*SPOILERS FOR THE MARVELS BELOW*
The Marvels released on digital January 16th, and this 33rd Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) movie will be available in disk formats starting February 13th. As with the majority of the MCU’s home media releases, included in the digital purchase of The Marvels is a full-length commentary track. Typically, these commentaries are done by the director of the movie, although sometimes the screenwriter is present, too, if the director didn’t also write the film (or they aren’t the only credited writer, as was the case for Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, for example). However, for The Marvels’ audio commentary, co-writer/director Nia DaCosta is joined by visual effects supervisor Tara DeMarco.
This is an unusual move, but one that actually makes perfect sense when you stop and think of just how much of a VFX-heavy movie this is, seeing as it’s set largely in space and the heroes travel to multiple different planets.
Having now listened to the audio commentary track twice myself and learned plenty of fun and fascinating anecdotes along the way from DaCosta and DeMarco, I’d like to take the opportunity here to share my favorite new details from the filmmakers about last November’s Captain Marvel sequel.
1. There aren’t a lot of stars in the movie.
No, not those kinds of stars — with a cast that boasts the likes of Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, and Park Seo-Joon, The Marvels has plenty of movie stars in its midst, but if you pay close attention, there actually aren’t that many literal stars seen during the film’s countless space scenes. This was an intentional choice by DaCosta and DeMarco in order to represent space as accurately as possible. As DaCosta explains, “If you look at actual footage from NASA, shot at the ISS (International Space Station), or shot in orbit, you don’t see stars. But that’s because you’re exposed to Earth, which is incredibly bright…So you wouldn’t actually see any of the stars in the background. And so we talked about that a lot, when to do that and when we should just add stars, even if it wasn’t realistic, in order to help the audience feel grounded.” De Marco chimes in, “And also keep it textural, and keep it pretty.”, to which DaCosta fully agrees: “Exactly!” In fact, one of the only times we do see stars comes right after Carol Danvers has unsuccessfully tried to save Monica Rambeau from being trapped in the parallel universe, leaving her floating alone in space.
2. The comics-style split-screens were not DaCosta’s idea.
The Marvels has three specific instances where the screen divides into three distinct panels to showcase all three leads — Carol, Monica, and Kamala Khan — at the same time, and while many fans praised the comic book homage and assumed the stylistic choice was known comics fan DaCosta’s doing, it turns out this was something she very much did not want in the film! As she laughingly reveals in the commentary, “I fought split-screen in this movie from literally my pitch for the movie…They had it in the document. I was like, “I feel like split-screen, we don’t need to do that.” And for a good couple years, I really won, and then I eventually lost.” Even though the director herself isn’t a fan of the split-screen technique, given its playfulness and effectiveness in The Marvels, to me this feels like an instance where it’s a good thing that the studio ultimately won out.
3. The first big switching fight was always part of the vision.
In contrast to the aforementioned split screens, something in The Marvels that DaCosta was very pleased to see included was the three-way swapping fight that takes place in the Khan family living room, on a Kree spaceship, and on the SABER space elevator. According to DaCosta, this scene remained intact throughout her entire 3.5 years on the project. “I just think this is such a great sequence. And also I think just from a point of pride, it’s like, this is what we wrote, this is what we prepped, this is what we shot, and this is what’s in the movie. And I think that to have a sequence like this, that’s kind of stayed pure throughout the entire process, is really special.”
4. Some of the best one-liners were improvised.
As is often the case with comedic films that feature talented comedic actors, The Marvels has several instances of jokes and one-liners that weren’t in the original script. The debriefing scene in the Khan house, starts with Kamala asking Monica about the high-tech SABER tablet containing intel on Kamala’s super heroics (Kamala: “Is this the new iPad? I haven’t seen it yet.” Monica: “They wish.” Kamala: [walks off with the tablet without asking, much to Monica’s chagrin]) was ad-libbed by Iman Vellani and Teyonah Parris. The same goes for Nick Fury’s humorous words of encouragement to Monica when she’s preparing to fly for the first time (“Use your core!” and “C’mon, Black girl magic!”). And, later in the movie, DaCosta reveals it was upon Zenobia Shroff’s suggestion that Muneeba Khan threatens Carol in Urdu (“I will kill her!”) if anything happens to Kamala after Carol has promised to keep her safe on the trio’s space adventure.
