How ‘Ms. Marvel’ breathes new life into the MCU — just when it needs it most

A teen girl in a superhero suit emitting a purple force field
Iman Vellani as Kamala Khan in “Ms. Marvel.”
(Marvel Studios)

Kamala Khan is unlike any other hero in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. She’s a Pakistani American, Muslim teenager. She’s an Avengers fangirl. The uncoordinated New Jersey native can barely sneak out her bedroom window without falling. The protagonist of Disney+’s “Ms. Marvel” is different in every way, and that’s why she, and the series, are such a joy to watch.

While the majority of the streamer’s franchise TV series have had difficulty working Marvel’s mythology and tangled narratives into compelling stories that actually make sense, “Ms. Marvel” doesn’t struggle with that issue in the two episodes provided for review. Kamala’s fandom adds just enough context to connect her with the Avenger timeline, even as the series marches to the beat of its own tabla.

The six-episode show, from head writer Bisha K. Ali, is a young-adult, second-generation immigrant comedy, à la Netflix’s “Never Have I Ever,” and a superhero drama in which coming of age means stumbling into one’s powers, à la Miles Morales of “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.” It’s full of American pop culture references and Bollywood nods and witty commentary about the connections and chasms between East and West. Kamala (played with verve by newcomer Iman Vellani) moves between cosplay conventions and the mosque with ease. From its charming lead to its playful execution, “Ms. Marvel” turns superhero formulas on their heads while honoring the MCU pantheon.


When we meet Kamala, her sole mission is to win the costume contest at New Jersey’s first ever “AvengerCon.” She and her bestie Bruno (Matt Lintz) meticulously plan for the big day, concocting hilariously amateur outfits that would have bombed on stage if not for the surprising power of a bracelet that once belonged to her estranged grandmother. When she slips it on her arm, her body emits purple cosmic energy that solidifies into any number of lifesaving objects: a shield, stairs, a weapon (of course). It also appears that she can stretch her frame, though it’s yet to be seen if she’ll assume the ability to morph like the comic book character that serves as the basis for the series. And of course no one but Bruno knows it’s Kamala behind the homemade mask.

Two teens sitting on a rooftop with a neon sign behind them.
Iman Vellani as Kamala and Matt Lintz as her friend Bruno in “Ms. Marvel.”
(Daniel McFadden/Marvel Studios)

Later, the two debrief on a rooftop. Her ultimate wish is fulfilled, it seems, but she’s still not convinced of what just happened. “It’s not really the brown girls from Jersey City who save the world,” says Kamala. And so begins her unlikely journey.

The show makes a point of weaving Kamala’s ethnicity and faith into her character’s origin story. She has a strong relationship with her protective parents (Zenobia Shroff and Mohan Kapur), who have imbued her with pride about her heritage. Her power dates back to the grandmother no one in the family will talk about, and it’s somehow rooted in her family’s trauma during the 1947 partition of India.

Kamala is also part of the region’s Muslim, South Asian community, where she knows the halal food cart vendors and attends Friday prayers at the neighborhood masjid. In a rare TV moment, viewers get to witness Friday prayer from a woman’s perspective. She and friend Nakia (Yasmeen Fletcher) perform a lightning-fast wudu (washing of hands, face, arms and feet) to make it to prayer on time. The wash basin is crumbling. Then they try to listen to the sheik’s lecture but the speakers in their partitioned back area are busted, so they complain to each other about the pristine state of the men’s section compared with theirs, where there’s “mold under the carpets and the walls are literally crumbling.” They are asked politely by the sheik to refrain from talking during his lesson.

“Sorry, Sheik Abdullah. It’s just really hard to concentrate when we can barely see you,” Kamala replies. Her small act of defiance is one of many moments here where the characters and the series challenge gender norms within the community — and the misinformed ideas about who they are from those outside. In world history class, for one, Nakia drops this anti-colonialist nugget: “We spent six weeks on ancient Rome and ancient Greece, but six minutes on ancient Persia and Byzantium. History, written by the oppressors. That’s all I’m gonna say,” she huffs.

A family around the kitchen table eating
Clockwise from left: Mohan Kapur as Yusuf, Iman Vellani as Kamala, Saagar Shaikh as Aamir and Nimra Bucha as Najma in “Ms. Marvel.”
(Daniel McFadden/Marvel Studios)

The series may alienate fans of the MCU who are used to svelte Avengers battling evil in billion-dollar productions. “Ms. Marvel” is a fast-and-loose adaptation of the comic book character, and it’s loaded with creative flourishes that are anything but slick. Kamala’s goofy doodles come to life around her and the other characters. Their texts and emojis end up on billboards around them as they walk through the city. And her crush on the hot new boy at school, Kamran (Rish Shah), turns into a wonderfully sappy dream sequence where she dances to the Ronettes’ “Be My Baby.”

“Ms. Marvel’s” soundtrack has a power all its own. It’s a mixture that reflects its heroine’s background as an East Coast kid with Pakistani roots: Mase, Krewella and Raja Kumari, M.I.A., Riz Ahmed’s Swet Shop Boys and a special shout-out to Bollywood’s Shah Rukh Khan.

Marvel TV’s first South Asian Muslim superhero expands its universe in this bold yet lighthearted series. Now if only she could pass her driver’s test.

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LA Times Today: ‘Ms. Marvel’ breathes new life into the MCU — when it needs it most

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‘Ms. Marvel’

Where: Disney+

When: Anytime, starting Wednesday, June 8

Rated: TV-14 (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 14)