I’m a big fan of the Ms. Marvel comics (check out my review of the character’s first story arc here), so I was really excited when the TV series was announced – which feels like a long time ago now! The trailers and early looks at the series were promising, but I wasn’t overly convinced, especially given the changes to her origin and even her powers. It turns out, I needn’t have worried.
Kamala Khan is a daydreamer; she’s an Avengers fan and a slightly obsessed Captain Marvel fangirl – at heart, she’s a normal Muslim teenager from New Jersey. Desperate to go to Avengercon and enter a Captain Marvel cosplay contest, she’s thwarted by her strict, traditionalist parents who just don’t understand her or her obsessions. Having worked so hard on her costume, she’s determined to show it off, but best friend Bruno agrees with her that there’s something missing, leading Kamala to add a family heirloom to the ensemble. Despite being forbidden to attend Avengercon, Kamala defies her parents to attend anyway – leading to a somewhat surprising turn of events that may see Kamala becoming a lot more like her hero than she could ever have dreamed…
Though not perfect, the opening episode of Kamala Khan’s live action debut is infectiously upbeat, gloriously colourful and stuffed full of wonderful visual flourishes that give it an incredible personality, setting it apart from almost all of the MCU’s other output. There’s a great use of animation in several scenes; backgrounds with Kamala’s thoughts rendered as comic-style action or text messages cleverly appearing as part of the scenery. It’s genuinely inventive from a visual standpoint, to a surprising and refreshing degree. Though the episode is very grounded in reality for the most part, these playful elements help to infuse the show with a great deal of unique character; it’s almost as if Kamala herself is having an effect on not just everyone, but everything around her.
Which is not surprising. Actress Iman Vellani really does give Kamala Khan the infectiously geeky and enthusiastic personality that’s made her such a strong and relatable character in the comics. She’s perfectly cast, as are the other actors – particularly her stern, heavy-handed but loving parents, who only want the best for their daughter.
When the super powers kick in, it’s a little underwhelming unfortunately. We spend so much time in this relatable, grounded reality – albeit one that’s given those aforementioned visual flourishes – that the brief touch of superheroism just doesn’t quite gel. It doesn’t help that the powers feel bestowed in a manner that’s very deus ex machina; even more so than the Terrigen Bomb of the comics (which was a way for Marvel to create tons of new characters at a time when they were in dispute with Fox over profits related to X-Men – stepping away from mutants and instead creating Inhuman-derived characters was how they dealt with that particular corporate headache). It’s a contrived, awfully convenient moment too; it just feels like a letdown after all of the carefully paced character-based drama that’s come before it.
Still, Ms. Marvel’s first episode absolutely nails the main aspects of the character and her supporting cast – not skimping on the cultural aspects of the series that are handled so well in the comics – and does so with such visual flair that it’s impossible not to be swept up in the bold, bright, colourful and genuinely charming action. It’s a great start for the MCU’s first Muslim superhero, who – on the basis of this first episode alone – seems destined for bigger things. Hopefully, the series can come around to getting the feel of the more fantastical aspects of the character right, which is something it’s able to do with the more relatably ‘normal’, coming-of-age style drama.
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