Review by C.J. Bunce
If you have any doubt young actress Iman Vellani was destined to be the next Marvel Comics superheroine, just watch her in the first episode of new series Ms. Marvel, and watch the short background feature that follows (A Fan’s Guide to Ms. Marvel). Her character is similar to Hailee Steinfeld’s Hawkeye, who we only met last year in her new series. Both grew up admiring Avengers in a world where Thanos ruined five years for so many, and both take actions to become those superheroes. Both actresses have created characters with a respect for their family, culture, and upbringing, but both want to be themselves, too. Vellani’s character, a 16-year-old named Kamala Khan, faces the same teen angst issues of most American teens, and her choice is to distract herself with other things. Primarily that’s marveling at Carol Danvers’s Captain Marvel, who she admires from afar (actor Brie Larson is not expected in this series, but both will appear together in the forthcoming Captain Marvel movie The Marvels). This coming of age story has much going for it in only its first 47-minute opening episode, premiering this week on Disney+.
At first Ms. Marvel leans into its lead’s culture (inner city, Pakistani), similar to the presentation of the many different Americas we all live in reflected in series like CW’s Kung Fu, Netflix’s Luke Cage, and Comedy Central’s Nora from Queens. Kamala has a life as a New Jersey teen similar in many ways to Courtney’s teen life trials in Nebraska in Stargirl. But the character quickly shows us she’s more than–and different from–her family traditions and culture. She’s just trying to survive school one day at a time.
Kamala has a partner in her activities, classmate Bruno, a nerdy, gadgety Doogie Howser doppelganger played by Matt Lintz. These kids are best friends, who may have some romance in store ahead. Their biggest common bond is cosplay, and getting to the local AvengersCon comic convention is their first mission. The experience isn’t Paul or Ted 2 or Fanboys, but directors Adil El Arbi and Billal Fallah show us enough of why fanboys and fangirls look forward to the next convention all year. And Kamala makes an impression much like Steinfeld’s young Hawkeye in her first Disney appearance.
Since Kamala is an artist who likes to make fan art, the production design team smartly borrows street art as scene connecting imagery like that used in the popular Spider-Man: Into the Spider-verse animated movie–Kamala and Miles Morales would no doubt relate on many levels.
The closest audiences have seen to the series’ opening episode is DC Comics’ movie Shazam!–a bit ironic since the first Captain Marvel was the one Zachary Levi is now playing. Imagine boy Billy Batson gaining his powers but not taking the form of an adult, and that’s this Ms. Marvel story. Kamala’s special talisman that gives her power is a bracelet that was her grandmother’s, a similar device to Wonder Woman’s famous wrist bracelets.
Viewers have seen many superhero origin stories, and can guess next up is the “experiment” episode, where Kamala will test the limits of her powers with the help of her friend Bruno. As with Stargirl, this seems to be a lighthearted coming of age story, but even in Stargirl the stakes increased rapidly as villains started taking lives. Will Ms. Marvel stick with the coming of age, Ferris Bueller-inspired teen hijinks stories, or get darker? Viewers have the next five weeks of episodes to find out. With characters like Dafne Keen’s X23/Laura in Logan, Tom Holland’s Spider-Man, Hailee Steinfeld’s Hawkeye, Into the Spider-verse’s Miles Morales and Spider-Gwen, and Florence Pugh’s Black Widow (plus Tatiana Maslany’s coming She-Hulk on the way), it’s clear the Marvel Cinematic Universe is going to continue just fine for its second decade–without the original Avengers.
With more than a dozen 21st century series based on Marvel Comics characters, Ms. Marvel delivers one of the best opening episodes, a great introduction that will pull in every fan of coming of age stories and likable young characters played by well cast new actors. Catch the first episode of Ms. Marvel streaming now only on Disney+. And don’t miss the quick post-credits scene.