Ms. Marvel is a series with split personality, at least for the first two episodes premiering this Wednesday on Disney+. On one hand, it is shameless nostalgia on behalf of Marvel Studios, celebrating their own decade-plus of films in the MCU, and there is no denying that there's something a little creepy about a new Marvel show based entirely on the concept that the Avengers are popular. While it's fun to learn that Scott Lang has become a podcaster, it's a little offputting to see Marvel toot their own horn in this way. On the other hand, Ms. Marvel is a super cute show with the aesthetic of a Marvel comic as drawn by Lisa Frank, and there's no denying the appeal of uber-charming newcomer Iman Vellani as the titular Ms. Marvel herself, Kamala Khan. In its first episodes, the show establishes itself in the vein of Spiderman: Homecoming—it’s aimed squarely at teenagers, particularly kids who grew up on Marvel movies—but Ms. Marvel goes further, incorporating Kamala’s flights of fancy as animations on screen. It probably won't appeal to everyone, but there's something cool about a show that is unashamedly girly and cute in the superhero space.
In its early going, Ms. Marvel has a great deal in common with Turning Red, in that both stories focus on teenage girls and their worlds, unabashedly and affectionately incorporating the quirks of their teen heroines. While Ms. Marvel undeniably echoes the tone of the first of the Tom Holland Spider-Man movies, the most teenaged of the Tom Holland Spider-Man movies, Ms. Marvel grounds us thoroughly in Kamala's world, not only as a teenage girl but also as a first generation Pakistani American and the daughter of immigrants. There will undoubtedly be people who say that they can't relate to Kamala, but while the particulars of her life might not be the same as everyone else’s, not unlike Turning Red, there is certainly something for everyone who has ever been a teenager growing up looking for their place and trying to understand how they fit in their family and community. (Also, it will just be interesting to see how many people loved Spider-Man: Homecoming yet find Ms. Marvel difficult to deal with, when they are, at heart, very much similar stories.)
Kamala, though, is not a budding genius, she's an average girl who finds herself in possession of above average powers. The show, developed by Loki writer Bisha K. Ali and filmmakers Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah, is taking liberties with Kamala's comic book origins. It appears she is no longer an Inhuman, which makes sense as the MCU only wants to acknowledge Inhumans if they can kill them off immediately, but instead gains her powers through something connected to her family legacy. Personally, I'm fine with this as it grounds her hero’s journey in her family life, and a family mystery connected to her mother, Muneeba (Zenobia Shroff). The personal is always preferable, and it seems like the discovery of her powers, and where they came from and how she got them, is going to be intimately related to Kamala’s relationship with her mother, and Muneeba’s own relationship with her mother and grandmother. That's far more interesting than just making Kamala one of a bunch of people who have powers.
Speaking of those powers, though, the training scenes are great and not something we often get to see in the movies as Kamala struggles to master her new abilities. The look of her powers is also neat and plays into the Lisa Frank-ness of it all, and there is a charming kitschiness that fits well with Kamala's homemade costume. As in the comics, she's still a huge fan of Carol Danvers, though the show has not yet explained why she likes Carol more than any other Avenger. I would be curious to know what draws Kamala to Carol in this iteration, and hopefully we find that out further down the line. In the meantime, she's a kid who's grown up in the world of the MCU, the Avengers have been around for pretty much her entire life, so it's not beyond belief she's into superheroes. It's interesting, though, how the show immediately begins interrogating her hero worship. So far, it's nothing that would put a dent in her love for Carol Danvers, but just finding it difficult to master her powers and how hard it is to save people, even in relatively simple circumstances, shows that the gig is more difficult than just looking cool and doing superhero landings
At the same time Kamala is trying to get a handle on her new powers, she's also dealing with a crush on a cute senior at school, Kamran (Rish Shah), as well as disagreements with her family at home, which is the best part of the show so far. Kamala's family is warm and wonderful, the kind of people you would actually want to know in real life. It's also a frankly refreshing view on a Muslim family in America. The Khans are wholesome, openly affectionate, and strict, but not beyond belief. For instance, Muneeba is clearly dealing with some lingering trauma from her family's complicated history in Pakistan during the partition era which prompts her to invest in Kamala's safety, at all times and in all contexts.
In a world riddled with superhero orphans and those with daddy issues, it's going to be really fun to watch a hero come out of such a stable and loving family, and to see the impact that has on her philosophy of heroism. And we get to see Kamala at the mosque where her friend, Nakia (Yasmeen Fletcher), is running for the mosque board. We basically never get to see superheroes’ religious lives, and while I have a ton of questions about how religions persist despite knowing that aliens are real and magic is real, it's nice to see this kind of everyday Muslim representation in a superhero show, or, let's be honest, any mainstream American show. Ms. Marvel gets off to a strong start and introduces Kamala Khan and Iman Vellani as instant stars in the MCU.
Ms. Marvel will stream new episodes on Disney+ from June 8, 2022.