[Editor’s note: The following contains spoilers for “The Marvels.”]

“The Goose is loose!” That’s something I’d like to think was said by one or more of Nick Fury’s crew members upon discovering that Captain Marvel’s frisky feline companion had been furiously birthing up a storm while aboard their ship in “The Marvels.”

The film unofficially known as “Captain Marvel 2” will go down in history as “the one with all the kittens in space.” IndieWire’s Kate Erbland gave the film a “C-“ in her review, accurately citing the surprise arrival of Goose’s dozens of babies in the fourth act as “the single most bonkers set piece the MCU has ever churned out,” but still not enough to save the movie from being, at best, mid.  

For Marvel’s undying fanbase, and they are legion, the scene is ostensibly a slam-dunk explosion of cute capitalizing on centuries of humanity’s unrelenting obsession with cats. Strictly speaking, Goose is not a cat; she (yes, she!) is a member of the alien race known as Flerkens with the monstrous kraken-like tentacles in her mouth to prove it. But, if you were surprised by the eleventh hour Fler-kitty attack that helped Carol, Kamala, and Monica save the day — and not entirely won over by its should-be sweetness — you aren’t alone.

THE MARVELS, from left: Iman Vellani as Ms. Marvel / Kamala Khan, Goose the Flerken, 2023. © Marvel / © Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures / Courtesy Everett Collection
“The Marvels” ©Walt Disney Co./Courtesy Everett Collection

To start with the obvious: How did that even happen? Comic book readers tell me Flerkens are non-mammalian (h/t various sites and threads) and that they lay hundreds of eggs when your standard housecat might have only a litter of a half dozen or so kittens. Presumably, Goose made a series of nests, all full of those glowing pink mucous sacks, while Carol was away, and the sudden arrival of her offspring-turned-space bending lifeboats was a moonshot of pure luck. Good kitty, Goose!

But even without Carol tending to a bathtub of baby Flerkens and dirty washcloths, Goose’s egg-based reproduction comes way far out of left field. There’s no subplot about a love interest (missed opportunity! How were those eggs fertilized?), and without the late Hoyt Axton available, no one there to expound on the Flerkens’ evident “Gremlins” rules of multiplication. Yes, we had visual clues. What about backstory?

Maybe they get into all that asexual birds and bees business in the comics, but very little Flerken lore ends up on screen in “The Marvels.” As is, the moment is unearned which feels about par for the course in mid-Phase V. More upsetting is the sense that even out of context a cinematically rendered kitten screensaver physically surrounding Samuel L. Jackson doesn’t feel like much of anything anymore.

THE MARVELS, (aka CAPTAIN MARVEL 2), US advance poster, Goose the Flerken (top), with Flerkens, 2023. © Marvel / © Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures / Courtesy Everett Collection
“The Marvels” ©Walt Disney Co./Courtesy Everett Collection

High demand for VFX work and an industry-wide reluctance to invest the time and money that takes might explain why the scene didn’t blow minds visually. But there’s also an annoying sense of pandering attached to anything coming out of Disney’s mathematically cute sidekick factory this late in the superhero box office takeover. (Never mind the fact that in product merchandising, “floating cats in space” has become as ubiquitous a fabric pattern as polka dots.)

“Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” made waves with Baby Groot first, but “The Mandalorian” critter formerly known as Baby Yoda shepherded in a heyday for baby-fied characters that was big enough to kill and rebirth the Mr. Peanut mascot. The “baby version” trend has been around in animation since before “Baby Looney Tunes,” and CGI has been changing the face of the film industry since the turn of the century. But from Porgs and Babu Frik to Baby Dory and the “Frozen 2” salamander, cute supporting characters have become a cash grab mined so frequently they amounts to a blockbuster cliché. In the context of the MCU, it’s a particularly dated reminder that Avenger things were better when “Endgame” was still on the horizon.

I left “The Marvels” thinking if I should give the film credit for one thing, it would be the baby Flerken reveal. But only a few days after screening and that overly slick impression has washed off just as fast as those blurry battle scenes — reminding me instead that the MCU just isn’t really trying right now. If the underwhelming “Captain Marvel” sequel is lucky, a handful of its more serious admirers will also remember its whacky musical number featuring Carol Danvers – Ball Gown Edition. But if Marvel can make me think kittens aren’t cute, now is as good a time as any to get off the rollercoaster.

A Walt Disney Pictures release, “The Marvels” is now playing in theaters.

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