Marvel Studios likes to claim that every project it does is different, but that has rarely been the case. The MCU shows and movies largely follow the same rules, and stay interconnected. Even when a production takes some stylistic swings, like WandaVision‘s sitcom homage, there’s usually a course correction by the end. So even small adjustments can feel like a big deal. In Ms. Marvel, when street graffiti comes to animated life, and a text conversation shows up onscreen in the form of neon signs and road paint, it’s a fresh touch of magic realism. Think the style and imagery of the MCU Spider-Man end credits, appearing in the background of the real world. Ms. marvel episodes.
That’s not the only thing different, of course. Ms. Marvel is the first MCU entry to be solo-headlined by a female hero in the present day. (Black Widow and Captain Marvel both took place in the past, and Wanda’s a co-lead in WandaVision, while Jessica Jones isn’t formally MCU at the moment.) And not just any female hero, but a Pakistani-American, Muslim female hero. Yet the biggest barrier for some fanboys will surely be the “teenage girl” part. Because that’s very much the perspective through which this story is told. Restrictive parents, fantasies about boys, fangirling, accessorizing with jewelry, the realities of tampons, the slow move toward equal conditions for women at the local Mosque. You don’t see the Winter Soldier, for one, routinely dealing with such issues.
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Given that this follows Moon Knight and its slight exploration of Marc Spector’s Jewish heritage, it seems the MCU may be looking to incorporate more faith into its characters. If anyone’s wondering, the MCU will likely to get to Christianity with the Daredevil revival. Clearly, the Eternals haven’t spread the word that Earth is just a giant egg created by an angry red alien judge.
For the modern era, Kamala Khan (Iman Vellani, in an impressive professional acting debut) does YouTube animations, primarily of the heroes who have become very real teen idols in her world. It’s odd to think about the ramifications of Kamala’s much-anticipated trip to a superhero fan convention within the MCU. Wouldn’t that be more like a gun show in the real world than a Comic-Con? Yet “Avengercon” is played as a kid-friendly event, despite some absurdly massive booth displays capable of endangering lives. It’s probably best not to probe this too deeply, and simply look at Kamala as a stand-in for every superhero fan who wishes they could become a real one. We hardly dare to ask what the Punisher fans would look and behave like.
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Now, if Kamala can only persuade her eternally worrying parents to let her go to the show, she might win the Captain Marvel cosplay contest. The folks may not be fundamentalist Muslims — they like Bon Jovi, because this is Jersey City — but they are still the aggravated parents of a teenager. For at least the first two episodes, they’re also Kamala’s toughest opponents. If there’s a supervillain to fight, one has not yet emerged. Much of Kamala’s story mirrors the MCU Peter Parker’s in the broad strokes, down to her initially using a homemade costume and being misnamed “Night Light.” But while the Spider-Man movies stayed casually multicultural, Ms. Marvel gets specific, with references to Indian and Pakistani pop culture as frequent as modern name-drops.
As for the power change — yes, it’s different. Kamala forms crystalline structures that disintegrate, and she frequently uses that ability to create video game-style platforms on which to jump and escape. That this also allows her to create big arm and hand extensions is a concession to her origins. The power comes from an ancestral bracelet, which may eventually connect to Shang-Chi’s Ten Rings and Phastos’ power bands from Eternals. Unfortunately for comics fealty, Marvel basically blew the Inhumans storyline for the movies by using it already in both Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and the brief Inhumans show. So as not to reboot it directly, Ms. Marvel‘s narrative has undergone changes; her powers most of all. But given that significant alteration, it’s impressive how many characters and plot points still fall into basically the same roles in her origin story.
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Tonally, Ms. Marvel feels like a PG version of Marielle Heller’s underrated, underseen movie Diary of a Teenage Girl, which was itself based on a graphic novel by Phoebe Gloeckner. Instead of dealing with adolescence through sex, this artistic protagonist does so through the development of unexpected powers. But that combination of the feminine, the artistic, and the mood shifts between adult and child feelings informs everything else.
The Muslim community may have differing reactions to the way the Pakistani community in Jersey City gets depicted. For example, the gentle ribbing of different cliques (like the “Mosque Bros” and “Illumin-Aunties”) within the religious crowd won’t work for everyone. This writer isn’t the best one to judge how authentically it captures those touchstones. But to someone unfamiliar with this world, the superhero tropes serve as a way into the culture, while it might be vice-versa for kids who look more like Kamala Khan.
Marvel’s Disney+ shows don’t necessarily stick the ending, and that’s a potential problem for this one since it will likely segue into The Marvels, Kamala’s world is interesting enough by itself, with a kid whose powers seem relatively minor navigating a community where she lacks much authority as a 16 year-old high school junior. It could be more fun to see Kamala stay in this neighborhood a while before jetting off into space.
By the way, there’s a mid-credits scene in episode 1, which isn’t usual for these shows. Stick around for it.
Ms. Marvel premieres June 8 on Disney+
Recommended Reading: Ms. Marvel Volume 1: No Normal
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