You’ve seen so many teen coming of age shows by now, surely? The story beats are as familiar as breathing. And yet you can leap off a newly formed platform into the story if given a new angle. With Pakistani and Muslim culture steeped into every pore, Ms. Marvel is immediately something quite different.
16-year-old Jersey City resident Kamala Khan (Iman Vellani) is laser focused on attending the first ever ‘AvengerCon’ and determined to win the cosplay competition with that of her favourite, Captain Marvel.
Her parents do not approve, and matters are equally helped and hindered by the arrival of a mysterious bangle that dubiously gifts her with the power to control cosmic light.
This newfound ability is cool and all, but Kamala has other things on her mind: best friend Bruno (Matt Lintz) may be leaving for college in California; other best friend Nakia (Yasmeen Fletcher) has gotten involved in the running of their local mosque; and new senior student Kamran appears to like her like her. What’s a newly super powered girl to do?
Ms. Marvel deploys the overlayed home-made pop art style of the comic which luckily fits nicely into the current zeitgeist as spearheaded by Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse and The Mitchells vs The Machines.
Phone conversations weave into the surroundings as emojis take over shops’ neon-lighting, and conversations result in cut out fan art images flourished all over walls and buildings. Unapologetic youthful exuberance is part of the DNA of Ms Marvel much like Turning Red before it.
By focusing on a young girl obsessed with superhero fandom Ms. Marvel is clearly skewed towards the current generation who have grown up on these movies.
“It’s never the brown girl who saves the day,” laments Khan, when shortly thereafter going on to do just that. The superhero-ing is so everyday that it almost falls away into insignificance in the face of stand out star Vellani.
Much like how Hailee Steinfeld injected some giddy fan enthusiasm into Hawkeye, Vellani coalesces Ms Marvel with her inimitable charisma.
Even when the tiresome stalwarts of high school life are ticked off with a yawn (dodgeball, the walk past the lockers, the dismissive popular girl), Vellani keeps everything pumping thanks to her hugely expressive teenager smorgasbord of emotions.
Thankfully the cultural backdrop of Ms Marvel is anything but. Pakistani heritage and daily Muslim-American life is represented far beyond mere window dressing; the show takes care to guide us through Khan’s family culture in a way that is both accessible and joyous.
Ms Marvel Official Trailer
Is Ms. Marvel Worth Watching?
It may be a cliché, but everyone can relate to family and growing up, and Khan’s parents (Zenobia Shroff and Mohan Kapur) are a classic TV unit.
Kapur’s jovial face dropping as he is talked into an impossible clash of loyalties is a compliment to Shroff’s low key yet nuanced nagging mother figure.
If I were to pick out a plot line that engages me the least it would be the superhero stuff. I could watch the Khan family all day without the need for cosmic light and the Department of Damage Control hunting Kamala down.
Similarly, the pacing of the plot is skitterish. A family of Djinn with a vested interest in Kamala’s power-imbuing bracelet add further complications, but their switch from charm offensive to just offensive is arbitrarily short, serving only to move the plot thus rendering the characters themselves dull in the process, notwithstanding an exciting fight scene in the midst of a massive Muslim wedding.
Ms Marvel works best when keeping its stakes at street level. Further episodes will undoubtedly link up the Djinn with Kamala’s family backstory, yet when the Khan’s slice of everyday life is so rich doing so may feel like script grunt work instead of benefiting these rich characters.
That Ms Marvel decides to swerve past any softly softly approach and instead reflect the glorious relatability of daily life, is a wonderous thing.
Human nature clamps onto the divisive like a petulant snapping turtle. Let the next generation be the ones to coax open those jaws and feed it delightful treats.
Words by Mike Record