Ms. Marvel Doesn’t Follow The Typical Marvel Plot
Ms. Marvel is blissfully not part of the Marvel slush. It’s not rote or the same story again. Though dealing with a teenager coming of age, it’s not simply Spider-Man with a different protagonist. Instead—within the first three episodes—it becomes a family drama with the superhero aspects simply elevating the emotions.
This is because of the thing I’m least qualified to talk about or judge the accuracy of: cultural representation. Ms. Marvel/Kamala Khan is Pakistani, Muslim, and the dialogue’s peppered with Urdu. And the story heavily focuses on that culture, showing a wedding, religious services, and having the history of India play a significant role in the story. You could cut out the superpowers and still have a charming series about a mother-daughter relationship and generational trauma. Even beyond that core character interplay, it functions exceptionally well without science fiction hijinks. Each story thread in the everyday world feeds into each other. The romance aspects are cute and inform character decisions without feeling sappy or melodramatic. The background plots of various friends, family, and even periphery characters help create a lived-in narrative.
Each New Character Moment Builds A Greater Plot
Ms. Marvel’s issue then, its misstep, is that the audience may never make it to that part. In a first for Marvel shows, the first episode doesn’t put its best foot forward. It’s actively kind of annoying and overdone. The frantic interspersion of 2D animation flourishes a la The Mitchells vs. The Machines come at you way too fast. Pairing that with additional stylistic camera movements and quick editing creates a frantic viewing experience that feels like jangling keys. But then it calms down significantly in the last bits of the first episode and comfortably sits in the background as a charming, organic addition to the visual flow.
And thank God for my three-episode rule because that initial salvo even buries how well-acted this series is. With these performances, it’s easy to forget that the characters are characters, not real people. Iman Vellani plays an awkward and overwhelmed girl so naturally that you cannot help but root for her. Yasmeen and Matt back her up well, playing some of the best supporting friend characters I’ve seen in a long time.
Ms. Marvel Has Solid Performances All Throughout
But the real standouts are Zenobia and Mohan as the parents. Zenobia because of the sheer complexity of the character of Muneeba. Some of it is cultural and thus not my place to weigh in on, but the complicated mix of parental care, overprotectiveness, and worldly understanding expands each of her scenes. Yusuf, the father character, helps balance out these moments, lending both heavier weight to sadness and additional levity and sunshine to various scenes. We’ve recently had a lot of likable, goofy, but ultimately emotionally intelligent father characters, from Turning Red to Everything Everywhere All at Once. I’m glad to include Yusuf on that list.
Quiet Discussion Scenes Are Often The Best Parts
I suppose the only thing left to talk about is the superhero stuff. And it’s okay. It’s fine. The action is a little underwhelming, and the powers are under-explored early in the story. I’m sure it picks up later, but Green Lantern with light magic is not inherently interesting this late into Marvel’s rollout. The best scenes with them are when Kamala uses them reflexively for more lighthearted reasons or the simple narrative complication of keeping them a secret from her family. At least those scenes deepen the family narrative or work as a character moment. With this show, that’s really what matters.
So, as you can see, Ms. Marvel was a different sort of watch. Midway through episode one, I was worried I wouldn’t like it, and then I found an unexpected thing to appreciate. It’s got the humanistic side of Marvel, the lives of budding heroes outside the usual grand spectacles. Full of interesting, likable characters, excellent music, and layered storytelling, Ms. Marvel is extremely watchable and was a delight to do so.
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