Marvel Studios’ Ms. Marvel is a new, original series that introduces Kamala Khan, a Muslim American teenager growing up in Jersey City. An avid gamer and a voracious fan-fiction scribe, Kamala is a Super Hero megafan with an oversized imagination—particularly when it comes to Captain Marvel. Yet Kamala feels like she doesn’t fit in at school and sometimes even at home—that is, until she gets superpowers like the heroes she’s always looked up to. Life gets better with superpowers, right?
It feels like we’ve been hearing about Ms. Marvel for years. Following the addition of Brie Larson as Captain Marvel, fans immediately began clamouring for Kamala Khan to make her debut. Well finally one of the MCU’s youngest heroes is making her debut this week and we’ve seen the first two episodes.
As with many other characters making the transition to the screen, Ms. Marvel treats itself as an origin story. These first two episodes focus on introducing Kamala (Iman Vellani), her family, her friends and the world around her. There’s no immediate danger to life. No alien threat. There is only an audacious mission statement to have fun and boy does Ms. Marvel deliver.
Opening with an animated ode to Kamala’s heroes, Ms. Marvel quickly sets itself apart. Whilst the MCU has never skewed towards an older audience, Ms. Marvel is squarely aimed at a YA market. More bright, more colourful and more excitable than any other Marvel property, it revels in joyous fandom.
Structurally, the bare bones of an MCU origin are there. It’s not unrecognisable as a journey towards Kamala owning her power. But the series will be to this character what Black Panther was to T’Challa, a histrionic introduction to global audiences. Above all, its commitment to exploring the Muslim experience is paramount. Whilst I can’t comment on its authenticity. I, as a white male, can certainly speak to its cultural value. Ms. Marvel will undoubtedly act as a watershed moment for young Muslim girls. Finally showing a reflection of themselves saving the world.
The elephant in the room is Kamala’s powers. Online discourse points to the failure of Marvel’s Inhumans TV series as the reason behind the changes. But whatever the reason, the writers are able to craft a rich backstory with ties to Kamala’s heritage. However, the tradeoff isn’t without its drawbacks. In typical Marvel style, it’s a little too easy for Kamala to gain her powers. Much of the adversity comes from learning to use those powers, something she struggles with in both of these episodes.
Of course there are plenty of supporting cast members to help Kamala in her journey. Best friend Bruno (Matt Lintz) is the one to provide tech and super hero support. Lintz and Vellani have great chemistry, a welcome sigh of relief as they share much of the screen time.
At home, Kamala is surrounded by mum Muneeba (Zenobia Shroff), dad Yusuf (Mohan Kapur) and brother Aamir (Saagar Shaikh). Above all else the series covets family, chosen and inherited. More than any other Marvel property there is a real sense of family life. There are only small glimpses of how the life may be upended by Kamala’s powers. But those glimpses certainly tease new ground for the decade old franchise.
Vellani was born to play Kamala Khan. Her own excitement at being cast fully embodies her portrayal. It translates perfectly to Kamala’s attitude towards the heroes of the MCU and her own journey with her powers. The series’ visual direction only adds to the overall aesthetic. It truly creates something new and that is genuinely exciting. The kind of creative freedom given to directors Adil el Arbi and Bilall Fallah should be afforded to all MCU creatives.
Set design, costume design and visual effects all feel on par with Marvel’s cinematic fare. It certainly feels like more budget has been afforded to Ms. Marvel than to Moon Knight or Hawkeye. As much, Ms. Marvel feels much more like top tier – or perhaps top priority – Marvel.
Marvel Studios is tearing up the rule book with Ms. Marvel. Visually dynamic and bursting with youthful exuberance. All signs point exciting things to come for the rest of the season.
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