Friendly Neighborhood Ms Marvel: Episode One (Review)

The newest installation of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is finally here! Ms Marvel, which debuted as a comic in 2014, joins her superhero counterparts on the screen just eight years later and no less glorious for the wait. Despite the many factors interfering with viewership rates, from review bombing to negative pre-show buzz and comic releases and the coinciding release of Obi-Wan Kenobi, Ms Marvel stands strong, and is currently the best-reviewed MCU show. This is the first release where it feels like Disney is starting to tap into the identity of Phase Four – Ms Marvel comes off vastly different than anything they’ve done before. It doesn’t differ much in concept from usual superhero origin stories, but certainly knows how to stand out.

Ms Marvel Episode One begins with a very modern remix of The Weeknd’s ‘Blinding Lights,’ with Kamala Khan (Iman Vellani) narrating the events of Endgame concerning Captain Marvel (Brie Larson) saving the world for Sloth Baby Productions, her video essay channel. Kamala doesn’t mention the blip, indicating early on that this is not something that will concern Kamala.

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Iman Vellani as Kamala Khan in Ms Marvel. (Courtesy: Marvel Studios)

She quickly wraps up when her mother, Muneeba (Zenobia Shroff), reminds her of her driver’s test. As Kamala joins her family, fans of the comics will immediately recognize the verbatim conversation that her dad Yusuf (Mohan Kapoor) has with her brother Aamir (Saagar Sheikh) about how Aamir will probably starve if he doesn’t take time off from praying. It’s interesting to note that the last time we heard Arabic spoken in Marvel was a mere fourteen years ago, when Sayed Badreya played an Egyptian terrorist in Afghanistan in Iron Man. So, while the bar is so low you could chip a toenail, Ms Marvel Episode One does manage to clear it.

She shows up to the test, spots the reflection of her “Kamala” necklace in the mirror before exhaling a “Bismillah” for good luck – and then promptly crashes into her instructor’s car. Kamala winces as the vibrant comic-style intro logos pop into the screen. This is only the first four minutes of the show and it already encapsulates everything the Ms Marvel comics represented.

The cold open sets the stage for not just the rest of the episode, but the rest of the show. Kamala is a sixteen-year-old Muslim Pakistani girl from New Jersey, struggling to grapple with the different parts of her identity as a dreamer; an Avengers fanatic (though really it’s Captain Marvel and company); a second-generation Pakistani immigrant; a Muslim; and a New Jersey teenager. She’s distracted, confused, and shy, even too shy to correct her teacher when he calls her “Camelia.” Kamala’s parents and teacher tell her she needs to get out of her head and start thinking about her future, but right now Kamala only cares about one thing: AvengerCon, the MCU’s equivalent of Comic Con, where one celebrates the in-universe heroes for saving Earth. Kamala wants to go dressed as Captain Marvel, but, without even a driver’s license, all she’s got is her parents’ disapproval. So Kamala needs a plan.

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Mohan Kapoor as Yusuf Khan and Zenobia Shroff as Muneeba Khan in Ms Marvel. (Courtesy: Marvel Studios)

Ms Marvel Episode One introduces us to Kamala’s best friends, Bruno Carrelli (Matt Lintz) and Nakia Bahadir (Yasmeen Fletcher). Bruno’s story is a little bit different from his comic arc; he’s still a tech genius who works at Circle Q, but this version doesn’t (yet) have a brother. By contrast, Nakia is so far largely unchanged, but she doesn’t as make much of an impression here as she does in the first volume of the comics, leading me to believe the show has opted to make Bruno Kamala’s closest friend in the MCU. In the premiere episode, we also meet the patronizing Zoe Zimmer (Laurel Marsden), Coles Academic High School’s most popular student and a social media influencer.

Kamala’s MCU origin story is likewise a little different from the source material, in which she was an Inhuman who got her powers after exposure to Terrigen mist. Ms Marvel abandons its title character’s shapeshifting abilities in favor of “hard light” and embiggening factors. There’s some concern about the change because Kamala’s powers in the comics directly relate to her Pakistani heritage and overall arc. I hope the show can still connect the two with Kamala’s current powers, especially since they’re more cohesive in the entire universe – which would, in turn, be important for Ms Marvel’s arc in the grander MCU.

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Matt Lintz as Bruno Carnelli and Iman Vellani as Kamala Khan in Ms Marvel. (Courtesy: Marvel Studios)

“Generation Why” (Ms Marvel Episode One’s actual title) is one of two episodes co-directed by Adil El Arabi and Bilall Fallah – the other one is the finale – and you have to give it up to them for this work. Ms Marvel is one of the most visually rich productions of the entire MCU. You might be tempted to attribute this to its use of graphics and pictorials from the comics to capture the essence of Kamala’s imagination, but the CGI never feels on-the-nose: in addition to being well-executed, it’s also balanced by some brilliant organic cinematography. 

We can’t talk about the pilot without mentioning the amazing work Bisha K. Ali did on the teleplay. Ms Marvel‘s debut is maybe the most all-around solid introduction we’ve gotten in the MCU since Iron Man. Though the dialogue might feel a bit tongue-in-cheek for some viewers on the older side, it’s important to remember that this show was made for little South Asian and / or Muslim girls: not every single aspect will land for everyone, nor does it need to in order for you to find the show enjoyable.

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Iman Vellani as Kamala Khan and Saagar Shaikh as Aamir Khan in Ms Marvel. (Courtesy: Marvel Studios)

Of course, I also have to tip my hat to Iman Vellani, who was simply born to play Kamala. Ms Marvel is Vellani first-ever acting role – which by itself is a feat and a testament to her prowess – and she’s already a star. Vellani embodies Kamala fully, and brings complete charm, angst, and comedic timing to the role. Already I can’t wait to see her and Brie Larson bounce off of each other in The Marvels next year.

Until then, I’ll just have to be satisfied with Ms Marvel. This is a charming debut for a lovable heroine, one certain to unite comic readers and new fans alike with its brimming energy and indefatigable love. Without a doubt, Ms Marvel is the face of the MCU’s new generation.

Rating: 9/10

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