Ms. Marvel sits at top of streetlight observing the Jersey City skyline. PHOTO COURTESY OF DISNEY MEDIA KIT
Colin Vanden Berg
It’s been a rough year for Marvel Studios. “Thor: Love and Thunder” and especially “Dr. Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” received mixed reactions from fans and critics, as did the Disney+ series “Moon Knight.” Even with the future film slate announced at Comic Con, fans have criticized the studio’s post-“Endgame” projects for an over-abundance of potential plotlines.
To make matters worse, Disney released the first three episodes of the best MCU project since “Wandavision” at the same time as the highly anticipated “Obi-Wan Kenobi” series. It’s a real shame, because the Disney+ Series “Ms. Marvel” is a fantastic show with its few hiccups obscured behind a mountain of entertaining storytelling with exceptional writing and performances.
With this fall’s release of Marvel’s “She Hulk” show, this year’s best Disney+ project is in danger of getting unfairly overshadowed.
The miniseries is based on the 2014 comic book about a young Muslim fangirl named Kamala Khan who gets superpowers and a chance to be just like her idols, The Avengers. The show changed her powers and origins, but kept just about everything else, from Kamala’s fun personality to her strong supporting cast and unobtrusive emphasis on her cultural heritage.
“Ms. Marvel” wastes no time establishing its tone as a teenage family sitcom in the vein of “Lizzie McGuire” and other Disney Channel Original Series from the mid-2000s. Kamala is a high school kid with a quirky family trying to find her identity, and some animated daydream sequences establish her thoughts and mood in a creative way. This style may seem childish or off-putting at first, but it’s not overdone and it distinguishes the show from Marvel’s other sitcom “Wandavision.”
Kamala (Iman Velani) is instantly likable, wearing her heart on her sleeve in an endearing way. She’s an Avengers fangirl whose reaction to getting powers is tremendously relatable. Her mother Muneeba (Zenobia Shroff) and father Yuuf (Mohan Kapur) are the best kind of TV parents: concerned but supportive, with identifiable and well-defined personalities of their own.
While investigating the source of her new light-based powers, Kamala enlists the help of her friends: the inquisitive token white boy Bruno (Matt Lintz), the serious but optimistic saari girl Nakia (Yasmeen Fletcher), Kamala’s rival YouTuber Zoe (Larel Marsden) and the mysterious senior Kamran (Rish Shah), who insistently catches Kamala’s eye.
The show is best when it focuses on Kamala’s ordinary struggles as a Pakistani girl in New Jersey facing a sudden amount of responsibility and pressure. These moments give the exceptional cast the best opportunity to flex their chops, and the writing team, led by Bisha K Ali, the most chances to tell an important and relatable story.
The show is also a unique and fascinating look at what it might be like as a young person living within the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The characters exhibit a mostly casual acceptance of the fantastical, and they reference superheroes and world-changing events like we might refer to films and movie stars. It gives viewers a fun chance to be a sort of fly on the wall in the MCU.
Speaking of the MCU, though, “Ms. Marvel” is at its worst when it has to be a superhero show. The story is grand enough and the ideas are rich enough for at least eight or nine episodes, but they have to make due with six: a common flaw for Marvel’s TV outings. Also, the show’s two main villains both feel underdeveloped. The menacing Najma (Nimra Bucha) is tied to Kamala’s altered backstory but her occasionally confusing actions needed more time to be fully explained. Agent Deever (Alysia Reiner) of the Department of Damage Control, on the other hand, fails to properly challenge Kamala, despite more obvious motivations.
Despite these speedbumps, “Ms. Marvel” is a remarkable family-centered comedic drama that also manages to be a fun and unique superhero origin story.