It’s less than two weeks away from the release of The Marvels when I sit down to chat with director Nia DaCosta, and there’s still very little she can discuss on the record.
The filmmaker, best known for 2021’s legacy sequel to Candyman, is aware of all the rumours surrounding her superhero adventure, but rather than confirming or denying any of them, is enjoying the final days of keeping her cards close to her chest
It makes sense, as The Marvels has been shrouded in more secrecy than your typical MCU adventure; all we know for definite is that it’s a continuation of Captain Marvel (Brie Larson), Ms Marvel (Iman Vellani) and Monica Rambeau’s (Teyonah Parris) respective journeys, with the trailers hiding more of the plot than usual. Naturally, this has created a storm of rampant speculation – both positive and negative – which DaCosta is embracing before the world gets to know what she’s been cooking.
The big rumour which has circulated online for over a year now is that The Marvels is the MCU’s first musical, with the trio journeying to a planet where the residents all communicate exclusively via song. DaCosta, laughing that she’s having a great time maintaining a poker face throughout our chat, does her best job to keep us guessing.
“I love musicals, and I would love to do a musical at some point”, she told Zavvi. “But is the world ready for a Marvel musical? They’ve already had such great, extravagant musical numbers in Hawkeye, Captain America and Eternals, so I think the stage has been set.
“I guess we’ll find out what the audience thinks if and when that day comes…”
One challenge DaCosta can talk about is also the biggest test for the MCU going forward; continuing the stories of characters previously only seen on the small screen, even though audiences may have not caught up with all the Disney+ series. Can Marvel films now function as introductory stand-alone adventures, so audiences don’t have to cram in an entire season’s worth of homework before watching?
“That process was a lot of trial and error”, DaCosta continued. “As a filmmaker, you want to honour all three of their stories and see their individual relationships grow, but you still want audiences to feel like they know them well even if they didn’t see the shows.
“Ms Marvel and Secret Invasion were being made at the same time we were shooting this, and WandaVision premiered whilst we were in development, so as a storyteller in this world you must have all of this in the back of your mind. There’s a lot of negotiation involved to make sure you take care of and do justice to these characters’ stories even as they’re still being told elsewhere”.
One of these aspects that she was made aware of was the climactic reveal in the Ms. Marvel finale that Kamala Khan is a mutant, establishing deeper ties between the MCU and the X-Men. Whilst she can’t yet speak to reports that there will be a returning character from that universe in her film, she can discuss the previously established connections to Charles Xavier’s gifted youngsters, who have long been influences on her as a storyteller.
“X-Men is my Alpha Omega, so it was exciting to be working with mutants, even if it was unknowingly!” she winked. “I’m obsessed with that world, I’m very deep into the lore – I kept talking about Galactus all the time on set because I just love him so much”.
She was aware of the challenge of minimising those ties where possible from the moment she made her first pitch to direct, however, realising that the best version of this movie would only be possible if she didn’t overthink the connections to the wider cinematic universe.
“The thing that spoke to me most about the story was that cool idea: how the powers of these heroes become intertwined, having them keep switching out, and seeing their relationship develop through that. I just wanted to make the best version of that I could, and naturally, as a director and co-writer, I feel like part of me seeps into the film.
“Even in this giant franchise blockbuster with all of these different character ties, there are things I recognise in it that are specific to me and my experiences.”
The body-swap action, previously teased in the post-credits sequence of the Ms. Marvel finale last year, frequently comes to life via galaxy spanning fight scenes, the three heroines zapping in and out of Earth mid battle. In the opening 20 minutes, this inspires one of the more distinctive set pieces in a recent MCU project, and naturally, proved a logistical nightmare for the director, who had to ensure a scene of the characters teleporting from Earth to outer space and back again would track for an audience.
“I’m so proud of that sequence, because the process of writing it meant getting really specific with the detail. You don’t usually need to note down every last punch in a fight scene at the script stage, but as they keep switching across the galaxy, it was a necessity – not to mention important in establishing their dynamic.
“It was a beautiful collaboration, working with my second unit director, the stunt coordinator and the fight coordinator, tracking how the scene had to be right down to the smallest movement. From script to screen, it was one of the sequences that stayed pure from how I originally envisioned it to how it ended up playing out in the film”.
We’ve only seen the first 20 minutes of The Marvels, but even if it isn’t a musical or a secret X-Men movie, we’re looking forward to being surprised by what DaCosta has in store for us next.
The Marvels is released in UK cinemas on Friday, 10th November.