Over the past 12 months, I’ve been fairly vocal about my disappointment with the various Marvel TV shows that have hit Disney Plus. While I enjoyed WandaVision and all its weirdness, Falcon and Winter Solider bored me and I only begrudgingly finished Hawkeye out of a sense of duty.
So when Ms. Marvel premiered earlier this month, I only really watched the first episode out of morbid curiosity. To be honest, I was so disengaged with Marvel’s small screen efforts in the wake of Moon Knight, that I mistakenly believed Ms. Marvel released a week later than it did. I was momentarily surprised when I booted up Disney Plus on Wednesday, June 8 to see a banner ad telling me “Ms. Marvel episode 1 is now streaming.”
I had every intention of watching the first episode, and if I wasn't suitably enthused by the end, Ms. Marvel would be the first Marvel Cinematic Universe series that I abandoned. Well, technically the second, I never did finish What if…? but that’s an arguably (some people think Dr. Strange 2 is connected) non-canon animated spinoff, so I’m not counting it.
Much to my surprise, and delight, I didn’t just find Ms. Marvel to be better than its recent predecessor, it was the first time since WandaVision that I finished an episode of a Marvel TV show and desperately wanted to watch the next straight away. I was still cautious about getting overexcited; there was a possibility that episode one was a mirage, but earlier this week episode two dropped and it’s just as solid.
Ms. Marvel’s combination of a delightful lead character, a playful tone, a refreshing change of pace and a narrative that actually fits the television format has me once again believing that the MCU has a future on Disney Plus. This is despite viewership numbers that are reportedly low for Ms. Marvel (opens in new tab). (If you want to change that, here's when the next Ms. Marvel episode airs.)
Here’s how Kamala Khan won me over.
A bright spark
The best thing about Ms. Marvel is right there in the show’s very title. The eponymous hero is the show’s beating heart, and what a delight she is. I could praise much of the cast, I particularly enjoy Matt Lintz as Bruno and Mohan Kapur as Kamala’s dad, but Iman Vellani steals every single scene she’s in with ease.
This Kamala Khan TV origin story (it differs from the comic book version) is fairly routine in the world of superheroes. She’s an everyday high school student who daydreams about being a hero until her fantasizing becomes a reality when she discovers a magical artifact that can create cosmic energy. It even seems like she's already learned that with great power comes great responsibility, and stop me if you’ve heard this one before.
And yet, despite the familiarity of her TV origin and everyday teenage struggles, there’s a real freshness about Kamala. She feels like a type of character that is completely new to the MCU, rather than a retread of what’s come before. Perhaps this is in part because we never saw the origins of the MCU’s Spider-Man play out on screen, or maybe it’s just that Vellani is so effortlessly likable that it’s practically impossible not to immediately root for Kamala.
Regardless of the reason, Kamala Khan is easily the best reason to watch Ms. Marvel. And that’s really how it should be. After two episodes, I’m excited to see more from her and see what happens when she inevitably comes up against a greater foe than a stern mother.
Keeping the stakes low
Although, to be honest, I’d actually be totally fine if Kamala didn’t clash with a proper super villain until The Marvels (the upcoming Captain Marvel sequel that will incorporate Ms. Marvel as well).
Two episodes in and Ms. Marvel essentially doesn’t have an antagonist. There’s the background threat of the Department of Damage Control trying to locate Kamala after a clip of her using her powers to save a classmate goes viral, but otherwise, the driving conflict of the show is far more personal. Not to mention the stakes are being kept very low.
This is another refreshing change to the usual formal. Sure, Marvel TV shows have had low stakes before (i.e. Hawkeye’s clash with the Tracksuit Mafia), but I’m loving that Ms. Marvel is being driven solely by Kamala's struggles to mesh her everyday life with her new-found cosmic abilities.
The training montage in episode two is a great example of low-stakes fun, and for some reason sort of reminded me of 2010’s Kick-Ass. I also really enjoyed the side plot in the same episode revolving around Kamala's friend Nakia (Yasmeen Fletcher) working to win an election to their local mosque board. It turns out you don’t need a universe-ending threat on the horizon to keep a superhero show engaging!
I have seen a few people say they want episode three to introduce a capable threat that will test Kamala, but honestly, I’d be totally happy if the next episode involves her first date with Kamran (Rish Shah) and more scenes highlighting her chaotic home life. Maybe I’m just easy to please but I’ve found Kamala's sibling rivalry with brother Aamir (Saagar Shaikh) significantly more engaging than the tussle between the Egyptian Gods that dominated much of Moon Knight.
Of course, the closing stinger of episode two would seem to suggest that Kamala is probably going to find her life getting a lot more complicated, and likely more dangerous, from here on out. But I hope Ms. Marvel doesn’t lose its teenage drama roots that have been so apparent in its first two episodes.
Ms. Marvel looks phenomenal
Ms. Marvel is also one of the most visually interesting Marvel TV series to date. While it doesn’t have the impressive set design of Loki or the excellent television homages of WandaVision, the first two episodes have been crammed full of nifty little visual touches.
I particularly enjoyed the way Kamala and Bruno exchanging texts was depicted in the first episode. Their messages being displayed as neon signs in the background is inspired direction by Bisha K. Ali, and I’d love to see that effect make a return in one of the remaining four episodes.
Of course, I’m not suggesting that Ms. Marvel is groundbreaking from a production standpoint. But rather, so much of the MCU is cookie-cutter from a visual perspective, that this show stands out just by making a few small tweaks.
One of my colleagues described the show as “rewarding close viewing” and I have to echo that sentiment. Ms. Marvel gets better when you pay close attention, as you spot all these little visual flourishes. Consider me very pleased that Ms. Marvel has been allowed to break free from the MCU’s occasionally restrictive mold.
Outlook: I'm happy Ms. Marvel is a show and not a movie
One of my biggest issues with previous Marvel TV shows, in particular Falcon and Winter Solider, Hawkeye and Moon Knight, is they always felt like potentially movie-sized ideas that had been scaled down for television. I genuinely believe those three projects would have made better 120-minute features than the six-episode series we got.
So far, that’s very much not been the case with Ms. Marvel, it’s narrative feels specifically written for television. I couldn’t imagine the adventures of Kamala Khan translating to the big screen and being as enjoyable, which is exactly what I want from a Marvel TV show. I want stories in the MCU that feel appropriate for the medium in which they are presented.
Now, I fully believe that Kamala Khan is a strong enough character to carry a movie. There’s no doubt in my mind that Vellani is charismatic enough to lead a blockbuster film. But I look forward to that happening in the future, as previously mentioned her big-screen debut is already confirmed via The Marvels.
Right now, I just can’t wait for the next chapter of Ms. Marvel to drop next week. I’m trying to keep my expectations in check, as the Disney Plus shows generally have a poor track record when it comes to sticking the land, but if Ms. Marvel can keep up the same quality level for four more episodes, WandaVision may at long last have some competition at the top.