Ms. Marvel 2022

Ms. Marvel

2022 - United States

A landmark series for Marvel and Disney

Ms. Marvel review by Daniel Tessier

Ms. Marvel, a six-part series released on Disney Plus as part of Phase Four of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, is based on one of Marvel's youngest comic book titles, yet also one with a lot of history.

In both its print and screen iterations, it's a story about the Marvel staples – heroism, responsibility, identity – but also about fandom. Ms. Marvel celebrates being a comics fan, an important aspect not only of the central character but also of the actor behind her. At the same time, it celebrates the embrace of one's cultural background, again, both of the character and actor, who are young Muslims of Pakistani heritage. So perhaps it's more correct to say that this is a story about culture, in all its forms.

Some background: The original Ms. Marvel was Carol Danvers, who debuted in Marvel Super-Heroes way back in 1968, although she only picked up the superhero name when she got her own eponymous series in 1977. Originally linked to, and designed as a counterpart to, the hero Captain Marvel, she finally took that title as her own in 2012. (The history of the name Captain Marvel, the many characters who have held it, and the various linked hero identities, is too long and complicated to go into here.)

Ms. Marvel comic book

The following year, teenaged Pakistani-American girl Kamala Khan made a brief cameo in the Captain Marvel comic series, before gaining her own lead role in the relaunched Ms. Marvel in 2014. The first Muslim character to lead a Marvel comic, and the first of Pakistani heritage, Kamala represents a different aspect of American, and indeed, Western youth, reflecting the multicultural reality of today's society albeit in a fantastical world. Kamala provides an identification figure for the many comics fans of Asian and Islamic backgrounds, as well as providing another female face in the still largely male superhero line-up (even more so on screen than in print). Fulfilling the classic Marvel role of the teenaged reader's stand-in, Kamala was written specifically to be relatable to the fans, being a huge fan of Carol Danvers, to the point where she took her name and her style from her idol, albeit filtered through a different cultural perspective. The new Ms. Marvel was a popular success.

Iman Vellani in Ms. Marvel
Iman Vellani

Fast-forward to 2019, and a Ms. Marvel TV series is announced as part of Marvel's hugely successful Cinematic Universe. Iman Vellani, a Pakistani-Canadian (born in Karachi but living in Ontario) was already a huge fan of Kamala. Having grown up in a Shia Muslim household with older brothers who were already into comics, Kamala resonated with Vellani as a character. “The first issue of Ms. Marvel I picked up was when Kamala is celebrating Eid,” she told Coco Khan of The Guardian in 2022. “I showed it to my dad!”

Vellani discovered Ms. Marvel through Iron Man and Ironheart comics (she's particularly an Iron Man fan, with a dedicated knowledge of the MCU), and became a devoted follower, to the point where she was cosplaying as the character at cons. Vellani had never intended to become an actor, but when auditions were opened for the series, as she was finishing high school, she went for it – and, with no acting experience, she got the part, jumping from cosplayer to the official face of the character.

It's a bold move, casting a complete newcomer in the role, but it was the right one. Vellani is note-perfect as Kamala Khan, giving a remarkably assured performance that's equal parts adorable, charismatic and formidable. It can't hurt, of course, that the character is something of a mirror to the actor, both from similar backgrounds and devoted to the same fandom. Where Vellani would cosplay as Ms. Marvel, Kamala cosplays as Captain Marvel, albeit with her own twist, while writing fanfiction, animating short films, and creating her own art inspired by her heroes. The big difference, of course, is that in Kamala's world, the superheroes are real people, with international celebrity status. Kamala's family don't understand her obsession, and so she fears that they won't understand when she suddenly gains powers herself.

Ms Marvel

While the fundamentals of the character remain the same, there are some big differences between Kamala on the screen and in the comics, her powers being the most notable. Comic book Kamala has a peculiar ability to stretch and enlarge her body, which would have been a difficult one to pull off in live action. In the series, she inherits a magical bangle that grants her the ability to harness and mould light, leading her to try to emulate her heroes and use her powers to help others. Of course, she's still just a teenager; headstrong and inexperienced, she causes trouble as much as she helps.

Ms. Marvel 2022
Zenobia Shroff and Samina Ahmed

Vellani is the star and heart of the show, but she is supported by a strong cast, with whom she shares strong chemistry. Indian actor Mohan Kapur, little known in Western media but with a notable Marvel link as the Hindi dubbing voice for Doctor Strange, plays Yusuf, Kamala's caring father who tries to engage with her through her fandom, never quite getting it right. Zenobia Shroff (The Big Sick, The Affair) plays her mother, Muneeba; although just as caring, Muneeba is stricter and more traditional than her husband. Saagar Shaikh (Just Giggle It) plays Kamala's older brother Aamir, who has a good relationship with all of his family. As the series begins, he's building up to his wedding to Tyesha Hillman (Travina Springer – Strange Angel). They're a likeable couple with great chemistry themselves (Shaikh and Springer also starred together in Unfair & Ugly), and the inclusion of the African American Tyesha in the family exemplifies their place in a multicultural city.

