Josh Reviews Ms. Marvel
Ms. Marvel, the latest Marvel Disney+ TV show, brings the story of Kamala Khan to the MCU! Created by Sana Amanat and Stephen Wacker, writer G. Willow Wilson, and artists Adrian Alphona and Jamie McKelvie in 2013, Kamala is one of the more recent Marvel characters (joining America Chavez from Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness) to be brought into the MCU. The show was created by Bisha K. Ali, and the episodes were directed by Adil & Bilall (the duo who also helmed the tragically-shelved Batgirl movie), Meera Menon, and Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy.
It’s a pleasure to see this relatively new, young character enter the MCU, and it’s even more fun to see this Muslim character get to headline her own Marvel TV show. I love the one-two punch of this show coming right after Moon Knight, which also featured many Muslim characters and also spotlighted Muslim culture, Arabic music on the soundtrack, etc. It’s a pleasure to see the MCU expand into non-white, non-Christian, non-male new characters.
I thought Ms. Marvel was a delight! I enjoyed how well they established both Kamala Khan herself and also a surprisingly robust, fully-realized supporting cast of new characters. Kamala’s New Jersey neighborhood is a wonderful new sub-section of the MCU. In all the best ways, there is a lot in Ms. Marvel that feels very Spider-Man to me. That could be derivative, but what I mean is that Ms. Marvel feels very pure in its depiction of this new superhero character. I love how inherently GOOD Kamala Khan is. I love how the show goes out of its way to show her actually saving people, and concerned about the welfare of the non-powered people around her. (Think about her checking on the Damage Control agents whose car she flips over in the finale. The way she tries to prevent both Kamran and Damage Control from hurting one another — or anyone else — in the finale feels so Spider-Man to me!!) This is something that’s been missing from a lot of modern super-hero stories (especially the DC/Warner Brothers films).
Iman Vellani is astoundingly perfect as Kamala Khan. Once again, the geniuses at Marvel Studios have hit a casting home run. Ms. Vellani is tremendously watchable. She has a charisma that shines brightly through the TV screen, but at the same time she also has an endearing natural quality that makes it feel like she’s not acting, but that she just IS Kamala Khan.
The show has an impressively deep bench of supporting characters, played by an array of talented performers. I’m very pleased by how much I love so many of these characters after only six episodes! Let’s start with Kamala’s parents, Muneeba (Zenobia Shroff) and Yusuf (Mohan Kapur). I was pleased by how the show was able to portray them as being protective of Kamala, and wanting her to maintain her connections to Islam and to her Muslim heritage… without presenting them as cruel or cold or backwards. No, I loved how modern and American both Muneeba and Yusuf were! I was pleased that the show took the time to delve into Muneeba’s complicated relationship with her own mother, and how that then played out in how she parented Kamala and how she responded to some of Kamala’s choices. I liked how gentle and funny Yusuf was. (I loved the scene of him bursting in dressed as the Hulk in the premiere… and also that great rooftop scene with Kamala in the finale.) (Though him giving her her superhero name might have been a bit much for me…)
I loved Matt Lintz as Bruno. I liked seeing him, a male character, as the main support system for Kamala, our female superhero. I liked his sweet, goofy nature and his close friendship with Kamala. Mr. Lintz and Ms. Vellani had great comic timing together. Also terrific is Yasmeen Fletcher as Nakia, who is Kamala’s closest female friend. I love how independent and tough Nakia is. I liked the small sub-plot of her frustrations with how females are treated at her mosque and her decision to run for a leadership role to try to change things. (I wish we’d gotten more of that story in the back three episodes of the season!) I liked that the show depicted the strain in their relationship caused by Kamala’s keeping her new superhero identity a secret, without the show’s going too far and turning that into a big awkward wedge between them (in the soap-opera way that superhero shows have often done in the past). I quite liked Saagar Shaikh as Kamala’s brother Aamir. Here’s yet another interesting, distinct character in the show’s mix. I like that we see that Aamir has a different relationship to Islam than Kamala (he’s more observant); and that he’s at a different stage in life (he’s older and getting married); and yet, at the same time, we see that there is nevertheless a closeness between the two siblings. They seem to understand one another even as they bicker (as siblings often do). Travina Springer makes the most of her small role as Aamir’s fiancee Tyesha. Laurel Marsden is fun as the popular girl Zoe. Laith Nakli is a lot of fun as the good-natured Sheikh Abdullah, the imam at Kamala’s mosque. And allow me to start pushing now for a spin-off focusing on Najaf (Azhar Usman), the halal food vendor.
