After years of anticipation, Kamala Khan, a.k.a Ms. Marvel, has finally made her live-action debut in Marvel’s Ms. Marvel, a new Disney+ Original Series starring relative newcomer Iman Vellani and joined by Matt Lintz (Bruno Carrelli), Zenobia Shroff (Muneeba Khan) and Mohan Kapur (Yusuf Khan).
The series is not a direct adaptation of the comics, and it contains many noticeable differences (which we’ll get to later. However, the heart of the comics has been lovingly translated, and the vital elements of Kamala’s character are still there. She’s a bright Pakistani American teen from New Jersey with an ever so slight obsession with superheroes – particularly Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel, who is still her hero as she is in the comic books.
Meet the Khans
I need to talk about Iman Vellani’s performance as Kamala Khan straight away. It’s pretty evident that Vellani has done her research into the character and her world because she completely vanishes into Kamala’s shoes, making her performance one of the most accurate book-to-screen adaptations we’ve had from Marvel.
Vellani perfectly delivers everything that makes Kamala, well, Kamala. From her wit, occasionally teenage stubbornness, and more importantly, the strong passion Kamala holds for her family, friends and personal heroes feel so real that you can sense Vellani’s camaraderie with her fellow cast members wasn’t just a performance for the cameras.
Despite this being Ms. Marvel, it wouldn’t be the same without a healthy ensemble of characters and the series certainly delivers because there are many, many brand new characters introduced. But the standouts for me had to be Kamala’s parents.
Mohan Kapur and Zenobia Shroff play Kamala’s parents: Yusuf and Muneeba. I hope that both become fan-favourites because in the first two episodes, they help create some of the show’s most memorable jokes, and Shroff and Kapur bounce off each other so well it just makes their jokes land even better.
One of the best aspects of the series and most vital parts of Kamala’s character is her religion and culture. We had fears that Marvel would water down it down, and despite some of the many redundant changes that the creatives have decided to make (again, more on that in a bit), I’m pleased to say that her religion and culture are still integral parts of Kamala and her story.
I cannot speak on the accuracy of how Islam is portrayed in Ms. Marvel, but I have talked to a few Muslim peers, and they are in agreement that the show depicts their religion and culture accurately.
Not Without Its Issues
The first two episodes of Ms. Marvel are paced so much better than some of the previous Marvel shows, so much so that the series kicks off as soon as she gains her abilities… speaking of her powers…
Kamala’s New Cosmic Powers
Not to be dramatic, but I really don’t like them. And yes, I’ve only seen the first two episodes, but that doesn’t change the fact that the powers just did not work for me. The switch from Kamala being a polymorph with stretching and shapeshifting powers was something that helped make her fun, and despite her sharing similar powers with many other characters, the way she used her abilities helped make her character unique.
And I do not buy the “she can’t have stretching powers because of Mister Fantastic” because it’s not like the MCU hasn’t had three Iron-suited heroes (and a FOURTH on the way) and six remarkably similar gifted supersoldiers (including Isaiah Bradley and Captain Carter).
That excuse is not legitimate.
Instead, they’ve attempted to connect Kamala’s powers to Captain Marvel by making them cosmic and seemingly jewellery-based, which already feels problematic because out of the two Asian heroes headlining their own Marvel projects (Shang-Chi and Ms. Marvel), both use magical bangles as a significant part of their power set.
It Comes From Within
Ms. Marvel does mention that her bracelet is using a power that is coming from inside of her, so there is a strong chance that we’ll see her (hopefully) lose the already redundant bracelet. Still, it’s not a good start. Some online theories show that her powers will morph into her traditional abilities, but we will have to wait and see.
For now and for me, the powers don’t work. They took a visually compelling polymorphic and shapeshifting powerset and replaced them with generic sparkling shooting abilities – something we have seen repeatedly in many comic-book adaptations in and outside of Marvel. They try to make them look and feel different, but ultimately they are too convoluted in what they can do, and they aren’t particularly interesting visually – no matter how hard they try.
More Sky High Than Marvel
Many people will take no issue with me saying that Ms. Marvel feels like it’s set in the Sky High universe more than it does the MCU. Sometimes that is a good thing because it helps keep her separate and isolated from the madness at large, much like the earlier comics when Kamala was still finding her footing, but it often doesn’t work.
However, when it does work, it works well. The series is vibrant and colourful, which isn’t saying too much, but we’ve all seen the jokes about Marvel’s metallic and dark colour-grading. Since Kamala is a high school teen, this series encapsulates that and uses it to its advantage by making a series that isn’t overly dramatic or cheesy but has enough of what teenagers love without beating adults over the head.
If Marvel or Sony (or both) were ever to make a live-action Spider-Man series, they should hire the Ms. Marvel team because they are great at juggling the teen-show tropes with those of a more traditional superhero show.
Again, this is a review of the first two episodes. We still have four more to go, so for the time being, I have to say that Ms. Marvel has had a strong start. It’s smart, funny, and fast-paced, but its successes only marginally outweigh its setbacks, making her long-awaited introduction feel a little lacklustre.
The first episode of Ms. Marvel will be available on June 8th, exclusively on Disney+ and Disney+ Hotstar.