Though Kamala Khan’s only been running around Marvel’s comics as Ms. Marvel since 2013, she’s quickly gone on to become one of the brand’s most celebrated heroes who perfectly illustrates how new spins on legacy characters can lead to poignant, refreshing storytelling. Like the comics, Disney Plus’ new Ms. Marvel series — from creator Bisha K. Ali and directors Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah — understands what kind of symbol its titular Pakistani American Avenger-in-the-making is and the significance of her finally making her MCU debut.
Ms. Marvel tackles Kamala’s origin story a little differently than the source material, and its connections to the larger cinematic universe are somewhat nebulous. But, thankfully, the show makes up for its few hiccups by putting everything into setting its hero up for a cosmic level of stardom.
Much like her comic book counterpart, the Kamala Khan (Iman Vellani) of Disney Plus’ Ms. Marvel is an awkward teen whose head is stuck firmly in the clouds and filled with dreams of one day becoming a superpowered hero like her idol, Carol Danvers. Much of the larger world around Kamala is still wrapping its mind around the reality of the Avengers’ win against Thanos in Avengers: Endgame, but Ms. Marvel zooms in on Kamala’s life in Jersey City, New Jersey, to spotlight how, in fits and starts, people are beginning to move on.
It’s hard for Kamala’s doting father Yusuf (Mohan Kapur) and sternly loving mother Muneeba (Zenobia Shroff) to understand what compels their daughter to spend hours in her room making and uploading painstakingly crafted Avengers fan videos for her humble social media page. Obsessing over superhero fan theories is just the sort of thing Kamala — a nerd — and all of the other students at Coles Academic High School do, though, because they’re kids who grew up watching costumed vigilantes save the world from destruction on a regular basis.
Ms. Marvel’s well aware that it opens up at a time when the MCU’s become a narratively complex place, both for its characters and for Marvel Studios itself. But the show takes care to put most of its energy into fleshing out the details of Kamala’s everyday life — rather than teasing out how it will connect to Marvel’s next project — in order to underscore that this is a story about an ordinary kid becoming something more.
When we meet her, Kamala’s biggest challenge is getting through high school with her best friends Bruno (Matt Lintz) and Nakia (Yasmeen Fletcher) by her side. One of the more significant ways Ms. Marvel establishes the (at least initially) smaller scope of the kids’ world is by repeatedly catching up with Kamala in the halls of Coles Academic High School, where the show often takes on a John Hughes-ian energy similar to Spider-Man: Homecoming. But where Marvel’s recent Spider-Man films have tended to Peter Parker’s civilian existence like set dressing, Ms. Marvel’s comfortable letting the mundane parts of Kamala’s life — like the semi-playful rivalry she has with her brother Kamran (Rish Shah) — shine.
Because Kamala’s still a relatively new character with a limited history in the books, Disney Plus’ Ms. Marvel pulls heavily from writer G. Willow Wilson and artist Adrian Alphona’s 2014 Ms. Marvel comics run — Marvel’s first title headlined by a Muslim character.
Like in the comics, Kamala’s faith and ethnicity are important aspects of her identity, and the show explores how and why kids of color like her don’t always feel like the world sees them as people meant to become champions. The Ms. Marvel comics’ commitment to thoughtfully digging into those types of substantive ideas is part of what made the series such a hit with fans. Disney Plus’ Ms. Marvel is definitely trying to do something very similar, and mostly succeeds, but the show makes a number of notable changes to Kamala’s story that sometimes feel more in service of Marvel’s cinematic universe than to her character specifically.
It likely would have been difficult and expensive for Marvel Studios to bring Kamala’s original polymorphic “embiggening” powers to the small screen in a way that didn’t cause Ms. Marvel to veer into body horror territory. It’s common for superheroes’ powers to change somewhat as they’re adapted for live-action projects. Ms. Marvel goes a bit further, though, and essentially gives Kamala a wholly new set of abilities that are only able to approximate the flashy aspects of what was originally a nuanced metaphor in the comics. Ms. Marvel still takes time to address Kamala’s self-esteem issues and some of the deeper reasons why she looks up to someone like Captain Marvel. But the show doesn’t go nearly as far with its hero in terms of using its conceit to explore ideas like internalized racism or the pressures Western (read: white) beauty standards put on people of color.
Those ideas are present in Ms. Marvel, and the show slows down in moments when it’s addressing them as parts of its story relating to the people around Kamala. Ms. Marvel herself, though, moves through her series with a momentum that telegraphs how soon she’ll be blasting off to deal with bigger, more VFX-heavy business in space on the big screen. You can’t help but notice all the different ways Ms. Marvel alludes to The Marvels, and that’s to be expected. What makes Ms. Marvel work, though, is how well the show’s able to situate itself squarely within the messy confines of the MCU while letting the foundational elements of Kamala’s hero origin be the story for the most part.
Watching Ms. Marvel, you get the sense that it’s precisely the kind of project that Kevin Feige and the rest of Marvel brass always intended to populate Disney Plus with: stories that require little homework to get into and come in the midst of a character’s brand-wide multimedia roll out. It’s rare that either of the big studios putting out comic book movies manage to get their ducks lined up just so, but all of that time, care, and attention shows in Disney Plus’ Ms. Marvel.
Ms. Marvel hits Disney Plus on June 8th.