But we have only scratched the surface of the show’s ensemble! Rish Shah gives good teenaged hunky simmer as Kamran, a boy who Kamala has a crush on (much to Bruno’s chagrin), who winds up having a family connection to a group of villains menacing Kamala. I smiled that the show actually gave Kamala a THIRD potential love-interest in the “Red Dagger”, Kareem (Aramis Knight). (Kareem was my least favorite of Kamala’s three boys, but that’s because he had the least to do.) I really loved Farhan Akhtar as Waleed, the leader of the Red Daggers. He had tremendous charisma; his scenes really popped, even while he was tasked with delivering a lot of exposition. I was bummed the show Obi-Wan Kenobi’ed him off so quickly.
As if the mother-daughter combo of Muneeba and Kamala wasn’t enough, I was very pleasantly surprised by the attention that the show gave to Sana, Kamala’s grandmother… and also to Aisha, Kamala’s great grandmother!! I think it was a terrific choice for the show to place so much focus on these different generations of powerful women in Kamala’s family. Samina Ahmad was a hoot as Sana in present-day; I liked how feisty she was, and what a different type of energy she had as compared to Kamala’s mother Muneeba. I really enjoyed the extensive flashback in episode five to how Aisha and Hasan (Kamala’s great-grandfather) met. It was a bold choice to devote so much time in this short six-episode series to this flashback, but I think it worked. Mehwish Hayat and Fawad Khan were terrific as Aisha and Hasan. (I’d love to see more of them in a future season!!)
I loved the show’s bright, bold colors and terrific visual energy. I always smiled at the various main title versions that would quickly flash on-screen during the show’s title sequence, and I enjoyed the many cleverly playful ways in which the show would incorporate Kamala’s texts into the visual fabric of the world we’d see around her. Also: I loved Kamala’s elaborate chalkboard plans!!
If the show has a weakness, it’s that the villains were flat. Worse (for me, as a long-time Marvel comics fan) is that I think they wasted two terrific concepts from the comics. First is Damage Control. Created by Dwayne McDuffie and Ernie Colón, Damage Control in the comics is awesome. I have huge love for the original Damage Control mini-series from the eighties. The idea is classic: these are the repair-people and garbage-men of the Marvel universe, tasked with cleaning up the mess left after superhero brawls. They’re a goofy, fun concept. I was happy when they were first introduced in Spider-Man: Homecoming, cleaning up after the Chitauri attack on NYC in The Avengers. But here they were just dumb, dull, boring fascists. Damage Control on Ms. Marvel seemed like nothing more than a S.H.I.E.L.D. substitute. I hate to see this great concept wasted. (Why didn’t they use S.W.O.R.D.?? That was the SHIELD replacement group introduced in WandaVision!) It didn’t help that the Damage Control agents seemed 1) evil and 2) hapless. I was happy to see Alysia Reiner (Orange is the New Black, Better Things) as the main Damage Control agent, but she was totally flat and boringly evil on the show: we see her be disrespectful in the mosque and, for some reason, ignore orders in the finale to go after Kamala. (Why did she do that? The show doesn’t bother to tell us.) And don’t get me started on the ridiculous ClanDestine prison break sequence. They give us a visual effects shot of an enormous Damage Control complex/prison… then cut to a set that loots like a small, dingy subway tunnel, from which the ClanDestine prisoners escape easily and somehow walk out a side door to freedom. Oy. (I suspect that scene wasn’t originally meant to take place in a huge super-max super-villain prison. My guess is they borrowed a shot of the Damage Control prison where they’re keeping Abomination — which I just saw on the She-Hulk Disney+ show — in order to connect the two shows. That’s a good idea, but the discontinuity between the establishing shot image and the dinky set didn’t work.)
That brings me to the second wasted concept: the ClanDestine. I adore this concept, created by the great Alan Davis. The series — cancelled way before its time — depicted a society of powerful immortals living secretly within the Marvel universe. In the comic, they’re not evil. They’re a family with many different characters with different personalities, some of whom act heroically while others are more selfish. The comic focuses on two young kids within the ClanDestine family, who grow up in the Marvel universe and so decide they want to be super-heroes, much to the chagrin of the rest of the family. It’s a dynamite concept and would have made an awesome MCU show. Basically for this show they took nothing but the name to give to Kamran’s family. I wish they weren’t so flat (they’re just EVIL) and boring. I wish the show had taken the time to establish any of the ClanDestine characters other than Kamran’s mom Najma (Nimra Bucha), or even bothered to explain what their powers are or how they worked. (I was very confused about that. What are their powers? They can somehow pull out weapons from within themselves? Is that how they somehow had their weapons in the awful prison-break sequence I was talking about in the previous paragraph? Wouldn’t it have been nice had the show actually made that clear to us?)
