The MCU is set to debut its first fangirl superhero with the family-friendly premiere of Ms. Marvel on Disney+. Yes, you’ve already seen Captain Marvel in multiple films, but this isn’t about Carol Danvers. This is about Kamala Khan and the dream of every superhero fan to get the chance to become a hero and join their idols. So while Ms. Marvel is tonally very different from much of the Marvel Studios content in theaters or Disney+, it’s an adorable breath of fresh air.
Kamala Khan (Iman Vellani) is a 16-year-old Pakistani-American high school student from Jersey City, bubbling over with a massive obsession for the Avengers. Her favorite in Captain Marvel, and Kamala expresses her love through art, YouTube videos and fan-fiction. While getting set to don her ultimate Captain Marvel cosplay at the first ever AvengersCon, her regular life is given a surprising twist: a family heirloom added to her outfit at the last second gives her the ability to create cosmic energy constructs (not unlike DC’s Green Lantern) and sets her on a path of adventure and discovery.
Disney+ was kind enough to provide us with the first two episodes of the six-episode season, and it’s off to a strong start. Ms. Marvel, as a series, lives or dies by Vellani’s portrayal of Kamala and the good news for audiences is that the young actress was born to play the role. Not only does her real-life backstory and ethnicity mirror Kamala’s, so does her real life fangirl status: she brings the character to life with infectious charm displayed in scenes illustrated with stylized daydreams and ecstatic lip-syncing sequences that can’t help but put you in a good mood.
The artistic direction is a giddy choice, especially in the first episode, directed by Adil El Arbi & Bilall Fallah (Bad Boys for Life). Conversations come to life around characters in animated fashion, shots blend in and out of one another, and the soundtrack slaps. The show earnestly comes across as if seen through the mind of an artistic teenage girl, but in a way that works humorously for all ages.
Another selling point of Ms. Marvel is the excellent portrayal of Pakistani culture, showing a side of society rarely highlighted for television and film, especially in the superhero genre. Kamala’s parents Muneeba (Zenobia Shroff) and Yusuf (Mohan Kapur) are an absolute treat as the loving parental figures that are continual scene stealers. Kamala’s relationship with her best friend Bruno (Matt Linz) is also well developed and very sweet, as are his wholesome and amusing interactions with her family.
Those unfamiliar with the comic book roots of the character Kamala Khan will probably roll along with this first live action iteration, but there are some aspects that will have some source material fans not thrilled: namely, her power set and its origin. Rather than being an Inhuman with natural powers like the source material, the MCU version of Ms. Marvel gets hers from a bracelet and the powers go beyond the comic book stretchy abilities, which is a significant departure. While this might irk purists, it makes little difference to the story because Ms. Marvel begins light on action and heavy on character. Thus, the personality and core of the character take center stage and not the super heroics — it’s also tough to argue that any creepy, fleshy stretching VFX would look better than cosmic energy.
Fans will, however, appreciate how steeped the episodes are in the mythology of the MCU with easter eggs aplenty from shows like Hawkeye and even a minor supporting appearance from a Spider-man: No Way Home team. But again, Ms. Marvel is all about character and it’s hard not to love Kamala Khan in these early episodes of this hyper cute, stylized teen coming-of-age comedy wrapped up in MCU packaging. Ms. Marvel might turn off some small portions of the Marvel fanbase that prefer the set-piece based, more mature stuff, but this all ages adventure is funny and full of heart in all the right places.
Score: 3.5 out of 5
Ms. Marvel will air weekly on Disney+ beginning June 8, 2022.