“I’m a superhero!” Thoughts on Ms. Marvel (S1, E1-6)

(courtesy IMP Awards)

While Marvel films and TV shows are almost always universally well done, it can sometimes feel too much like boxes have simply been ticked- very well made boxes it must be said but boxes nonetheless – and often decades-old superhero comic book mythology has been observed and not much more.

Sure, the entertainment value are superb, but there’s often a lack of really grounded moments of true humanity, the kind that add real emotionality to stories that really benefit from mixing the fantastical with the everyday.

There’s no such issue with Ms. Marvel, the latest streaming show to roll off the MCU production line, which is zestfully alive with visuals so eye-poppingly bright and creative you delight in each and every rambunctiously affecting frame, characters that matter because they are so fulsomely realised, and a protagonist, Kamala Khan, played with revelatory brio by newcomer Iman Vellani, who lights up the world/s in which she is in.

A 16-year-old Muslim Pakistani-American girl who’s struggling to find her place in the grand scheme of things like pretty much everyone her age, Kamala very much comes into her own when a mysterious bangle sent by her grandmother in Karachi turns out to be far more than just another cosplay accessory.

Trying it on in a bid to find that perfect extra added something to put her over the line in her quest to win the Captain Marvel cosplay comp at the inaugural Avengers Con, held in her hometown of Jersey City, Kamala is happily shocked to learn that the bangle, the backstory of which begins the season, is far more than a pretty icon.

It is in fact the means for her to gain the superpowers she’s always longed for, with the massive, and we mean, MASSIVE, Captain Marvel fan thrilled that she finally has the powers to mix it up with her her and the entire Avengers pantheon.

Much of the sheer giddy enjoyment of Ms. Marvel, which injects much needed and brilliantly authentic diversity into the hitherto very whitebread MCU (save for recent entries like Black Panther and Shang-Chi and the Ten Rings), is down to Vellani herself who, like her character is a Marvel obsessive with an encyclopedic knowledge of and passion for the MCU.

She clearly every last gram of that passion to her role which is frankly one of the best introductions to a superhero we’ve likely ever seen.

You very quickly get the feeling that fast-talking, emotionally buoyant (bar the usual teenage dramatic dips) and good values-rich Kamala is a real person dealing with some wholly extraordinary developments in her life with is already full to bursting with a loving dad Yusuf (Mohan Kapur) and caring if over-protective mum Muneeba (Zenobia Shroff), an older brother Aamir (Saagar Shaikh) who’s about to get married to the delightful Tyesha (Travina Springer) – to the surprise of the entire family – and close friends Nakia (Yasmeen Fletcher), who knows her mind and goes for broke in life, and super smart Bruno (Matt Lintz), who’s less-than-secretly in love with her and the bets friend a sudden superhero could want.

They are all the warm and protective cocoon around Kamala who is one of those characters who make mistakes but not because she’s an arrogant brat or an idiot but simply because she’s so caring and well-intentioned, not to mention now imbued with some pretty damn good, high-level powers, that she doesn’t always think things through fully.

She’s basically a really lovely person with a strong moral compass and a village of friends and family who’ll move the earth to be around her, and it’s this quality that makes Ms. Marvel such a rich and fulfillingly emotive viewing experience.

Another huge point in its favour is that the show, created by Bisha K. Ali who is also the head writer for the show, and based on the 2014 launched comic book series which introduced the first Muslim character into the MCU (thank you creators Sana Amanat and Stephen Wacker), goes all out to celebrate Kamala Khan’s life as a young Muslim woman. (Read “Everything You Need To Know Before Watching Ms. Marvel” to find out how the comics and the TV show differ.)

We are taken to the mosque she attends, and the board of which Nakia seeks to join, to the various festivals she attends and to the warm, enveloping sense of community that pervades every last moment of her life; if ever you wanted a vibrant antidote to the haters and the bigots and to the endless inaccurate stereotypes about Muslims, Ms. Marvel is it.

It is a refreshingly diverse joy that gives much added character and truthfulness to Kamala’s world which is suddenly a whole lot bigger and full of possibilities than it was before.

Her Muslim faith, and the south Asian culture of which she and her friends and family are very much a part, inform so much of the character and spirit of Ms. Marvel from its wondrously good and aurally captivating soundtrack, which pulses with energy and fun, to its visuals which are gloriously colourful – even her texts and message are writ large and in technicolour brilliance on buildings, in the sky, all around her in fact – and its willingness, in amongst all the gee-whiz, kapow! fun, to explore deeply serious and emotionally resonant things as the destructive partition of India which left many people either dead or severely traumatised, often for generations.

It is this ability for the show to be both out there bright and fun, and deeply, thoughtfully serious – it devotes much of the start its fifth episode, “Time and Again” to showing how horrific this period in the subcontinent’s history was and how it affected Kamala and her family who, without giving anything away, are your average Pakistani-American family.

It’s risky in one way delving that deeply into the seriously intense history of Pakistan and Kamala’s family since it stands in direct contrast to the shiny brightness of much of the rest of Ms. Marvel – though it has to be said that when it comes to the Big Bads of the piece, both America and not, things get quite dark, forcing quip-ready Kamala to grow up pretty quickly – but it works a treat because the entire show feels like a six-episode movie that all belongs together.

Ms. Marvel mixes the excitable and the extravagant, the warm & loving and the cruelly unfeeling, and the heroic and the grindingly ordinary (Kamala still has to go to school dammit!) to near faultless effect, serving up a superhero origin story that is as serious as it gets (because superpowers don’t come without consequences), but also giddily happy and upbeat because Kamala is a joy, everyone she loves is a joy too and it’s clear that while Kamala, who’ll next appear with Captain Marvel (Brie Larson) in 2023’s The Marvels, has a lot now to contend with, she’s doing from a place of real strength, upheld by her faith, her friends, her family and an innate sense of what it means to be good, upstanding and ultimately, super likable human being, superhero powers or not.

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