Just in time for the release of Barbra Streisand’s memoir “My Name Is Barbra,” “The Marvels” finds a creative use for her cover of “Memory” from that awful musical “Cats.” This sequence involves cats, too, kitties who are cute enough to break the internet. But they have a naughty little secret, one that earns them the movie’s best scene.
More on these feline characters later. “The Marvels” pits Brie Larson’s Carol Danvers (a.k.a. the flying superhuman warrior Captain Marvel) against Kree warrior Dar-Benn (Zawe Ashton), whose evil plan threatens the very fabric of space. These two have a history: Dar-Benn constantly refers to Captain Marvel as “The Annihilator” for reasons I’m sure Marvel fans already know.
Director Nia DaCosta’s script (co-written with Megan McDonnell and Elissa Karasik) teams Captain Marvel from her titular movie with Teyonah Parris’s Monica Rambeau from “WandaVision” and Kamala Khan (Iman Vellani), whom Disney+ viewers know as Ms. Marvel. That’s three different sources — two on streaming and one on the big screen — from which you’ll need to glean information about this film’s protagonists.
There’s also the miniseries “Secret Invasion,” which offers up pertinent details about Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) for this film. Jackson has played this role since 2008′s “Iron Man,” when he appeared in one of the post-credits sequences for which Marvel has become famous. Fury has a major role here, assisting our heroes and providing sanctuary for those kitty cats I keep meaning to discuss in this review.
Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige recently said in an interview that he didn’t want you to feel as though you “need to have done your homework before watching something.” I used a word that began with “bull” when I read that article. Because the problem with these Marvel movies is that, unless you’ve seen a litany of prior films and miniseries beforehand, you’re often lost beyond redemption.
I haven’t seen “Secret Invasion,” “Captain Marvel,” or “WandaVision.” And all I knew about Ms. Marvel before I walked into the theater was that she lives in Jersey City, N.J., and goes to a high school based on the one I attended. My hometown looks splendid in IMAX, I must say.
Additionally, the house Kamala Khan shares with her parents Muneeba (Zenobia Shroff) and Yusuf (Mohan Kapur) and her older brother, Aamir (Saagar Shaikh), is in my neighborhood. It’s too bad Ms. Marvel isn’t real; I could have walked up the street and asked her to explain this movie to me.
But I digress. DaCosta, who helmed the much-maligned 2021 reboot of “Candyman,” keeps the plot moving so quickly that I had little time to question much of it. The three leads turn in good work, with Parris giving the best performance; they bring such fun and emotion to their relationships that it’s easy to root for them.
Plus, the film is shorter than expected. In a universe where the movies last well over three hours, the 105 minute runtime of “The Marvels” is as welcome as it is surprising.
Still, “The Marvels” isn’t without its problems, some of which are so noticeable it’s a testament to the actors that it works as well as it does. For starters, the script plays fast and loose with its central plot conceit, which is that all three Marvels have been affected by some mishap that causes them to swap places whenever they use their powers. This is an intriguing premise — and causes all sorts of glitches during fight sequences — but until the film’s effective climax, it’s used more for convenience than coherence.
Making matters worse is that the CGI in this film is, at times, downright terrible. There have been reports of Marvel VFX artists being overworked, so I blame the powers that be rather than the technicians.
One special effect that does work like gangbusters involves the Flerken. They’re the aforementioned cats who steal this movie in a scene so delectably clever that it pushed me off the fence and made me give “The Marvels” a borderline positive review. Stop reading if you don’t want their magic spoiled.
You see, the Flerken are actually an alien species disguised as cats. Gigantic tentacles occasionally fly out of their mouths, pulling in items much larger than they are. Of course, being cats, the Flerkin usually puke these items back up later. The eaten items emerge unscathed because instead of stomachs, the Flerken have pocket dimensions inside of them.
During the climactic battle, Nick Fury must quickly evacuate his team of more than 300 people from his space station, but he doesn’t have enough escape pods. However, he does have a herd of Flerken that can easily fit into those pods. Fury’s solution results in one of the most ridiculous and hilarious scenes I’ve seen in a movie this year. It’s worth the price of admission.
As for this film’s already-spoiled post-credits sequence: It’s the first one I actually understood. I suppose that’s progress.
Directed by Nia DaCosta. Written by DaCosta, Megan McDonnell, and Elissa Karasik. Starring Brie Larson, Teyonah Parris, Iman Vellani, Samuel L. Jackson, Zawe Ashton, Zenobia Shroff, Mohan Kapur, Saagar Shaikh. 105 minutes. At AMC Boston Common, Landmark Kendall Square, suburbs. PG-13 (comic-book violence, cussing, man-eating kitties)
Odie Henderson is the Boston Globe's film critic.