The newest Marvel show is a kid-oriented fare
Within the endless barrage of Marvel content we get nowadays, the most refreshing entries have come from the TV side, with the likes of Wandavision (2021), Loki (2021-), and Moonknight (2022-). The newest Marvel show has sought to push the Marvel universe into new ground, this time by making itself smaller and more kid friendly.
Ms. Marvel (2022-) follows Kamala Kahn (Iman Vellani) a teenage girl in Jersey City who is a big fan of Captain Marvel (Brie Larson). One day, when she puts on an ancient family heirloom brought from Pakistan she gains superpowers and must both confront present attitudes of law enforcement towards empowered Muslim-Americans as well as her family’s past trauma relating to the Partition of India and Pakistan.
Ms. Marvel is created by Bisha K. Ali, who has cut her teeth in the writing rooms of such shows as Sex Education (2019-) and Loki. With Ms. Marvel, Ali wants to tone down the big universal stakes that have been set up throughout the latest Marvel properties and instead focus on a more personal and family-oriented show. The meager six episodes focus on the chaotic self-exploration that adolescence can bring. Ali brings the usual parallels of puberty and even sexual orientation with superpowers. Ms. Marvel is most refreshing, however, it how it attempts to include and amplify a very ignored culture withing American media: Muslim-Americans. It was refreshing to see the colloquial lives of Americans in a mosque, high-school, or wedding in a way that wasn’t referencing terrorists or other cliches. Likewise, the dive into Partition era India and Pakistan was fascinating during a flash-back episode that was perhaps the strongest in the entire series.
Ali casts Vellani in her first ever role as Kamala Kahn, and Vellani wins over every viewer from the first frame she appears. Her natural charm and ease to empathize as an everywoman is part of what helps her carry Ms. Marvel through its slower moments. She brings a similar appeal and charisma as Tom Holland did with his take on Spider-Man. Ali’s use of creative visuals to place us within Kamala’s high school world, also help take off the pressure of Vellani carrying an entire Marvel project; she can instead feel free to play Kamal as if she were in a high school comedy. There are also strong supporting performances from newcomers Matt Lintz and Yasmine Fletcher as Kamala’s friends as well as veterans Zenobia Shroff and Mohan Kapur as Kamala’s parents.
Ms. Marvel’s bend towards a more kid-friendly show, does seem to tone down other aspects of its filmmaking, so that not only are stakes lowered, but a trust in the audience as well. Plot points and historical context are over-explained in blocky exposition scenes, and character beats start mirroring those of a typical melodrama. The production quality also seems to have fallen down a bit, with the special effects of Kamala’s powers looking like the superhero shows of the 2000s instead of the mega-Disney+ machine. This might coincide with a general lack of confidence in the show from Disney, who decided to release its episodes at the same time as its behemoth Star Wars show Obi-Wan Kenobi (2022). This decision to pit a show with heavy name recognition, with one whose character and cast are relatively unknown seems like either a messy or cruel decision from Disney.
In the end, Ms. Marvel is a charming show largely led by the extremely likeable Vellani. The pivot towards it being geared more towards kids, robs the show of heft, and the pared down production value is apparent on screen. Nevertheless, the relatively low-stakes and quippy demeanor of the entire series makes for a rather breezy watch.