There’s so much more to discuss! I love how rich these six episodes were.
- I loved the AvengerCon seen in the first episode. As so many others online had asked: why does this not yet exist in real life? That sequence was a delight of fun MCU jokes and references.
- The entire first episode was fantastic. I think it’s the best Marvel premiere episode yet, and it was my favorite of the series. I love how much I loved this show even before any real super-hero stuff entered into the story! That’s because I dug all of the characters and was enjoying spending time with them.
- As a long-time Marvel comics fan, it was great seeing Kamala’s mystical Bangle be connected so strongly to her super-powers and origin. (In the comics, the original Captain Marvel wore two Kree Nega-bands; Kamala’s Bangle strongly resembled one of the Nega-bands.) I loved that, in the flashback of Aisha’s finding it, she pulls it off a blue alien arm. (The Kree are blue.) I’m very curious to know where the second band/Bangle is!! I can’t wait to find out.
- I am confused, though, about where Kamala’s inherent powers end and the powers granted by the Bangle begin. In the comics, Kamala is an Inhuman. In the show, they said that she’s descended from Aisha, who is from another dimension. They call Kamala a Djinnn. They then also added the wrinkle in the finale that she might be a mutant, when Bruno says he’s detected a mutation within her DNA. This seems the first step in bringing the X-Men into the MCU, so that was exciting, but I was confused as to what that actually meant. So Kamala is part Djinn AND also a mutant… AND also the Bangle gives her special powers? (Or does the Bangle just harness her powers?) I wish this was clearer.
- I’m also a little vague on the whole Noor Dimension thing. Najma and Aisha and co. were able to travel from the Door dimension into ours without a problem… so why would their going back destroy our universe? How do the Red Daggers actually know anything about the Noor Dimension and what would happen if the ClanDestine crossed back over?
- I loved the trip to Karachi in episode four. It was risky to take the show out of New Jersey (and I was sad to be away from most of Kamala’s supporting cast for almost two full episodes), but I’m glad they took the time to establish and explore this aspect of Kamala’s heritage. I especially enjoyed the energetic chase through the streets of Karachi between the ClanDestine, the Daggers, and Kamala.
- I thought it was interesting that the show dwelt so strongly on the Partition in 1947. I thought it was fascinating to see this real history woven so strongly into this superhero adventure show.
- I liked the way the show’s story was so focused on Kamala’s being able to bring together the many disparate aspects of her identity, as she steps into this new persona of being a super-hero. I liked how that was manifested literally in our seeing how the different elements of Kamala’s superhero costume came together, and how each aspect of the costume was connected to one step on her journey. On the other hand, it got a little silly to me that we kept seeing her get different pieces of her costume, over and over again, throughout these six episodes.
- I really liked Ms. Marvel’s finished superhero costume, as revealed in the finale. It’s very accurate to the comics and looks dynamite on-screen.
- I also liked the depiction of Ms. Marvel’s powers, which they changed from her stretchy powers in the comics. (With an MCU Fantastic Four movie finally coming our way in the near future, I assume this change to Ms. Marvel’s power set was done to keep Mr. Fantastic as the main stretchy-guy in the MCU.) The sparkly-crystal look to her powers worked well for me.
- The mid-credits scene, featuring Carol Danvers, was fun. A nice tease of the upcoming The Marvels film, in which Captain Marvel and Ms. Marvel will meet!!
I am sad this series was only six episodes! Six episodes seems to be the new normal for these Disney+ Marvel shows, but I’d have loved more. I feel like we’ve barely scratched the surface of this rich cast of characters; I’d have been delighted to follow them through many more episodes. I assume we’ll see some of these characters in the upcoming The Marvels film, though how many of the supporting characters actually have anything to do in that movie remains to be seen. I really hope we get a second season of this show, although it doesn’t look like that’s on the horizon any time soon. Come on, Marvel! Bring on a second season! These characters deserve it. I can’t wait to see what’s next for them.
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