by its frenetic proceedings to ponder its underlying ethics to any great extent. In fact, although this follow-up to 2019's "Captain Marvel" touches on themes of family reconciliation and altruism, it's really all about strong women smacking down baddies.

This time out, the titular heroine of the earlier movie (Brie Larson), aka Carol Danvers, battles intergalactic warrior Dar-Benn (Zawe Ashton). With her home planet having been environmentally impoverished by a long civil war, Dar-Benn is bent on stealing the natural resources of other worlds to restore her own. 

As she strives to check Dar-Benn, Danvers obtains the aid of astronaut Monica Rambeau (Teyonah Parris), the daughter of her deceased best friend. She's also helped by Kamala Khan (Iman Vellani), alias Ms. Marvel, a Jersey City teen who idolizes — and perhaps lusts after — her.

Initially accidental, their partnership is complicated by the fact that the three have become metaphysically entangled so that anytime one of them exercises her superpower, she switches locations with another member of the trio. Though the filmmakers have fun playing with this conceit, it eventually becomes more wearying than fanciful.

As the plot develops, we discover that, although her methods may be thoroughly misguided, Dar-Benn is not entirely a villain. Instead, she sees herself as a champion of her endangered people. 

We also learn that Danvers herself was partially responsible for the crisis Dar-Benn is trying to remedy. And Danvers' dealings with Monica — who has looked up to her since childhood and once regarded her as an honorary aunt — have been problematic as well. So much so, that the two start off estranged from each other.

While such moral subtleties are introduced, they mostly go undeveloped and register as beside the point. This is, overwhelmingly, an action flick. So those in search of escapist entertainment will likely come away from its scenes of bloodless combat satisfied; those seeking dramatic substance, not so much. 

The film contains frequent stylized violence, an implicit lesbian theme, several mild oaths and a couple of crude expressions. The OSV News classification is A-III — adults. The Motion Picture Association rating is PG-13 — parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.

CAPSULE REVIEWS

A scene from the film "A Million Miles Away," a fact-based profile of Mexican American astronaut José Hernández (Michael Peña), produced by Amazon Studios.OSV News classification, A-II – adults and adolescents. Motion Picture Association rating, PG -- parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children. (OSV News photo/courtesy Amazon Studios)

Photographer: Handout

A scene from the film "A Million Miles Away," a fact-based profile of Mexican American astronaut José Hernández (Michael Peña), produced by Amazon Studios.OSV News classification, A-II – adults and adolescents. Motion Picture Association rating, PG -- parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children. (OSV News photo/courtesy Amazon Studios)

"A Million Miles Away" (Amazon)

There's a warm, folksy tone to this fact-based profile of Mexican American astronaut José Hernández (Michael Peña). In adapting Hernández's memoir "Reaching for the Stars," director and co-writer Alejandra Márquez Abella traces his journey from child migrant farm worker to NASA engineer and candidate for a place on the space shuttle, showing the lifelong determination that was required to achieve his longshot goal as well as the crucial support he received from his loving wife (Rosa Salazar) and family. As Hernández overcomes prejudice and breaks down social and economic barriers, teens as well as grownups will profit from his good example and the strong values by which he's steadily guided. Viewers will also note the brief inclusion of Catholic trappings that at least imply a religious influence on his success.

A few instances each of mild swearing and crass language. The OSV News classification is A-II — adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association rating is PG — parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.


Fiona Palomo and Milo Manheim star in a scene from the movie “Journey to Bethlehem.” The OSV News classification is A-I -- general patronage. The Motion Picture Association rating is PG -- parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children. (OSV News photo/AFFIRM Films)

Photographer: None

Fiona Palomo and Milo Manheim star in a scene from the movie “Journey to Bethlehem.” The OSV News classification is A-I -- general patronage. The Motion Picture Association rating is PG -- parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children. (OSV News photo/AFFIRM Films)

"Journey to Bethlehem" (Sony)

This lively musical version of the Nativity story marks the directorial debut of Swedish producer Adam Anders (who also co-wrote the script with Peter Barsocchini). As Mary (Fiona Palomo) and Joseph (Milo Manheim) try to add personal commitment to their arranged betrothal, a comic version of the Magi (Omid Djalili, Geno Segers and Rizwan Manji) tangle with evil King Herod (Antonio Banderas) and with his morally wavering son, Antipater (Joel Smallbone), along their way to worshiping the newborn Savior. Though much of the incidental humor infused into the film to keep things rolling along feels strained, there's an upbeat tone to the production. So what it may lack in solemnity many will feel it makes up for with pep, pazzazz and unmistakable good intentions. Aside from the pesky questions that might be prompted among little ones by the miraculous conception of Jesus and the plight in which it leaves his mother, the movie as a whole is suitable for all.

Brief, highly choreographed physical violence. The OSV News classification is A-I — general patronage. The Motion Picture Association rating is PG — parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.


