Title: Ms. Marvel (2022)
Creator: Bisha K. Ali
Stars: Iman Vellani, Alysia Reiner, Matt Lintz
The Marvel Cinematic Universe is growing, and with the various live-action series coming to Disney+, one can argue that it is, in fact, in danger of growing out of proportion, becoming a mass-produced and synthetic cavalcade of superheroes lifted out from obscurity, one after another. Some would say we’re already there, but these are the superheroes die-hard fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe know and love. For the rest of us, an introduction is in order.
Ms. Marvel is the sixth original Marvel Cinematic Universe live-action series produced for Disney+ since the streaming service started in 2019. It is a part of somewhat troubled Phase IV, sharing its continuity with the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and its many heroes, villains and storylines.
Meet Kamala Khan (played by Iman Villani), a 16-year-old Pakistani-American from Jersey City. She’s not the most popular girl in class, and in fact, she’s considered by many at her school to be a nerd, always dreaming about her favorite superhero, Captain Marvel. Fangirl Kamala spends most of her free time writing fan fiction about superheroes and sharing her fandom through her YouTube channel and other social media (remember to Like and Subscribe!)
When we meet Kamala, she is preparing for the superhero fandom convention “AvengersCon” – a celebration of Earth’s mightiest heroes. Together with her best friend Bruno (played by Matt Lintz), she has it all planned. Of course, she will cosplay as Captain Marvel, but she hasn’t finished her costume yet, and she just needs the final pieces and flourishes. The problem is that her protective Muslim parents (played by Mohan Kapur and Zenobia Shroff) don’t allow it. There will be boys there, you see, and she wants to go wearing that tight-fitting costume? No way! She’s only 16 years old!
But when she finds a strange bracelet that belonged to a relative in Pakistan she sees it as a perfect addition to her costume. With the Captain Marvel costume ready, she sneaks out of her room and to the convention with Bruno. And as the bracelet channels her latent superpowers, her nerdy teenage life changes forever.
Unlike some of the earlier Marvel Cinematic Universe series produced for Disney+, Ms. Marvel is aimed primarily at the younger superhero fans. For this review, Disney+ sent me only the two first episodes, but based on those alone, Ms. Marvel is charming and funny, with some light-hearted satire around Pakistani and Muslim communities in the US. At times, it does get overly taken with high school shenanigans, cultures and religious traditions, and I wouldn’t be surprised to hear fans of other Marvel Cinematic Universe films and series describe the start of Kamala’s superhero’s journey as slow.
But underneath its nerdy charm and exploration of religion and culture, Ms. Marvel is a somewhat formulaic fare. Kamala must discover her new polymorphic powers that allow her to create crystalline energies to manipulate her environments. Clumsy and unsure of herself at first, she gradually learns and starts her superhero’s journey. There is nothing new here; It is a rinse-and-repeat story that has been told repeatedly in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and elsewhere.
Watching Ms. Marvel, I was smitten by the series’ charm and wit. Of particular note is Iman Vellani as Kamala Khan, her mind always someplace else; the nerdy teen obsessed with superheroes in a world where superheroes exist. One especially cool thing the show’s creators have done with Ms. Marvel is to visualize her dreams and imagination around her. She might be walking down the street, eagerly going on about some superhero or nerdy fan theory, and these ideas will be drawn and animated on the streets and buildings around her. It is not an entirely new idea (James Gunn did it in The Suicide Squad and Eric Kripke did it in The Boys), but it is perfectly suited for this kind of show.
I wish I had more episodes to base this review on, as the two episodes Disney sent me only hinted at a larger story. I have never read any comics about this particular superhero, but if I have to guess, the story will continue with Kamala’s exploration of her new powers, where they came from and her transformation into Ms. Marvel. There will be further explorations of her culture and her past, and there might even be a cameo or two from the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe. No extra points for guessing who it will be!
I’m sure it will be a witty, funny and light-hearted journey with Ms. Marvel in the coming weeks. I might even come along, even if it has been over 25 years since I could call myself a teen.