Samani Ahmad rounds off the family as Muneeba's mother Sana, Kamala's grandmother, who lives in Karachi and communicates with her granddaughter through letters and some amusing attempts at video-phone. Ahmad, another actor who is little known in the West but has decades of celebrated work in Pakistan, largely in Urdu programming, brings a twinkle to the part. You can immediately tell she has secrets, and she's the one who sends Kamala the bangle that awakens her powers.

Ms Marvel - Matt Lintz
Matt Lintz

While family is central to the series, so is friendship and the challenges of growing up in the modern world. Matt Lintz (The Walking Dead) is very sweet as Kamala's best friend Bruno, who struggles with an unrequited love while also bringing his technical skills to the situation. The poor lad would rather be Kamala's boyfriend than her sidekick, but them's the breaks. Yasmeen Fletcher (Ham on Rye, Andi Mack) plays Nakia, a close friend of Kamala and Bruno who is strong-willed and modernist, while also being very religious and committed to her culture. Kamala and Nakia regularly attend mosque together, with Nakia eventually running for a position on the board, a pretty powerful move for a sixteen-year-old girl. Fletcher gives a very assured performance and looks like one to watch out for.

Up-and-coming British actor Rish Shah (Years and Years, Emmerdale, Obsession) plays Kamran, a charming young man who arrives on the scene and who Kamala immediately falls for. Kamran and Kamala have a great deal in common – even more than Kamala at first realises, as Kamran's heritage is linked to her own in an unexpected way.

Rish Shah

The bangle, and the powers it awakens, send Kamala on a journey of self-discovery, beginning at AvengerCon (the MCU's in-universe Marvel convention, where fans celebrate real heroes instead of comics) where she accidentally causes serious damage, before using her powers to save her popular classmate Zoe (Laurel Marsden). Trying to uncover the truth about the bangle, and herself, Kamala travels all the way to Karachi to see her grandmother, discovering that it was Sana's own mother (the award-winning Mehwish Hayat) who originally held it, but that they were separated during the chaos surrounding the Partition of India.

The strongest episode by far is the fifth, “Time and Again,” in which the bangle pulls Kamala back in time to 1947, where she is witness to, and involved in, her family's history. It's a powerful hour of television, deftly balancing the historical trauma of real events that are still not talked about enough, and the fantastical elements of the fiction. In the comics, Kamala was revealed to be an Inhuman: a race of beings with inherent powers who were being built up by the MCU on television at the time, but who have now largely been forgotten about. Her origins are reworked here, instead bringing in a mythical element that both fits in with the multidimensional Marvel universe, and the folklore of Kamala's Islamic background. Kamala has to incorporate this new revelation about herself into her already delicate balance of young modern American and family-oriented Asian Muslim. Again, the themes of cultures coming together and finding equilibrium are foremost in her story, as well as the nature of superhero fiction as a modern mythology.

Nimra Bucha

There are, of course, both heroes and villains in the story. At home, Kamala has to deal with the heavy-handed approach of the Department of Damage Control, lead by Agent Deever (Alysia Reiner – Orange is the New Black, The Deuce). Deever exemplifies the brutal approach of misguided efforts to crack down on threats, only to worsen the sense of division in communities. While Damage Control is officially there to address superhuman dangers, their storming of the local mosque makes it very clear what they're standing in for. From the other direction comes Najma (Nimra Bucha), one of the beings linked to Kamala's past, who is desperate to reclaim the bangle and take Kamala as one of her own. While she's a hissable villain, she's inconsistently written and her motives are all over the place, providing whatever the plot needs at the time rather than what makes sense for the character. Deever, though simpler, holds together better as a character.

Meanwhile, Aramis Knight (Into the Badlands, Dexter) plays Kareem, who acts as the Pakistani vigilante the Red Dagger. While the addition of the Red Dagger clan is perhaps one element too much for the already busy story, Knight impresses in the role and it would be welcome to see him return.

Ms. Marvel tv series 2022

At only six episodes, Ms. Marvel is a packed story which moves along at a rapid pace. After the fifth episode provides such a climactic turn of events, though, the sixth seems almost perfunctory, trying to up the stakes further while tying up the plotlines so that Kamala can get some closure at be ready for her next adventure. Head writer Bisha K. Ali (who has also provided material for Sex Education and previous Marvel series Loki, and since contributed to the latest season of Black Mirror), has gone on record saying that Covid restrictions necessitated cutting the series back, so the rushed ending is largely a result of this. Other than this though, the series is excellent, not only in its writing and direction but also in its unique visual and musical style, embracing modern South Asian genres and styles into a heady and evocative mix.

Ms. Marvel is a landmark series for Marvel and Disney, and while it's far from perfect, it works as a heartfelt and exciting story about identity and heroism. Again though, we have to praise Iman Vellani, perhaps the MCU's greatest discovery, who debuts in the role she was clearly born for and makes the series her own. Vellani has gone on to write the relaunch of the Ms. Marvel comic series (with TV series co-writer Sabir Pirzada) and is set to return this autumn in The Marvels, the upcoming blockbuster Marvel movie where she will team up with Brie Larson as Kamala's own hero, Captain Marvel. Oh, and she's still cosplaying – she appeared a X-Men team member Jubilee at the Fan Expo Canada in August, absolutely page perfect.

Published on September 8th, 2023. Written by Daniel Tessier for Television Heaven.

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