TV Review: ‘Ms Marvel’ Embiggens The Marvel Universe With A Splash Of Multicultural Fun


Since the end of the Infinity War saga, the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), has lost several key Avengers. The resulting reset has led to much greater diversification in terms of new characters. Marvel has also used the medium of television. We have seen the introduction of an Asian lead character with Shang-chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings; there has been the exploration of different genres with the sitcom-esque, Wandavision, and the mind-bending science fiction of Loki. Now, with Ms Marvel, we have our first female Muslim superhero and first real foray into a coming-of-age teen TV series.

Read: TV Review: ‘Loki’—An Unfulfilling Appetiser To The MCU’s Main Course

Read: TV Review: ‘WandaVision’ – The MCU With Old-Fashioned Heart

The opening episode of Ms Marvel is brash and colourful. As the Weeknd’s ‘Blinding Lights’ blasts from the screen, we see a beautifully animated Avengers montage, narrated by our teenage protagonist, Kamala Khan (Iman Vellani). From the outset, the series feels fresh and relevant. This is Marvel for the TikTok generation. The colour schemes are punchy, the language is cool and the addition of graphics, such as animated graffiti adds quirkiness.

Kamala is a sixteen-year-old New Jersey high schooler obsessed with the Avengers, particularly Captain Marvel. As well as dealing with the usual teenage angst, Kamala has the additional pressures of growing up within a strict Pakistani family, sometimes at odds with the ways of modern America. When we meet her, she is struggling to persuade her parents to let her go to the inaugural AvengerCon convention. The convention acts as a useful narrative vehicle for highlighting Kamala’s relationship with her parents, contrasting with that of their relationship with her older brother, Aamir (Saagar Shaikh). By disobeying her parents and going to AvengerCon we see the first example of Kamala trying to exert her independence. The convention is also the first time Kamala gets to experience her powers.

Kamala draws her power from wearing a mysterious bangle that she receives from her great-grandmother, who still lives in Pakistan. As with the Spider-Man origin stories, much of the Ms Marvel story is taken up with Kamala’s stuttering attempts to come to terms with her newfound powers. The powers differ from the comic version, but fit well into the whole theming; colourful crystal graphics illustrate when her powers are in use.

One of the strengths of the production is the way the melting pot of Pakistani culture is portrayed. We experience the food, and the customs and each episode is peppered with a blend of western and Asian music. The first episode includes a montage of women shopping for wedding outfits and trying the food, accompanied by the Bollywood soundtrack of ‘Oh Nanba’ by S.P. Balasubramaniam and Aaryan Dinesh Kanagaratnam. To emphasise the cultural mix, Kamals’s friends are her fellow Muslim and political activist, Nakia (Yasmeen Fletcher) and her best friend, Bruno Carrelli (Matt Lintz).

This isn’t a series that pays lip service to multiculturalism, it feels immersive and educational. The series sets scenes within the local mosque, a wedding scene complete with a Bollywood dance number, and a visit to family in Karachi. In episode five, Kamala is transported back in time to 1947 to the partition of India. The scenes seep with a sense of desperate panic as families try to stay together amongst the chaos of the Partition.

For all its strengths, Ms Marvel lacks substance. In many respects, the series feels like Hawkeye, but that series benefitted from the foundation of at least one established character and a much simpler storyline. Here, the series is trying to introduce a brand new character while dealing with multiculturalism, flirting with the multiverse, and time travel. Kamala is fighting so many battles: her family, friendship issues, coming to terms with her past, antagonists from another dimension and the agents of the Department of Damage control. With so many threads, it sometimes feels a bit too confused, too superficial, and full of fluff. After the quirkiness of the opening two episodes, the series starts to lose its way. Even the action scenes and CGI feel weak—this feels more Buffy The Vampire Slayer than a prime Marvel production.

Read: TV Review: ‘Hawkeye’ — Marvel Hits The Bullseye

There is still much to commend in Ms Marvel. Vellani is a revelation in her first-ever role. With Iman Vellani, Hailee Steinfeld and Florence Pugh, Marvel is building a new generation of talented and likeable characters. It bodes well for the future of the MCU. Similarly, the supporting cast works well. While we sometimes have to suspend belief in the transformation of Muneeba (Zenobia Shroff) and Yusuf (Mohan Kapur) from concerned strict Muslim parents to championing their superhero daughter, their characters are so likeable they make it all work. Nakia and Bruno are not as well developed as Peter Parker’s friends In Spider-Man: Homecoming but there is depth to these roles for the future.

The key strength of Ms Marvel is it adds a real splash of genuine multicultural colour and fun to a Marvel universe that has become a little stale. Kamala next returns as part of the MCU Movie The Marvels. It is likely that our new teenage Muslim superhero will outshine her more esteemed colleague, Captain Marvel, and that’s before she utters the famous catchphrase, ‘Embiggen’.

Words by Andrew Butcher

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