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ms. Marvel Review: Refreshing, Confident and a Great Pleasure

by Gilbert R. Brooks

Ms. Marvel — which premieres Wednesday on Disney+ and Disney+ Hotstar — is the most refreshing and confident Marvel Cinematic Universe series since WandaVision. That may seem like little praise, given that everything in between has been hit or miss. I mostly ignore it, except for time hopping with the god of mischief Lo, ki. Those of you who’ve read my reviews and episodes will already know that I gave the to New York’s Christmas comedy Hawkeye, the mostly white-male Egyptian adventure in Moon Knight, and The Falcon and the Winter Soldier that took its beating. In that case, please allow me to revise my opening statement. Ms. Marvel is a true delight, relatable, enjoyable, unique, and genuinely funny in equal parts – a breath of fresh air that MCU-on-TV needed.

ms.  Marvel Review: Refreshing, Confident and a Great Pleasure

This is true for the first two episodes of Ms. Marvel that critics, including me, had access to. (As with other MCU shows, there are six episodes, so I’ve seen a third of the series.) Part of Ms. Marvel’s success comes from being inspired by her Marvel comics. – Ms. Marvel’s Pakistani-American co-creator Sana Amanat is a co-executive producer here – in more ways than one. The protagonist in the title loves to fantasize and scribble, and as such, her chats and conversations are turned into life-size animations on walls, printed on roads, or taking over neon lights and building signage. It was reminiscent of Scott Pilgrim vs. the World and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. In their minds, Ms. Marvel’s comic book-inspired stylizations are perfect.

And it’s also somewhere else in the same place. Tasked with introducing the MCU’s first Muslim superhero — Pakistani-American teen Kamala Khan — Ms. Marvel does a great job weaving Urdu, South Asian mannerisms, and other localizations into her episodes. It feels like a believable world. But not always. Ms. Marvel wears his love of Bollywood music and movies on his sleeve, but the sheer datedness of an entrenched Shah Rukh Khan reference reflects the age of the writers more than the cast. While the Pakistani-British creator and lead writer of Mrs. Marvel Bisha K. Ali (Loki Episode 3) is a millennial, the teens on her show were born in the late 2000s. It fares better with its needle drops, most of which are Southern Asian music, because they add to the flavor and humor of the scene for those who are aware of its cultural place.

Everything you need to know about Ms. Marvel, the new Marvel series

ms. Set in Jersey City, New Jersey, a year or two after Avengers: Endgame, Marvel revolves around 16-year-old Kamala Khan (Iman Vellani), who loves Captain Marvel and creates Avengers fan fiction. Of course, she wants to attend the inaugural AvengerCon – thinks ComicCon, but the Avengers – and participate in the cosplay competition as Captain Marvel. Her problems are minor, very teenage problems. This makes Ms. Marvel similar to Spider-Man and Peter Parker’s adolescent issues, except in a very different environment and with a different protagonist. And also, unlike the latest Spider-Man, Ms. Marvel is very much an original story, something the MCU decided to skip, given the many Spider-Man adaptations.

While this may be Kamala’s first live-action appearance, Ms. Marvel’s journey from page to screen isn’t just a direct view. The biggest change is in her powers. While Kamala retains the stretchy hands from the comics, her powers focus more on the light. She can shoot photon beams from her hands and create platforms of light that float in the air. “Cosmic!” when Kamala screams in the first episode. Her early antics even earn her the nickname Night Light. In addition, the origin of Kamala’s powers has nothing to do with “dormant inhuman abilities” like in the comics – Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige noted that this didn’t match the events and timeline of the MCU – but rather a bracelet artifact she gets in the post of her Nani (maternal grandmother).

Marvel is about connecting it to Kamala’s Pakistani heritage, similar to what Black Panther and Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings did for their respective characters. For Kamala, it’s about her maternal great-grandmother who brought “shame” to the family – a powerful force in Asian communities – and why her parents don’t want to discuss her. (Kamala tries to get answers from outside, and it’s just gossip and outrageous rumors. Typical again.) Kamala’s immigrant Pakistani parents, Yusuf (Mohan Kapur) and Muneeba (Zenobia Shroff), are stricter with her than with her. Older brother Aamir (Saagar Shaikh) – has been given much more freedom, and his Muslim fiancée is not Pakistani – who is also South Asian.

