The Marvels is a movie whose fan interest is complicated to gauge. On the one hand, it is a sequel to 2019’s Captain Marvel, a billion-dollar hit that dropped at the height of Phase 3 hysteria. However, while incredibly profitable, I think the movie is very average, showcasing many of the haphazard story problems that would hamper a multitude of films in Phase 4. But beyond just that, a lot has changed since 2019, and the film landscape feels very different in these four long years. Since then, Marvel Studios decided to greenlight this sequel but would arm Captain Marvel (Brie Larson) with reinforcements. This may have been the plan all along, or it may have been a response to criticism that Carol Danvers was not interesting enough of a character in the original film. We may never know.

What we know is that this movie is being sold as a team-up film that calls upon Teyonah Paris as Monica Rambeau, reprising her role in Captain Marvel as the daughter of Carol’s best friend. But bringing us to a three-person squad is Ms. Marvel/Kamala Khan (Iman Vellani), fresh off her self-titled Disney+ show. Ms. Marvel, the television show, had a pretty excellent debut episode. But the season quickly hit a rough patch, as the remaining episodes were unfortunately mediocre, putting a damper on the goodwill the premiere had fostered. The show also failed to garner a large audience, registering as one of the lowest Marvel shows on Disney+ to date.

There’s also a contingent of fragile internet dwellers, who are instantly triggered by all things Brie Larson, but their shenanigans are of little interest to me. Regardless though, that’s a lot of adversity for your triumvirate of lead characters to overcome – shifting consumer trends in a market saturated with superhero properties. Nonetheless, the baggage this movie may carry on the business side of things will be exacerbated if it doesn’t punch above its weight as an entertaining movie. Thus far, all we have to go off regarding this film’s quality is its teaser trailer:

If we gave out grades for promotional material, I would give this an incomplete. First, what I’m not sold on – whatever the hell this movie will end up being about. We know the initial premise: something has caused the powers of Carol, Monica, and Kamala to become intertwined, so if any of them uses their power, they will swap places with one of the trio, no matter where in the world/universe they may be. The three will combine their wits to investigate this phenomenon and determine what in the blue hell is going on. However, we have very few clues as to what ultimate conflict this investigation will lead to, although it will likely involve the Kree – the alien race that made their cinematic debut in Guardians of the Galaxy (2014). There’s an (optimistic) version of this movie where the mystery is intriguing and engaging, and the inevitable Big Bad™ is a worthwhile foe. But there’s also a version, one we’ve seen quite a few times in the MCU, where the villain is a wet blanket, and the 3rd act is an uninspiring collage of poorly choreographed action, shoddy Green Screen, and overexposed CGI.

But fret not. The optimist in me is starting to emerge. Look, the MCU is… well, they’re going through a bit of a spell. Life’s still good for them! But they have more doubters now than ever before. And they hear some of you – What’s going to happen to Kang (oof!!!)? Where the hell are the mutants? Who’s playing the Fantastic Four? Where is all of this multiverse stuff actually going??? I don’t know if The Marvels will alleviate any of these concerns. Still, I do know that even in an interconnected universe with an overarching main storyline, there’s nothing wrong with just making a good movie. More specifically, as this is one of the MCU’s specialties, perhaps The Marvels will just be a good hang. This doesn’t mean the movie shouldn’t be expected to do some table-setting on the overall narrative of Phase 5. But the movie will likely be a winner if it can nail the chemistry between Larson, Vellani, and Paris while crafting a story that pays off Kamala Khan’s dangerously obsessive fandom of Captain Marvel & the Avengers. Superhero stories are essentially tales of wish fulfillment, and what’s a better example of that than a teenage superhero meeting their idol and going with them on an adventure of a lifetime?

However, it’ll be important to hit a reasonable balance with this character. As evidenced by the trailer, she’s fangirling harder than Midoriya and peak “Hi, Mr. Stark!” (Tom Holland) Spider-Man combined. Hopefully, they don’t reduce her character to just having this one characteristic. Additionally, the relationship between Danvers and Rambeau needs a lot more development. We don’t know much about the latter other than who her mom was and the fact that she now has powers. Her personality has never been able to flourish, likewise for Danvers, who often feels too buttoned up for the wacky world of the MCU. Ironically, Kamala Khan is just the type of character that is needed to bring some life to these two very stoic performances. Whether the movie is aware of this opportunity or will even take advantage of it – that’s yet to be seen as recent MCU offerings have not always earned the benefit of the doubt.

Poor character development and ill-defined stakes have afflicted the post-Endgame MCU the most. The Marvels, though not entirely its doing, has the unfortunate task of making the MCU formula fresh again at a time when many are ready to write the film off before it even debuts. In times of doubt, a movie’s best weapons are a sound script and a crew that believes in the project for all the right reasons. But scrutiny directed towards Marvel is at an apex, demanding more than the “B-” effort many past films have been able to get away with. Rising above that standard will be the difference in audiences giving this movie a chance or going back for 2nd helpings of Dune: Part Two.

The Marvels swaps their way into theaters on November 10th, 2023.