'Ms. Marvel' review: Marvel series pops with energy and attitude
Courtesy of Disney+
Iman Vellani is about to become a household name thanks to her star-is-born transformation in the latest Marvel series “Ms. Marvel,” a clever, if unfocused introduction for the universes’ first major Muslim-American superhero. Crafted with all the attention and focus required of the expansive (and tired) Marvel Cinematic Universe while exploring new avenues, “Ms. Marvel” doesn’t feel bogged down by schematics or world-building in the way “Moon Knight” did a few short weeks ago, instead opting for a poppy and refreshing alternative, one that puts Marvel fandom at the forefront as the main character is obsessed with Brie Larson’s Captain Marvel. It’s a perfect combo for those who haven’t felt seen in the MCU before (or are looking for a safe entry point), even if this critic struggled to gauge where the six-episode season is headed after Disney provided the first two in advance.
Nevertheless, watching Vellani come into her own is quite the feat, a lightning-in-a-bottle find who brings a buoyant attitude and infectious comedic delivery playing New Jersey teenager Kamala Khan. Unlike past intros, Khan doesn’t fit within the standard mold of what has previously defined a Marvel superhero and that’s a compliment. There’s a “Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse” aura surrounding the show, which doesn’t feel rushed or inauthentic, giving Marvel nerds a slice of culture they haven’t seen before. But really, when it all boils down, Khan is just a kid who fantasizes about becoming an Avenger alongside Captain Marvel. That the MCU is now trying to spin fandom within its own world is nothing new (remember Ant-Man meeting Captain America in “Civil War?”) but “Ms. Marvel” paints an intriguing picture of an average joe who stumbles into her powers unexpectedly.
What the main plot is outside of the perimeters of the first two episodes I couldn’t really say, it seems “Ms. Marvel” is teeing up a sizable villain, but knowing how Marvel operates, this could be a misdirect. What you get in the first two episodes is a vibrant jolt of electricity, with pulpy colors and backgrounds that don’t have the appearance of recycled screensavers and stylistic choices made with thoughtful consideration (the way text messages are incorporated into intimate objects is a highlight). The plot, early on, seems pedestrian as Khan struggles with all the usual doldrums of high schoolers: texting boys, sneaking out, and overprotective parents (played swimmingly by Zenobia Shroff and Mohan Kapur) eager to make sure their daughter stays academically focused.
Of course, that all changes after Khan, while cosplaying at a superhero convention, finds a mysterious bracelet linked to her ancestors that creates a wealth of powers, among them super-strength and body elasticity. It brings into question the type of identity our spunky heroine wishes for herself and what she’ll do with the responsibility. “Ms. Marvel” does branch off into several different directions, lacking a clear throughline for what’s in store, but the specific insight into Pakistani culture, including discussions around music and Bollywood cinema, shows the MCU is reconfiguring its priorities for more inclusive heroes.
Let’s see where it leads.
The first episode of MS. MARVEL debuts Wednesday, June 8th with subsequent episodes dropping weekly.