5. There’s a reason we had to wait for the flashy “superhero group shot.”
It’s a staple of the genre that a superhero movie, especially a superhero team-up will include a “splash page” moment where all the heroes are onscreen together, in full costume and looking intense and/or doing something awesome. In The Marvels, this moment very deliberately only comes right towards the end of the film. In the final fight, there’s a moment where the frame rate slows and our three heroes are simultaneously attacking the villainous Dar-Benn. As DaCosta shares, “This is my favorite shot in the entire film, probably…And that’s what I was waiting for. That’s why you don’t get a big superhero moment with the three of them earlier.”
The “earlier” she’s referring to are two moments where Carol, Monica, and Kamala are all standing together in what could technically be superhero group shots, but which are both intentionally tonally dissonant from the super cool, awe-inspiring hero moments we expect. DaCosta explains, with regards to the trio standing on the deck of Carol’s ship after the destruction of the Skrull planet Tarnax: “It was really important for me that the first time you really have what could be a superhero shot of the three of them together, it’s in the midst of failure, in a way, and sadness, because they have to…one, learn to actually be a team, and then have somewhere to go.” Later, in the second act of the film, all three heroes are shown together in their new costumes on the musical planet Aladna, but this isn’t the moment, either. As DaCosta simply puts it, “It’s not time yet for the big shot.”
6. Invisible visual effects were used way more than you think (and sometimes not used!).
There’s a saying in Hollywood that the best visual effects are the ones you don’t know are visual effects, and that sentiment certainly applies to DeMarco and her department’s work on The Marvels. For instance, for two of the largest sets in the movie, the SABER space station and the banquet hall on Aladna, everything above the first floor of these structures was added after the fact via seamless visual effects, called set extensions. Invisible visual effects helped in smaller ways, too — the cat toy Muneeba uses to lure Flerkittens onto the escape pod wasn’t actually present on the day of shooting, and Nick Fury is seen stroking a hungry Flerkitten with an entirely digitally rendered finger.
On the flip side, there’s at least one instance in the film where invisible visual effects were almost used: during the planning sequence on Carol’s ship, the Hoopty. In this scene, Kamala appears to have randomly acquired a container of popcorn, even though we never see her pick it up. DaCosta explains how this was the result of the common enough practice of combining two sequences together, one in which the popcorn was present, and one in which it was not. The team wanted to use visual effects to digitally remove the container from Kamala’s hands and fix the continuity error but thankfully were convinced not to by DaCosta, who felt unbothered the minor goof, and DeMarco, who pointed out the waste of money such an endeavor would be.
7. Double Dutch was an unfamiliar concept to the crew members.
During the training montage on the Hoopty, the three Marvels participate in an array of games and activities to learn how to successfully coordinate their switching-places conundrum. Among these is Double Dutch, which most know as the version of jump rope that involves three people and two ropes. DaCosta, who grew up playing Double Dutch in New York City, was surprised to discover that many of her London-based crew members had no idea what she was talking about! DaCosta, along with DeMarco and editor Catrin Hedström, ended up having to demonstrate the game to her crew before they could actually shoot the scene!
Another fun detail about this scene is the needle drop, the Beastie Boys’ “Intergalactic,” which became strongly associated with the movie thanks to its prominent inclusion in most of the marketing was first suggested by Hedström.
8. Monica does get a superhero code name…
…In the audio commentary, at least. It was already expected heading into the film and then furthered by Kamala’s many workshopped attempts at finding her a suitable moniker, that Monica would emerge from this movie with a definitive superhero code name (the character has cycled through many different options in the comics, including even Captain Marvel!). With Photon, Pulsar, and Spectrum being the top contenders in the leadup to the movie’s release, fans were surprised to leave the theater with no clearer answer as to what the hero should be called going forward.
