Ever since the MCU arrived on Disney+ with WandaVision, most shows have failed to reach the potential that they could have. For the most part, they have been disappointing, simply being a six hours movie instead of a television series. It isn’t to say that some people can’t find enjoyment in them, but for the most part, they have been safe and failed to reinvent the MCU for television. Outside of WandaVision, MCU shows have played it safe, and while the latest entry in the MCU, Ms. Marvel, might play it safe, it is also the most exciting and fresh take that the MCU has offered since their first show appeared on the streaming service.
Kamala Khan (Iman Vellani) is a Muslim American teenager growing up in Jersey City. An avid gamer and a voracious fan-fiction scribe, Kamala is a Super Hero megafan with an oversized imagination — particularly when it comes to Captain Marvel. Yet Kamala feels like she doesn’t fit in at school and sometimes even at home until she gets superpowers like the heroes she’s always looked up to. Life gets better with superpowers, right?
The show feels like a breath of fresh air. The MCU often has the same tone and look, but Ms. Marvel does nothing like the MCU usually does. While yes, it keeps the humouristic approach that has been criticized by many because of the setting and the characters, this sarcastic humour that has been seen throughout the Marvel Cinematic Universe feels appropriate.
It’s not an easy task to introduce a character in an already established universe, but doing it with a teenager at the helm is even harder. Peter Parker (Tom Holland) is the only teenage superhero that the MCU has established. And while the MCU is setting up their Young Avengers with the introduction of Kate Bishop (Hailee Steinfeld) or even America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez), they haven’t done it on the same scale they are doing it with Kamala Khan.
Both Kate and America were introduced via other characters. Kate might have been at the center of a show with Hawkeye, but she was the co-lead. America was introduced as a side character in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. They were not the center of it; Kamala was. And everything relies on the casting choice for the leading role. Without the right Kamala Khan, everything fails.
Iman Vellani is a star. While the story is entertaining, the visuals elevate the product, and the supporting cast is stellar, nothing would work without the brilliance of Iman Vellani. She brings this youth and joy to the role. Her sweet side shines, but she also brings this rebellious and tenacious attitude that is key to the role. They might have changed how Kalama gets her powers from her comic origin, but she is still the same girl from those comic book pages.
And that change in the source of Kalama’s power is probably the most significant in the whole series. After two episodes, it is clear that the powers are the same as they are in the comic. It’s their origin that is different. This could have been done for many choices, but the clear one seems to create a mystery and connect them more to Kamala herself. In the comics, it’s done because Kamala is what we call Inhuman. That is yet to be something the MCU itself introduces – even after the arrival of Black Bolt in Doctor Strange 2, and the Inhumans aren’t a thing yet.
Mainly, a story about identity and family. Kalama might be the lead, but her family and identity are still very much at the show’s center. Kamala Khan is the first Muslim character to lead her show, which is significant. The show emphasizes that by making her identity the core subject of the show in a way. Making Kalama have her powers with something related to her and her family opens many doors.
It is a choice that I was unsure of when it was first announced, but by watching the first two episodes, it is clear that it was for the better. A choice that roots itself into the story very well and doesn’t convolute the MCU like the comic version of her powers might have done.
Ms. Marvel is the most exciting thing to arrive in the MCU since WandaVision. It is a breath of fresh air that is much needed and a look at how, if you give a show something to work with and not constrain them into the formula that the Marvel Cinematic Universe is, maybe you can find a little gem in there. With an intriguing premise and story, amplified by a charismatic lead, Ms. Marvel has everything to succeed, and it just needs to keep on the same track as the first two episodes did.