Weekend Watch: The Marvels, For All Mankind Season 4
Marvel heads across the universe while humanity has trouble on Mars
Image Credit: Marvel Studios
Welcome to the latest edition of Weekend Watch, in which I recommend (or occasionally warn against) movies or TV shows I’ve been checking out. This week, Carol Danvers is back, bringing a new and an old friend along, while the Martian chronicles continue for NASA and co. Follow James on Twitter: @jamwhite and Threads/Instagram:@jammerwhite
It has only taken a couple of years for Marvel to go from box office behemoth to pop culture punching bag. Some disappointing results both critically and commercially for recent big-screen offerings and a severely mixed response to its Disney+ output have left it needing to revitalize its reputation.
The director here is Nia DaCosta, who did such good work with Little Woods and 2021’s Candyman. While she is sometimes swallowed up by the Marvel machine (not all of the fights are as effective as they could be, especially given the powers on display), she guides her characters through the emotional beats effectively, helped by the lead trio.
Though this is the follow-up to Captain Marvel and Brie Larson’s Carol Danvers certainly gets her share of the spotlight, she is outshone by Teyonah Parris as the grown Monica Rambeau we met in WandaVision and particularly Iman Vellani as the ever-enthusiastic Kamala Khan, AKA Ms. Marvel. It’s Vellani who –– as in the Disney+ series which introduced the character –– sparkles once more, her energy driving the majority of the laughs while leaving room for other layers.
Thanks partly to Ms. Marvel and some other elements, this is a resoundingly funny film, with some out-there concepts that work to a certain degree before the storyline largely abandons them to get back to the larger issues at hand. It can lead to a certain amount of tonal whiplash, but I certainly enjoyed them.
On the negative front is the villain and the plot. Zawe Ashton barely gets a chance to make an impact as largely forgettable Kree baddie Dar-Benn, and much of her motivation boils down to a problem that has a relatively easy solution (even if it takes a while for people to realise it).
And the story will likely confuse anyone not up on their Kree/Skrull conflict timeline (the script does try to educate the audience on that point, but unless you have basic knowledge, you might wonder what all the fuss is about).
There’s also less for Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury to do, though sacrificing time with a character we’ve had years to get to know so the main trio can be developed is not necessarily a giant issue.
Oh, and for fans of Goose the cat-like Flerkin, there is plenty on offer here, including a key plot point later on that I won’t spoil.
The Marvels is in US and UK cinemas now.
Image Credit: Apple TV+
Space is also a big part of For All Mankind, a particular favourite of mine that I have previously raved about. It is finally back this year, making the usual time jump (eight years in this case) to land in 2003.
In the series alt-history universe (the jumping-off point for the show is Russia beating the States to the Moon), humanity has well and truly conquered Mars at this point, with the scrappy Happy Valley facility having expanded to a sprawling facility hosting people from various nations (including a secretive section for North Korea, which landed the first man on the planet).
In that time, the base has become a focus for mining and research and as the new season opens, the plan is to also start tapping into nearby meteorites which offer bounties of precious minerals and other materials. It is, of course, never entirely without risk and the first episode is, in keeping with the show’s tradition, unafraid to explore the very real dangers of space.
A few of the original characters are still around (the ageing make-up remains something of a sticking point, though the performances from the likes of Joel Kinnaman and Krys Marshall help make it work). And there are new faces, too, including Daniel Stern as new NASA boss Eli Hobson, who quickly learns that running the astronaut programme comes with even more political challenges than his time in the car industry, and Toby Kebbell, who plays Miles. He’s a veteran oil rigger jumping at the chance of an opportunity on the Red Planet to help provide for his fractured family, but who also ends up mired deep in a less-than-legal situation at the base (about which I will say no more).
Showrunners Ben Nedivi and Matt Wolpert always have fun with the concept of a world where there are subtle (and not-so-subtle) changes to the past and with this new season, they get to explore how humanity’s darker side can even impact a mission designed for the greater good. The clash of capitalism and idealism is also still apparent here, and there is a healthy subplot for former NASA chief Margo Madison (Wrenn Schmidt), who has been living in Russia since she slipped technological secrets to the country’s scientists to help at a crucial point, but was thought dead after anti-progress terrorists bombed the organization’s HQ in the third season finale.
For All Mankind continues to be compelling, blending fascinating peeks into what might have been with space exploration with real science (ships are silent in space) and recognizably human characters. Prime among them are Ed Baldwin and Daniel Poole (the aforementioned Kinnaman and Marshall), he the grizzled commander trying to prove he still has The Right Stuff; she the retired veteran pressed back into service when his gung-ho decisions don’t pan out.
Could you go in cold and start watching the show now? You could, but it’s probably worth at least swotting up on the history to date, and seeing how the various continuing characters evolve –– and it’s probably likely to be less than you need for an average Marvel project.
For All Mankind Season 4 launches on 10 November with its first episode on Apple TV+. New episodes will land weekly. I’ve seen the first seven of 10.