With Phase 4 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe now in full swing, the most significant trends surrounding this current era of storytelling seems to be magic, multiverses, and the fallout from the Blip — the in-universe disaster where half of all living beings disappeared for five years. But with Ms. Marvel, the newest superhero series on Disney+, Marvel is taking a step back into the more grounded, with an origin story that feels far more relatable and real than anything they’ve done lately.
The first episode, directed by Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah and written by showrunner Bisha K. Ali opens on an adorably-animated sequence narrated by Kamala Khan (Iman Vellani), the soon-to-be Ms. Marvel who at the moment is merely a Captain Marvel superfan. The video, which Kamala has made for her YouTube channel, goes into great detail about the Avengers’ battle against Thanos, and more specifically how Carol Danvers was responsible for their triumph.
While the tongue-in-cheek recap might feel repetitive for longtime Marvel viewers, it is instrumental in setting up the kind of person Kamala is. Like so many of us who derive enjoyment from larger-than-life stories and the characters that inhabit them, Kamala is a fangirl at heart. That fact becomes especially important throughout the episode, whose driving tension seems pulled right out of a teen sitcom: sneak out and get to AvengerCon without the parents finding out.
It’s this influence from shows aimed at younger people that really sets the series apart and stops it from falling into the trap of “just another superhero origin story.” Mixed in with the larger, cosmic aspects of the plot (which I will get into below) Kamala’s concerns are the most rooted in reality that I’ve ever seen within an MCU story. Like the teens who will hopefully be watching her show, her world is limited to whatever is accessible by public transit. A major life goal is to get her driver’s license. Staying out a little late with her best friend — and more importantly, getting permission to do so — is a major hurdle. None of these things are in any way influenced by superhero and supernatural forces that exist outside the Khan family home. At least, not as far as Kamala is concerned (again, more on that below). At its heart, Ms. Marvel is a coming-of-age story played straight. Kamala is quickly reaching that point in life where she needs to start thinking about her future and realizing that her actions have consequences. This is something that naturally grows more difficult once superpowers get thrown into the mix.
Besides serving as an introduction to Kamala herself, the episode also does a wonderful job setting up all those around her who play a part in making her who she is. Her best friends Bruno (Matt Lintz) and Nakia (Yasmeen Fletcher) are utterly charming and help situate Kamala in both the superhero fangirl world, and the more community-centric world respectively. While I look forward to seeing how their roles and relationships with Kamala will continue to grow, the crux of the story in the premiere rests with the Khan family.
Kamala Khan holds the distinction of being the MCU’s first Muslim superhero, and the Khans are all practicing Muslims. An interesting choice made in the first episode shows the varying degrees to which each family member practices their faith. Kamala’s brother Aamir (Saagar Shaikh) practices more openly than his parents Yusuf (Mohan Kapur) and Muneeba (Zenobia Shroff), but he isn’t defined fully by how religious he is, also taking the time to try and be a sympathetic older brother to Kamala.
As far as Yusuf and Muneeba are concerned, they do at times skirt uncomfortably close to the stereotype of the inflexible, overly strict immigrant parents. The only saving grace — at least for now — is that their concern seems to stem at least in part from concerns beyond what their daughter is doing and how she is dressing. Muneeba’s mother sends the family a box of old trinkets, one of which is the bangle that later in the episode gives Kamala her powers. On seeing her daughter pull the bracelet from the box, Muneeba is quick to take it away and lock it in the attic, a look of panic on her face. With the combination of that reaction, Yusuf’s declaration that Kamala is not normal, but rather special (played off as fatherly affection), and the constant assertions that Kamala is much like her grandmother in that both are dreamers who cannot keep their heads out of the clouds makes it seem like there is something larger going on in the Khan’s protectiveness of their daughter. Judging solely on the first episode, it is difficult to say if this is the intended direction, or simply me giving the story too much credit.
Given the amount of time getting the bracelet onto Kamala’s arm, there isn’t a ton of time given to her exploring exactly what her powers are and how they’ll affect things, but if the trade-off is more time spent learning who the characters are and why we should care about them, then the choice was the correct one. And with the post-credit scene featuring Spider-Man: No Way Home‘s Agent Cleary (Arian Moayed) interested in investigating this thus-far-unknown superhero that has emerged in New York, it seems likely the lines between Kamala’s real life and superhero life are about to grow very blurred.
The first episode of Ms. Marvel is streaming now on Disney+.