Kamala Khan’s MCU debut strikes a perfect balance between a superhero origin story and a coming-of-age tale, focusing more heavily on Kamala’s relationships with her friends and family than her newfound powers.
Every member of the Disney Plus miniseries’ cast is natural and believable in their roles. Iman Vellani’s performance as Pakistani American teenager Kamala Khan perfectly encapsulates the image of a geeky, creative young Avengers fan constantly distracted by fantasies of following in the superpowered footsteps of her idol Captain Marvel.
As an origin story, “Ms. Marvel” offers a familiar twist to an established formula, blending superhero origin tropes such as the enthusiastic best friend who helps the hero explore the potential of their powers (see DC Films’ “Shazam!”) with themes of navigating complicated cultural and familial identities that are so common in minority maturation narratives (see Disney and Pixar’s “Turning Red”).
At times, “Ms. Marvel” provides an intriguing glimpse into Kamala’s life as a South Asian teenage girl grappling with her identity as an underrepresented minority in America — more so than what a typical MCU show might care to explore. Scenes of Kamala and her friend Nakia, played by Yasmeen Fletcher, expressing their frustration with the judgmental gossip of the local group of aunties (playfully labeled the “Illuminaunties”) and complaining about the unequal treatment of the Pakistani women in their mosque in comparison to the men, serve as moments that minority audiences — particularly Asian audiences — can relate to, and as educational moments for viewers who can’t. Kamala struggles to situate her identity as a Pakistani American, torn between the pressures from her overbearing parents and her aspirations to become a hero in a country where, as Kamala puts it, “It’s not really the brown girls from Jersey City who save the world.”
Despite the show’s successful adaptation of Kamala’s personality, its decision to alter Kamala’s shapeshifting and limb-extending abilities that she is granted in the original comics may put off some fans. Instead of possessing Inhuman DNA, she uses “hard light” constructs that she can create thanks to the power of a mysterious bangle. In the context of the TV show, however, this change is a meaningful adaptation of her identity. The family heirloom is closely tied to Kamala’s lineage, as it originally belonged to her maternal great-grandmother who disappeared during the Partition of India. The bangle shows Kamala visions of her lost relative in a few scenes as she tests out her new powers, hinting at further exploration of Kamala’s powers and their significance in relation to her ancestors in future episodes.
Visually, “Ms. Marvel” is incredibly stylized and colorful, making use of Kamala’s creative personality to demonstrate her powerful imagination. Energetic visuals lend “Ms. Marvel” a unique style blending live action with clever animation reminiscent of “Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse.” Animated graffiti and neon signs illustrate Kamala’s thoughts and conversations with her friends, brightening up Jersey City’s architecture with vibrant images of Kamala’s ideas for a unique take on her Captain Marvel costume and visualizations of her emotions as she begins to fall for the new boy at school.
Overall, “Ms. Marvel” has set a new standard for MCU TV series and superhero origin stories as a whole. Instead of rushing to immerse Kamala’s story in the typical superhero diegesis, the show introduces a new type of hero.
“Ms. Marvel” will be available to stream on Disney Plus starting on June 8.
Feature image via Marvel Entertainment