The Marvels, the sequel to 2019’s Captain Marvel directed by Nia DaCosta, hits theaters on Friday in Marvel’s last movie release of the year. The movie combines the storylines of three Marvel characters: Captain Marvel (Brie Larson), Ms. Marvel (Iman Vellani), and Monica Rambeau (Teyonah Parris) and expands on the stories of prior Marvel installments Captain Marvel, WandaVision, Ms. Marvel, Secret Invasion, and Avengers: Endgame as Carol Danvers, Kamala Khan, and Monica team up to defeat Kree insurgent Dar-Benn (Zawe Ashton), who is seeking revenge against Carol (who Dar-Benn refers to as “The Annihilator”). The issue, though, is that Dar-Benn entangled the three women’s powers, so they switch places whenever they use them.
The movie comes as enthusiasm for the Marvel machine has appeared to wane, following several middling releases that received less-than-favorable reviews, including Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania and Secret Invasion on Disney+. As TIME’s Eliana Dockterman has written, the MCU seems to have lost its way. As the franchise attempts to regain its footing, here’s everything you need to know before watching The Marvels.
What to remember about Captain Marvel
As revealed in Captain Marvel, the titular character is originally a Kree Star Force soldier named Vers on the planet Hala. After getting sent on a mission she is captured by Talos, the commander of the shapeshifting aliens, the Skrull. She manages to escape and ends up crash-landing in Los Angeles, where she meets Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and Maria Rambeau (Lashana Lynch), and learns she is actually a human named Carol Danvers who went missing after test driving a light-speed engine designed by a scientist named Dr. Wendy Lawson (later revealed as Mar-Vell) and made it her mission to help the Skrull find a new home after they were turned into refugees.
The Kree were trying to get rid of all the Skrull, but Captain Marvel saved them and warned the leader of the Kree, an AI called the Supreme Intelligence, that she would help end the war.
For anyone who may have skipped out on Secret Invasion, here’s a primer on the conflict between the Kree and the Skrull. The latter have grown tired of waiting for Carol to fulfill her promise of finding them a place to live, and a group of them attempts to make Earth their new home planet by making it inhospitable for them. Talos’s daughter, G’iah (Emilia Clarke), manages to help Fury stop the rebel Skrulls from taking the planet. Fury falls in love with a Skrull woman named Varra (Charlayne Woodard), and he tells her that the Kree are open to talking about the chance at peace—these negotiations come into focus in The Marvels.
Kamala Khan is a Captain Marvel superfan from Jersey City and the central character in 2022’s Ms. Marvel. In the show, we learn that she gets a bangle that used to belong to her great-grandmother Aisha, who came to Earth after being exiled from what is known as the Noor Dimension. Throughout the series, audiences learn more about her great-grandmother as Kamala searches for answers about the bangle, but in the end, it’s revealed that Kamala is a mutant, a first for the MCU. This hints at the existence of the X-Men in this universe, which Marvel has teased in the past, with Patrick Stewart’s Professor Xavier making a brief appearance in Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness.
We are first introduced to Monica Rambeau as a child in Captain Marvel. She adores her aunt Carol, who tells her she will return to Earth to visit. As Monica grew up, she took after her mother Maria and joined S.W.O.R.D.—the organization Maria founded. In WandaVision, she obtained superhuman powers because she crossed through the hex that Wanda put on the town of Westview. After her good work in helping get things under control, Nick Fury sent a Skrull to tell her that she is being recruited to S.A.B.E.R. for an intergalactic mission.