Ms. Marvel

4 out of 5

Created by: Bisha K. Ali

covers season 1

One of Marvel’s best hero origin tales to date, and maintaining the semi-successful trend of MCU Phase 4 projects that have allowed for more unique styles and presentations, the 6-episode Ms. Marvel series is a really fantastic, fun outing that also shows up a lot of modern TV in general in how it handles cultural representation, and in its balance of tone: kid-friendly but adult pleasing; splashes of action and drama with a good emphasis on comedy. It absolutely scores because of its lead: without Iman Vellani as Kamala Khan, eventually the titular hero, the sparkles and personality of the script wouldn’t go half as far; this is further carried by a good support team who play various “types” – doting mother Muneeba (Zenobia Shroff); kind-hearted father Yusuf (Mohan Kapur); puppy-love longtime friend Bruno (Matt Lintz); and other best friend Nakia (Yasmeen Fletcher), who helps the show maintain a strong link to some good cultural touchpoints such as the politics of the mosque, besides Kamala’s family and life experience, in general, proving incredibly solid in bringing a version of the Pakistani-American life to the screen, not trying to over-explain everything or dress it up for dazzling us know-nothings, while also making sure to include enough context to make the reality of it feel, well, real.

And this version of the show, where Kamala feels her way through the complexities of teen life, and perpetual culture clash despite the ever “woke”-ening attempts of the world, and then the discovery of a family heirloom – a bangle – which seems to unleash some very cosmic powers within her… that version of the show is perfect. The way Kamala’s powers are sparingly represented keeps CGI-wonkiness at bay, and the asides into her culture are necessarily tied to what’s going on in her world in general, so it all makes too much sense, is often hilarious – great comic timing in the direction, and from the actors – and the dramatic beats land as well. It’s a perfect origin story.

But that’s not enough for Marvel (or, admittedly, modern TV, which needs a big hook); so we’re given a villain. The show could probably survive this, as there’s some good work done here to link this all in to Indian history by way of Kamala’s family’s past, but because it has to be a BIG villain, and because we’re setting things up for larger MCU implications – check the stinger at the end of the series – the scope of Ms. Marvel goes astray, and tries to sell us a larger threat than necessary, which is very tough to mush into six episodes that need room for the whole idea / character to be set up in the first place. It’s to be noted that the effects and slickness with the direction take a hit here, and the clunky inclusion of Damage Control as a secondary villain – a cool Marvel nod that’s turned into a faceless police organization here, never quite explained as to their function beyond “we hate superheroes and non-white people” – just adds to the crowding, and watering down of the show’s impact. But: this is only maybe one total episode of the show, and isn’t as all bad as I’m describing, as their are cool beats along the way.

Overall, though, the energy and spirit of Ms. Marvel very much reminded me of Guardians of the Galaxy, a swing towards potentially less directly profitable IP that ends up proving to be one of the MCU’s most creative and personal outings. While I still think / hope that the real power of the Marvel TV shows may be found when they’re less bound to the greater MCU, and / or when viewing habits shift and we’re not so eager to cancel something after a single meh season – i.e. allowing for ideas to breathe a bit – if this show kicks off a trend of giving series (and movies) more space to be themselves, then this whole Marvel experiment should be able to continue in good stead for quite some time.