Well, thanks to a quick comment from DeMarco during the audio commentary, we now know for sure that Monica’s code name really was meant to be Photon (corroborated by an interview with Vellani that her co-star’s namedrop moment was left on the cutting room floor). In the scene where Monica gets supercharged by photokinetic energy from both Carol and Kamala, DeMarco asks DaCosta, “Do you want to talk about this look for Photon?”, seemingly unintentionally letting slip the answer to a multi-year question.
9. Yes, those were Brie Larson’s Crocs!
A fan-favorite detail about Carol’s first scene in the movie is that the strongest Avenger apparently has an affinity for the infamous rubber shoes, which is a trait long-attributed to Larson herself. Perhaps unsurprisingly then, as DaCosta discloses early in the audio commentary, Carol’s rainbow tie-dye Crocs actually belong to Brie Larson. The actor wore them to rehearsals one day, and it inspired DaCosta to make Carol wear them, too.
This interest in seeing powerful heroes in casual clothing comes up a few more times throughout the commentary. At one point, DaCosta asks rhetorically: “What do heroes look like when they’re not literally, you know, saving the world? They’re wearing Crocs,” to which DeMarco adds, “And they have their cats making their coffee.” Showing heroes not in their super suits was an important part of DaCosta’s aspirations to make these characters feel like us, which is also why the scenes of the trio together on the Hoopty often invoke a “girlfriends who are at a sleepover” vibe.
10. Kamala’s bangle was essential to the team-up story DaCosta wanted to tell.
DaCosta explains in the commentary how there were basically two ways they could have approached a Captain Marvel sequel — put focus on Carol and Kamala, or put focus on Carol and Monica. As DaCosta notes, “You could make a movie about Carol and Kamala, that makes sense…[the] idol and the girl who idolizes her. Or Carol and Monica, and it’s like, of course, the estranged family.”
However, Marvel wanted a movie about all three characters together. DaCosta acknowledges, “[To have] the three of them together, you have to really tie them together.” She ultimately found her ‘tie’ in the form of Kamala’s bangle, bringing to the table the idea of making the bangle Kamala received from her grandmother in the Ms. Marvel series also function as a Quantum Band (an ancient artifact rumored to have been used by the Kree, along with a second bangle, to create the universal neural teleportation network). This decision, DaCosta felt, made it far easier to justify this particular trio of characters going on this adventure together: “That shows why [Kamala’s] integral to this movie, why she is fated to be in the situation that she’s in.”
With regards to the climactic scene where Kamala, thanks to her mutant gene, successfully wields both bangles, something that had killed Dar-Benn only moments ago, DaCosta was pleased with how it turned out: “This is her birthright, essentially, and that was something that was really important to me.”
11. The production crew saw the movie the same time fans did.
It’s mentioned during the credits scroll that DaCosta and DeMarco recorded this commentary the week of the movie’s release in November of last year, which was actually when a lot of the production crew was seeing the finished movie for the very first time. As DeMarco notes, “Something I’ve been enjoying, ‘cause this part of the scroll is all production…I’ve been seeing the film, ‘cause this is premiere week, and then getting messages from our crew. You know, you and I lived with this film through all of [post-production], but the wonderful folks here haven’t seen it since we wrapped our sets, and it has been the best to see their reactions.”
12. No, they don’t know why Carol has the other bangle now…
…Or they won’t tell. In the penultimate scene of the movie, we see Carol sporting the second bangle/Quantum Band (as expected, Kamala has the other one), but it’s not explained why she’s now in possession of it or what her plans are for it. In a cheeky, rather cryptic moment in the commentary, DeMarco draws attention to this particular costuming choice: “So Nia. Carol is wearing one of the bangles in this scene.” DaCosta responds, “Yes. She is indeed,” DeMarco then inquires, “Do you know where that goes?”, DaCosta replies, “I have no idea,” and then they both just laugh. Considering the capabilities of even one of these ancient Kree artifacts, as shown in this movie, their comments here are…intriguing, to say the least. I’ll leave you to make of that what you will…
The Marvels can be purchased on digital, and will be available from physical media retailers starting February 13th, 2024.