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Iman Vellani as Kamala Khan, Yasmeen Fletcher as Nakia, and Matt Lintz as Bruno in Mrs. Marvel Photo Credit: Daniel McFadden/Marvel Studios

For the first two episodes, Ms. Marvel is about Kamala trying to get freedom from her parents, put her powers to good use, and learn about the family’s past. There’s a little Shazam! At one point, Kamala and her best friend Bruno Carrelli (Matt Lintz) — he’s really into bloggers and what Ned is to Peter in MCU’s Spider-Man — discover her newfound powers. Kamala also urges her wealthy friend Nakia Bahadir (Yasmeen Fletcher) to run for election to the mosque board. Ms. Marvel also throws in a romantic first love angle, with junior year Kamala falling in love with a new senior in Kamran (Rish Shah), who is introduced in the whitest boy way ever. And her superpowers give her newfound confidence in school as she begins to feel more confident.

The same goes for the actors and creators, echoing what I said initially. Ms. Map. Marvel is a confident debut for both Vellani and Ali. The latter has little experience on this scale beyond her position as a staff writer at the Tom Hiddleston-led Loki. But Ali knows the tone, the style, and the approach she takes with her series. And she delivers spades. And while Ms. Marvel does indeed slip into that generic Marvel groove that all MCU properties are ultimately guilty of – and I include Black Panther here, too – it stands on its own. It sets its own hilarious and glorious path for the most part.

The first, Vellani, may be a newcomer — she’s single-handedly directed a few short films, but Ms. Marvel is her first feature film project — but the 19-year-old Pakistani-Canadian nails every note asked of her, be it comic or dramatic. Much of the Marvel show’s energy comes from her performance of Kamala and how she behaves. Villani, and Ms. Marvel, are aided by a series of characters that grab your attention. That includes Jordan Firstman in a minor role as the easygoing school principal Mr. Wilson. (Sorry, please call him Gabe; Mr. Wilson is his father.) Despite her tough appearance, Kamala’s mother, Muneeba, is easy to fall in love with. Shroff is an instant hit and delivers the required sighs and reactions that any Pakistani/South Asian mom would do perfectly.

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Mohan Kapur as Yusuf, Iman Vellani as Kamala, Zenobia Shroff as Muneeba, and Saagar Shaikh as Aamir in Mrs. Marvel Photo Credit: Daniel McFadden/Marvel Studios

Deep into the first episode, Kamala tells Bruno, “It’s not brown girls from Jersey City that save the day.” But as Ms. Marvel is here to show, they can do a lot – and they do. The latest MCU project builds on Marvel Studios’ inclusion efforts, which have been turbocharged in recent years. (Meanwhile, Sony Pictures has given us its third white live-action Spider-Man in a row.)

What’s more interesting about Ms. Marvel is that Kamala and Co. have never known a world without superheroes. With Ms. Marvel, we glimpse the generation that grew up in the Age of Heroes – Kamala lives and breathes superheroes, just like many teenagers in our universe – and is now looking for their place in the world as they come of age. The depth of Ms. Marvel’s immersion in Marvel and superhero culture speaks volumes about how the MCU isn’t just a force in our world. It is also a force in its fantasy world. Essentially, the MCU has been around for so long now that its heroes are spawning more heroes.

The Marvels, the sequel to Captain Marvel th, wasleased in July 2023. For me, the thosest analogy to this is men’s tennis. The game’s greats have been around for so long that they sometimes go head-to-head with teenagers who trained under them or started the sport after watching them play. (It happened this weekend at the 2022 French Open, where series winner Rafael Nadal defeated his former student Casper Rudd.) And it will be something similar for Kamala Khan, as she is expected to compete alongside her idol Carol Danvers (Brie Larson). It’s a wonderful world, and Mrs. Marvel shows that Kamala is ready to make it her own.

Ms. Marvel premieres Wednesday, June 8, on Disney+ and Disney+ Hotstar. A new episode airs every Wednesday at around 12:30 pm IST / 12:00 pm PT until July 13.

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