If the first two episodes are any indication, Ms. Marvel is going to be a huge hit. Since 2021, and the beginning of the first Disney+ MCU series, WandaVision, saying a streaming Marvel show is going to be popular isn’t exactly news. But, the difference with Ms. Marvel is that it’s the MCU’s most accessible show and one that’s actually for the entire family. Here’s what it’s about, why it’s great, and how the MCU has finally made a family show. Mild spoilers ahead.
Ms. Marvel — which just dropped its first episode on Disney+ — follows high-school student Kamala Khan (Iman Vellani), a resident of New Jersey, and Avengers fangirl, especially Captain Marvel (Brie Larson). If you or your kids read the 2014 Marvel comics run of Ms. Marvel, written by G. Willow Wilson, this setup will feel familiar. Although her character was introduced in a Captain Marvel comic in 2013, became Marvel’s first Muslim superhero to headline her own book in 2014. This means, that unlike a lot of superheroes getting their own shows, Ms. Marvel is 100 percent a 21st-century superhero, and it shows.
Created by Bisha K. Ali, the series makes some changes to Ms. Marvel’s comic book powers and origins, but the most important aspects are retained: Kamala’s heart, humor, and goodness. Vellani immediately wins over viewers through her charismatic performance, and effortless ability to capture what it feels like to be a teenager caught in a world that’s ever-changing. And I don’t just mean the feeling of being a teenager in a pastel-colored John Hughes world, but in a way that is very much a modern reflection of the times we live in now.
The cultural significance of the series and of Kamala Khan cannot be understated. The series works in such a way as to have special meaning for MENA audiences. But Ms. Marvel is also inviting newcomers as they get a glimpse into a culture they may be unfamiliar with. But what isn’t unfamiliar is the coming-of-age story and family dynamics at the heart Ms. Marvel, one that any audience member can relate to. We’ve all dealt with parental rules we don’t quite understand, popular peers we’ve longed to be accepted by, friends whose support is needed more than we thought, and family members we don’t talk about, but probably should. Ms. Marvel feels universal and captures the essence of Marvel’s mission to place humanity and characterization above superpowers and fistfights.
There is a quality in Ms. Marvel that’s reminiscent of Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man films, much in the same way that the comic series felt like Stan Lee and Steve Ditko’s Amazing Spider-Man for the 21st century. There’s care taken with human interactions and emotions that are given to every supporting character. Kamala’s best friends, Bruno (Matt Lintz) and Nakia (Yasmeen Fletcher), brother, Aamir (Saagar Shaikh), and parents, Yusef (Mohan Kapur) and Muneeba (Zenobia Shroff) are all fully realized characters with their own subplots unrelated to powers or costumes. Similarly, New Jersey feels lived in, populated by people with lives and jobs, rather than simply existing as extras and backgrounds for the next set-piece.
If there’s one guiding principle to Ms. Marvel thus far, it’s empathy. We’re asked as audience members, alongside Kamala, to take an empathetic stance with the people we encounter, even if we disagree with the decisions being made, or don’t quite understand the reasons behind them. The series provides a means for parents and their children to have meaningful conversations about the choices characters make, and how even the best intentions can have damaging results. And best of all, Ms. Marvel achieves this through often humorous situational comedy that allows for genuine laughs without being based on comic references or callbacks that only Marvel super-fans could get.
While there are plenty of fun easter eggs for Marvel fans, Ms. Marvel works largely on its own terms. You don’t need to have seen all of the MCU to get it, although it is all leading to the big 2023 movie The Marvels.
But, for now, Ms. Marvel manages to do double duty: give fans of the superhero genre something solid, but also bring back those who might be burned out on costumed crime-fighters. With its infectious sense of optimism, lead actress set for super-stardom, and a large cast of interesting supporting characters, Ms. Marvel is a party, and everyone’s invited.
The first episode of Ms. Marvel — “Generation Why” — is streaming now on Disney+. The series consists of six episodes in total; dropping five more episodes on Wednesdays over the next five weeks