Essentially a YA show about a Pakistani teen, Kamala Khan, grappling with life in New Jersey under strict traditionalist parents who want her to be a good Muslim girl, Marvel’s “Ms. Marvel” is a charming and entertaining show merging coming-of-age tropes with coming-of-powers allegories.
Starring the exceptionally delightful Iman Vellani, a 19-year-old Pakistani-Canadian, perfectly cast, “Ms. Marvel” centers on a young girl grappling with newfound powers and entertaining the idea that she can become a superhero. However, before all that, Kamala Khan is merely just an enthusiastic fangirl follower of superheroes and a big daydreamer wishing for an exciting Avengers-style life. Khan is obsessed with Brie Larson’s Captain Marvel character and, like many high schoolers today, is consumed with documenting her love for the hero and her superhero affinities via personal YouTube videos filled with animation, drawings, and overall charming vim. The problem is, despite her zest, Kamala is just, in her mind, a Pakistani teen from New Jersey, and this character is generally never allowed to play the superhero, much less the lead of any show (seemingly a nice sly commentary on representation on screen and how in the past, a Teen YA show might depict Kamala as a friend supporting character at best).
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Created by Bisha K. Ali and directed at first by Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah, and then Meera Menon, in the first two episodes, “Ms. Marvel” makes the enchanting choice to match Khan’s ebullience and charms with little animated moments on top of the live-action, to express the swirl of her glee and elation. While it must be said that “Ms. Marvel” may sound a little grating to a certain audience—perhaps the same people review bombing the site on places like Rotten Tomatoes for their various personal reasons surely filled with a lot of pre-conceived bias—everything that may sound twee or precious about the series on the surface is actually super charismatic.
Aided by her best friends, including the tech-savvy Bruno Carrelli (Matt Lintz) and fellow Pakastani teen Nakia Bahadir (Yasmeen Fletcher), in relationships that have great convincing chemistry, Khan and her pals deal with typical teenage problems, crushing out on boys, dealing with the rigors of impending college and being misfits that don’t fit in with the cool kids. Khan faces two big dilemmas in the initial episodes—beyond gaining her powers, of course—staring down a college acceptance on the West Coast that will take her away from her friends and family and an upcoming AvengerCon fan event that she must attend. But mom and dad, Muneeba (Zenobia Shroff) and Yusuf (Mohan Kapur), are deeply protective and chaste about their ideas of cosplaying at night with horny boys (their perception of the event). While Yusuf is loving and empathetic, Muneeba is much more controlling and worried, distrustful of boys and seemingly everyone else that isn’t her daughter.
Eventually, when Kamala and Bruno sneak off to the AvengerCon at night, something strange and unexpected transpires. As the popular girl in school, Zoe Zimmer (Laurel Marsden), seemingly too cool for superhero cosplay, threatens to steal the Captain Marvel cosplay contest Kamala has spent weeks preparing for and fussing about Kamala’s powers emerge and go out of control. Because earlier, while trying to find something personal for her Captain Marvel outfit, something from her heritage to give it some distinctive flair, Kamala dug up old golden bangle bracelets from her grandmother—a mysterious woman who Kamala’s mom warns fell off a righteous path and lived a life of shame. Unbeknownst to her at the moment, those bangles shoot energy constructs out of her hand, wreaking unintentional havoc at the show. Perplexed and surprised by the chaos, eventually Bruno—who is harboring a crush on her—and Kamala high-tail it out of there, only to be eventually discovered by her deeply disappointed parents for sneaking out, the specter of “bringing shame” to the family, hovering over every one of mom’s scolding words.
Arian Moayed reprises his role from the film “Spider-Man: No Way Home” as Department of Damage Control (DODC) agent P. Cleary, and it’s evident this superhuman incident—quickly hitting YouTube and social media— has landed on the DODC radar. With a new boy (and potential flame) entering the scene, Kamala’s parents becoming increasingly frustrated with her living-in-fantasy-land dreams, and the DODC looking to investigate her whereabouts, what essentially transpires in the show is coming-of-age dynamics applied to super-heroics. Kamala might be failing driving tests and arguing with her high school counselor about college. At the same time she grapples with teenagedom, she also contends with brand-new powers she doesn’t quite understand. However, with Bruno as an ally to help her train and understand those powers, things seem tentatively okay. That is until the ghost of her grandmother’s past shows up to add some extra layer of complications. Underneath it all, Kamala Khan is seeking something, something more in her life, and it’s apparent in this series that she’s going to find that something; whether that’ll be her idealized version or not, however, remains to be seen.
While “Ms. Marvel” intrigues as a superhero show, it really enchants as a teen YA show with its effervescent and captivating tone—so much so, you really hope the super heroic stuff does not eventually overwhelm and supersede its greatest asset. While arguably a little lightweight in nature (though, hey, it’s only two episodes so far), “Ms. Marvel” is more just enjoyably small-scale, human, and full of persuasive allure that should melt the heart of the greatest cynic or troll who feels to put up a bad review of something they haven’t even seen. [B]