I’ll be honest I’ve not been too hot on the MCU’s Phase 4. Sure it’s had its highlights, Spider-Man: No Way Home, WandaVision, and Hawkeye are all great, but overall I’ve found the whole endeavour more of a meh-vel than a marvel. It somehow feels different now that we’re living in a post-Endgame world.
That film had such finality to it. To carry the MCU on after it just feels slightly odd. Indeed I feared that my enthusiasm for the Marvel Cinematic Universe was waning, as I became more aware and more aware that this neverending conga line of TV series and movies would continue its merry dance long after I was dust and bone.
Well, I needn’t of worried. My love for the MCU hadn’t died, it was just in a coma, and the magic of Ms Marvel served as the defibrillator I needed to bring me back as a fully-fledged Marvel zombie. Ms Marvel is a thoughtful, corny, and joyous exploration of what it means to be a superhero, as well as a fan of the superhero genre, and it may just be the best MCU series we’ve had to date.
As things stand, I’ve seen two episodes of Ms Marvel and was blown away by the creativity and passion that’s infused into the series’ very DNA. Each and every element was pitch-perfect, and I don’t think I’ve seen a better adaptation of the comic book source material since Spider-Verse, but we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Don’t worry. We’ll keep things spoiler-free.
Based on the comic series of the same name, Ms Marvel tells the story of Kamala Khan (Iman Vellani). Growing up idolising the Avengers, especially Captain Marvel, Kamala is a paragon of geekiness who spends her days daydreaming about her heroes who offer an escape from her mundane life. Kamala’s life is changed forever. However, when she discovers a seemingly magical bangle that bestows on her strange powers.
We know that diverges from her comic book origins, but honestly, don’t worry about it. Kamala is more than just a stretchy Inhuman, and head writer Bisha K. Ali and her team clearly understand that.
Ali and her writers do a superb job in adapting the character for the small screen. She’s dorky but lovable, and enthusiastic without being irritating. Best of all, she feels like a real teenager grappling with the unique problems that come with an unbalanced hormonal body, like embarrassing parents or missing out on parties.
Of course, while the writing is good, a script is just tomorrow’s recycling without an actor to bring it to life. Thankfully we’ve got Vellani playing Ms Marvel. Vellani is a revelation. From the moment she appears on screen, it’s like Kamala literally walked off the page of her comic book and onto an Atlanta sound stage where they just so happened to be making a series about her.
In cast interviews to promote the series, it was clear that Vellani just ‘got’ Ms Marvel. Whether it’s arguing with Kevin Feige about what’s the real Earth-616 or making super pop-culture literate references to the work of Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird or Edgar Wright’s Scott Pilgrim, it seems less like Vellani’s acting and more like she simply is Khan.
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Not that we want to diminish the great work she does on the show because while Ms Marvel is a lot of fun, there’s a great degree of pathos to the show, and Vellani has a lot of heavy lifting in to do.
The show’s drama is drawn primarily from the culture clash between Kamala’s traditional Pakistani parents and her more western interests. The perceived discordance between Kamala’s Muslim family and her sometimes literally cosmic adventures has always been one of the Ms Marvel comic book’s strongest elements. The show maintains this primarily through Kamala’s relationship with her mother, Muneeba (Zenobia Shroff).
There’s a moment in the first episode that genuinely broke my heart where poor Muneeba goes out of her way to genuinely try and understand her daughter. Yet Kamala can’t help but reject her with the casual cruelty only the young are capable of. In that scene, Vellani’s performance is so naturalistic as to seem effortless. It was incredible and sad simultaneously.
The culture clash between Kamala’s superhero life and religion aren’t the only elements of the comic that are maintained, by the way. The whole show, origins aside, is a pretty faithful reinterpretation of Kamala’s first days of superherodom. Sure, a few of the story beats are different, but the overall arc is the same.
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This was probably a wise decision. G. Willow Wilson – the first writer to take on Kamala Khan – basically wrote the best origin story since Spider-Man, with the first few issues essentially serving as a blueprint for how to write absorbing superhero stories. By maintaining the spirit of Wilson’s work, while changing some of the details, Ali has given us one of the most authentic MCU origins of all time.
Again, though, story and acting are just two elements of filmmaking, and we need to talk about the direction, editing, and general production design. Earlier, we mentioned the series was the best comic book adaptation since Spider-Verse, and in terms of overall style that’s the film, it’s probably closest to.
Murals come to life as Kamala walks by, there are animated fantasy sequences, and text conversations happen through the medium of neon signs. It’s all so wonderfully creative and free-spirited. I adored it. At this point, we’ve had six MCU shows and so many movies you’d be forgiven for losing count, so we think we know what a Marvel movie looks like.
Sure, occasionally Thor: Ragnarok or the Guardians of the Galaxy make a colourful splash, but for the most part, the colour palette and tone of the MCU are comfortably unremarkable. Ms Marvel, on the other hand, is bold, vibrant, and confident. It stands apart from the rest in such a self-assured way. It’s just astonishing.
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In case it’s not clear at this point, we loved Ms Marvel. Everything about it is fantastic, and we can’t wait to see where this mind-blowing series goes next.
Ms Marvel starts streaming exclusively on Disney Plus from June 8.
Ms Marvel review
Astonishing, uncanny, and amazing, Ms Marvel is a triumph.