Ms. Marvel is finally coming to Disney+, courtesy of Marvel Studios. Almost a decade ago, Sana Amanat recounted a story from her childhood as a Pakistani American, which developed into an idea for a Marvel comic. Amanat presented the concept to G. Willow Wilson, and the two brought to life Kamala Khan (a.k.a. Ms. Marvel). Ms. Marvel became the first Muslim superhero to headline a series at Marvel, and now, a decade later, she is Marvel’s first Muslim superhero to headline her own television series.
Kamala is a Pakistani American teen from Jersey City. She deals with everyday teenage drama, overbearing parents, an identity crisis, and the life-long superfan of superheroes has superpowers! She is not just a mere teen idolizing Captain Marvel; she gets to be a hero herself.
With only two episodes at my disposal, it is difficult to assess how series creator and head writer Bisha K. Ali (under the watchful eye of Kevin Feige) translated the beloved comic series to the small screen. However, there is a vibrancy and genuine love for the character that is deeply felt throughout the writing of these two episodes. Despite some changes made to have Ms. Marvel fit within the current state of the MCU, Ali’s writing appears to be keeping the themes from the comics front of mind.
If the first two episodes accomplish one thing, it’s that they prove we have a star in the making. Iman Vellani is Kamala Khan, and it is her spirited portrayal of Kamala that makes the show so enjoyable to watch. Kamala Khan is a specific character with experiences not shared by most people in the MCU fandom, but Vellani’s honest and charismatic performance bridges the gap. She has an effervescent quality that is inviting and comforting, and she shows an impressive range for a first-timer.
Vellani’s performance, while incredible, is not the only thing that helps bring Kamala’s story to a broader audience of non-Muslim, non-South Asian people. Ali and the ensemble of series directors contribute a lot to the story due to shared experiences. It is evident from the music choices, costuming, production design, vibrant animation, and authentic writing that there is a real joyous celebration unfolding on-screen, including excitement for this character and her story. There is an honesty to everything in the series that cannot be replicated with a primarily male, white, non-Muslim creative team. However, whether the series is placating too much to non-Muslim non-Pakistani audiences is up to Pakistani Muslims, especially those who are American, to determine. There is an ambition to have the South Asian diaspora represented with an authentic Muslim Pakistani American experience at the centre. Still, with most instances of firsts and big milestone moments for representation, not everything will work or translate to screen. But I do consider the effort from these creatives to be admirable. I don’t know what the entirety of the series will mean to me as a Muslim, but I know that we are off to a good start.
One massive thing to note about this “review” is that it isn’t really a review. It is simply a first impression, a reaction to just the beginning of a six-part journey. Disney thinks it’s cute to limit and restrict how much of their shows critics can watch to stifle any possible negative reviews. This is, of course, just my opinion. I think Disney is purposefully undermining the objective of entertainment writing by limiting our responses to their work to what is effectively a teaser. The quality of an entire season cannot be based on just its opening episodes. For all I know, episode three might take a nose dive. Disney is primarily concerned with the audience’s enthusiastic reaction, and negative reviews could taint that reaction before the show’s release. So instead, on embargo day, a flood of reviews will be released with a positive slant because there isn’t much to critique or discuss. The first episodes leave a good impression and the promise of greatness, but that’s all.
Personally, I find that I cannot fully explore and articulate my thoughts as a critic and my feelings as someone who is being represented because I’ve been restricted to only two episodes. There are elements to this show that are simply seeds that have yet to take root since more stories are to come. This shameful tactic makes me wonder what even the point of releasing screeners to critics when a few fan screenings and the premieres do enough to generate early buzz is.
What does this “review” honestly contribute? The best I can say to you, the reader, is that Ms. Marvel is worth a watch because the award-winning comics are simply terrific. The labour of love poured into those pages is being brought to the screen, which is worth celebrating. Vellani is a star, and her performance is worth being invested in. The first two episodes promise a bright, dazzling, and hopefully magical series. It is a miracle that we got Ms. Marvel so soon after her debut (considering most of the MCU characters have decades on her). The second reason it is a miracle is that this series centres on a Muslim girl who is a superhero. It’s a lovely change from what we usually get.