Instant stardom awaits the new girl in the Marvel universe. She’s funny, charming and effortlessly bats off preconceptions in this joyful coming-of-age tale. Let the geek girls inherit the Earth!
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Ms. Marvel Review
A superhero – and a star – is born in Ms Marvel (Disney+) , the latest small-screen foray into the MCU. The superhero is Pakistani-American teenager Kamala Khan, Marvel’s first Muslim headliner, whose solo comic book series made its debut in 2014. The miniseries tells her origin story, deviating somewhat from the source material and somehow humanising it further.
Ms. Marvel trailer
The star is Iman Vellani, in – incredibly, given her charisma, comic timing and dramatic chops in every scene – her first acting role. Her second will be in the next Marvel film outing, The Marvels (I hope you’re clear about us being in a Marvel universe for the duration of this piece), a sequel to Captain Marvel and focusing on the adventures of Carole Danvers/Captain Marvel and our Ms. Normally, you would fear for a young actor, but Vellani seems so born to the purple that you almost have to shrug and say, as an elder might to a nascent superhero in – oh, I don’t know, the MCU perhaps – that it is her destiny.
The series itself? Only two episodes have been released for review, but they are glorious. The plot so far is slight. At the moment it is as much a real-life coming of age as a superhero origin story. Sixteen-year-old Kamala is an artist, vlogger and diehard devotee of the Avengers generally, and Captain Marvel specifically. We meet her enthusiastically narrating her latest animated story about them.
Most of the first episode features her trying to persuade her parents to let her go to the Avengers comic convention a bus ride away, refine her Ms Marvel costume and placate the school principal when she is hauled into his office for her constant “doodling” and daydreaming. Although it will probably get swallowed up in the deeper joy and wider significance of seeing a Muslim character come to life, I just want to note how absolutely wonderful it is to see an accurate, loving and untrammelled depiction of passionate female fandom, so often derided or ignored while boy geeks get to inherit the world.
Eventually, and with the help of her best friend, Bruno, (Matt Lintz) – who is also, handily, a tech genius – Cinderella gets to the cosplay ball. When she adds an old family bangle to her costume at the last minute, she becomes invested with the ability to shoot energy beams that take on sort-of-solid form and allow her to step on to platforms she can make ahead of herself in the air, as an alternative to flight or superspeed.
The bangle allows her powers to be tied to Kamala’s Pakistani heritage and the trauma of Partition in particular. It belonged to her great-grandmother, one of the many who went missing during that time and who appears to be backchannelling towards Kamala through her powers.
There’s a nice twist by the end of the second episode that promises a satisfying development of this element, but it is the domestic scenes and familial relationships that are the greatest strength of the opening instalments. Kamala’s culture and religion are depicted unapologetically and unfussily, in big ways (we see her and her friend Nakia, played by Yasmeen Fletcher, at prayer in the mosque – and complaining about the state of the women’s side compared with the men’s) and small (Kamala was scared of the Djinn in the dark when young, not ghosts).
Some might see Kamala’s efforts to escape her family’s strictures as another unwanted/unwarranted portrayal of Islam’s repressive attitudes towards women, but I suspect that to most it will come across as Bisha K Ali, the series’ creator and head writer, surely intended – a simple acknowledgment that parents of all creeds and colours gonna parent and provide grist to any teen angst mill.
The Khans are an ordinary family – although mother Muneeba (Zenobia Shroff) has a gift for deadpan sarcasm many might long to have in their own parental arsenal – that exist in the bickering, teasing, loving, forgiving round, not as a bolt-on in the service of some mad notion of 2022 “wokeness”, whatever some are doubtless already limbering up to claim.
The whole thing is full of charm (love the graffiti that animates as Kamala and her ever-active imagination walk past), wit, warmth, brio and truth. It’s just – yes, I’m afraid I’m going to – it’s just Marvel-ous.
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