Robert De Niro and Leonardo DiCaprio star in a scene from the movie “Killers of the Flower Moon.” The OSV News classification is A-III - adults. The Motion Picture Association rating is R -- restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian. (OSV News photo/Melinda Sue Gordon, courtesy Apple)

Photographer: Melinda Sue Gordon

Robert De Niro and Leonardo DiCaprio star in a scene from the movie “Killers of the Flower Moon.” The OSV News classification is A-III - adults. The Motion Picture Association rating is R -- restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian. (OSV News photo/Melinda Sue Gordon, courtesy Apple)

"Killers of the Flower Moon" (Paramount/Apple TV+)

Epic yet intimate dramatization of real-life events in 1920s Oklahoma as the discovery of oil on their land brings prosperity to the indigenous Osage Nation but excites violent greed among the area's whites. Director and co-writer Martin Scorsese's masterful adaptation of David Grann’s 2017 bestseller recounts the effects of a string of initially uninvestigated deaths on the lives of a returning World War I veteran (Leonardo DiCaprio), the Native American woman (Lily Gladstone) he romances and eventually marries and his his cattle rancher uncle (Robert De Niro), a local bigwig. By the time a Federal agent (Jesse Plemons) arrives to delve into the mystery, Scorsese has presented viewers with a panorama of the time and place that serves as the backdrop to an intense tale of love, corruption, racism and emotional ambiguity. Too gritty for kids, but deeply rewarding for grown-ups and possibly acceptable for older teens.

Brief but graphic episodes of gory violence, gruesome sights, a scene of marital sensuality, several uses of profanity, a few milder oaths, occasional rough and crude language. The OSV News classification is A-III — adults. The Motion Picture Association rating is R — restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.


Joaquin Phoenix stars in a scene from the movie "Napoleon." The OSV News classification is L -- limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. The Motion Picture Association rating is R -- restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian. (OSV News photo/Aidan Monaghan, Sony)

Photographer: Aidan Monaghan

Joaquin Phoenix stars in a scene from the movie "Napoleon." The OSV News classification is L -- limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. The Motion Picture Association rating is R -- restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian. (OSV News photo/Aidan Monaghan, Sony)

"Napoleon" (Sony)

There's a hollow ring to the personal aspect of this historical drama in which Joaquin Phoenix stars as the conquering French emperor. While viewers out for sweeping spectacle will likely come away from director Ridley Scott's epic satisfied, once screenwriter David Scarpa turns his attention to the great commander's domestic life and romance with the young widow Josephine de Beauharnais (Vanessa Kirby), the depiction of their relationship registers as both seamy and unconvincing. Even the impressive battle scenes involve considerable gore, making this demanding fare suitable only for the hardiest grown-ups.

Much bloody violence, several gruesome sights, graphic scenes of marital lovemaking, an adultery theme, partial male nudity, obscene imitations of aberrant acts, at least one use of profanity, a couple of milder oaths, fleeting rough and crude language. The OSV News classification is L — limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. The Motion Picture Association rating is R — restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.


Jacob Elordi as Elvis and Cailee Spaeny as Priscilla Presley star in a scene from the movie “Priscilla.” The OSV News classification is A-III - adults. The Motion Picture Association rating is R -- restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian. (OSV News photo/A24)

Photographer: Handout

Jacob Elordi as Elvis and Cailee Spaeny as Priscilla Presley star in a scene from the movie “Priscilla.” The OSV News classification is A-III - adults. The Motion Picture Association rating is R -- restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian. (OSV News photo/A24)

"Priscilla" (A24)

Generally low-key in tone but peculiar in content, writer-director Sofia Coppola's screen version of Priscilla Presley's 1985 memoir "Elvis and Me" charts the unusual romance between the stepdaughter (Cailee Spaeny) of a U.S. Air Force officer (Ari Cohen) and the King of Rock and Roll (Jacob Elordi). The pair first meet in 1959 Germany when she is 14 and he 24, then keep up a long-distance relationship until she relocates to Memphis, Tennessee under his auspices. While the quasi-cohabitation that follows her return to the States remains chaste until their eventual marriage, their restraint is shown to be a source of discontent to her and may have been influenced – and, to that extent, tainted – by his desire to control his youthful partner. Such difficult-to-assess attitudes typify the ethical fault line on which the plot of this eccentric, sometimes uncomfortable but not, ultimately, unappealing tale uneasily sits.

Mature themes, including addiction and borderline physical abuse, narcotics use, scenes of premarital sensuality, sexual references, frequent profanities, a few milder oaths, a couple of rough terms, at least one crass expression. The OSV News classification is A-III — adults. The Motion Picture Association rating is R — restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.


Taylor Swift attends a premiere for “Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour” in Los Angeles Oct. 11, 2023. The OSV News classification is A-III -- adults. The Motion Picture Association rating is PG-13 -- parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13. (OSV News photo/Mario Anzuoni, Reuters)

Photographer: Mario Anzuoni

Taylor Swift attends a premiere for “Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour” in Los Angeles Oct. 11, 2023. The OSV News classification is A-III -- adults. The Motion Picture Association rating is PG-13 -- parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13. (OSV News photo/Mario Anzuoni, Reuters)

"Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour" (AMC Theaters)

Concert film providing a lively recap of the titular singer-songwriter's career over 17 years and 10 studio albums. Directed by Sam Wrench, the footage was compiled from concerts at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, California, outside Los Angeles, and showcases the performer's gifts as a doyenne of breakup songs. A smattering of vulgar words aside, the production comes across as more glitzy than gritty. So, although preteen fans may have to be kept away, parents can probably give older teens the green light.

Fleeting rough and crude language. The OSV News classification is A-III — adults. The Motion Picture Association rating is PG-13 — parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.

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