The Pitch: So far, the trend for MCU Disney+ series in 2022 is origin stories for new heroes — though despite taking place in the same universe, Ms. Marvel couldn’t be more different from Moon Knight.
Rather than serving as a dark exploration of one tortured man’s multiple psyches, the sprightly tale of how Kamala Khan (Iman Vellani) transforms from a teenage Captain Marvel superfan from New Jersey into a teenage Captain Marvel superfan with superpowers is a direct descendent of high school-era Peter Parker stories, with perhaps even more fun and wit packed into the screen than Jon Watts’ own Spider-Man films.
A Hero Who’s Nerdy About Heroes: If there’s one person who would have been obsessed with Consequence‘s recent Marvel Pop Culture Week, it would be Kamala. We’re introduced to the sixteen-year-old student during a particularly chaotic time in her life, as she attempts to pass her driver’s license exam, handle school, attend services at her mosque, and help her mother Muneeba (Zenobia Shroff) prepare for her older brother Aamir’s (Saagar Shaikh) upcoming wedding — all while she secretly plans to make a huge splash at the first ever Avengers-Con, wearing her very own homemade Captain Marvel costume.
Realizing with some help from her best friend Bruno (Matt Lintz) that she needs to make her Captain Marvel costume uniquely hers, Kamala finds an old piece of jewelry sent by her grandmother to add to the mix, not realizing that the bangle has special powers until an actual life-or-death incident pulls her into the spotlight — albeit anonymously, which comes as a relief, as Kamala has more reason than most superheroes to keep her identity a secret — her mother will kill her if she finds out.
About a Girl: The first two episodes of Ms. Marvel were directed by Adil & Bilall (otherwise known as Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah, whose work on Bad Boys For Life was well-praised), and the directing duo infuse Kamala’s fangirl energy into every frame, in some cases literally, with her low-budget fanvid efforts reflected in the onscreen animation and editing. Rather than simply invoke John Hughes tropes, they find their own way into this coming-of-age story, one centered fully in how all the elements of Kamala’s identity — geek, student, south Asian, Muslim, and more — fuse together into one unique young woman, one worth knowing even without the super-powered bracelet.
For those who have wondered what it might be like to be an ordinary kid experiencing all of the chaos of the MCU, meeting Kamala offers up a charming opportunity to see Earth’s Mightiest Heroes from the cheap seats, if you will. Our ambassador into Avengers fandom also is what brings the series to the aforementioned AvengersCon, a slightly smaller scale convention than, say, San Diego Comic-Con, but one packed with fun Easter eggs worth exploring via freeze-frame.
Vellani is quite the casting find, bringing a certain grounded realness to the role while also nailing the more highly-charged moments — were she not currently employed, she’d be a perfect fit for the cast of recent teen TV favorites like The Wilds or Never Have I Ever, and the combination of that energy combined with the Marvel universe works really well, making it all the more exciting to anticipate her big-screen debut as the character when The Marvels arrives in 2023.
In terms of the rest of the cast, most have yet to really find their stride, due entirely to the series’ focus on Kamala herself. That said, Shroff makes sure that her role as disapproving mom doesn’t fall prey to too many tropes by putting the emotional truth of each scene front and center, and while Lintz is a little one-note as the supportive bestie, he feels like someone with more potential. Also standing out with very little screen time is Rish Shah as Kamran, an intriguing new kid at school who seems to know more than even Kamala about her new powers.
The Verdict: The only downside to Ms. Marvel as a series is that it’s extremely faithful to the constraints of its subgenre as an origin story, and thus it’s hard to imagine too many twists coming down the pipeline as Kamala fully comes to understand her powers and how they might fit into the rest of her already pretty busy life.
Otherwise, between Vellani’s compelling performance and the visual flair of Adil & Bilall, Ms. Marvel is frankly just a lot of fun, if only because it’s been a harsh and glum few years, and it’s a joy to watch a young hero take such pleasure in her newfound abilities. Here, it’s not just Kamala’s powers that make the future seem a little bit brighter — it’s her smile.
Where to Watch: New episodes of Ms. Marvel premiere weekly on Wednesdays, beginning June 8th, on Disney+.