If you’re a fan of Tom Holland’s Spider-Man, you will probably dig Iman Vellani in Ms. Marvel. That’s the simplest way to put things here, but even more importantly, Disney+’s newest show helps to pave the way for the next generation of MCU superheroes. You know the drill by now. With Avengers: Infinity War, we officially saw the exit of Steve Rogers and Tony Stark and (Black Widow prequel aside) Natasha Romanoff. Then Hawkeye had a ball messing around with Clint Barton having one foot out of the Avengers since Age of Ultron. It’s safe to say that Phase Four began by painstakingly laying ground for successors to the retirees, and Kamala Khan now arrives as a teen from Jersey City to help carry the collective torch.
Granted, she’s not exactly taking over for Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel. Brie Larson seems to be going nowhere anytime soon (or, at least, not away from the MCU, even though she will also be Fast and Furious). Kamala’s set to join both Carol and WandaVision‘s Monica Rambeau in The Marvels (releasing in July 2023), and fittingly, the powers that be decided to update Kamala’s powers. Yes, yes, they’re messing with canon, and people get very touchy about this sort of thing. Yet in the spirit of this show, I’m proposing that maybe we all lighten up. Canon or not, we’re all talking about fictional stories, and instead of prejudging a tweak to comic book lore, maybe relax a little bit because this change works in the context of Kamala’s (future) fellow Marvels.
Rather than source the title’s characters powers from the Inhuman side of things (this is fine because Inhumans have historically not fared well with audiences, and that includes a not-so-well-received TV show), Kamala’s cosmic energy sources from bangles. Fancy bangles. And the effect is not unlike Captain Marvel’s ability to shoot photonic energy from her fists, so all is well in the MCU timeline. In this case, though, Kamala’s bracelets take on an added dimension of being a family (and cultural) trinket. For Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings viewers, that sounds awfully familiar, but Ms. Marvel puts her own spin on it all.
As well, this show brings us the first Muslim superhero of the MCU. The show doesn’t sidestep her familial and cultural ties while exploring how superhero-ing (something that Kamala has long dreamed about as a video blogger) is well within her grasp. And don’t let the vlogger description (or her love of fan fiction) get you down here. Vellani cuts an appealing and pleasantly sarcastic presence, and although a Disney+ teen can’t quite get away with Shazam-style antics (Deadpool may eventually be able to pull this off, even under a PG-13 umbrella), this story provides its own pops of protagonist punchiness. And it does so without veering into obnoxious territory.
A few very important notes to highlight here:
(1) The MCU’s gotten dark lately. Maybe even too dark. Granted, things were never light, subject-matter wise, but even going back to The Avengers, levity-filled moments like Hulk sucker-punching Thor distracted us all from the (at least) 74 confirmed deaths of innocent bystanders alongside the collateral damage from the Battle of New York.
I’m being silly, but it was quite something, watching the fate of humanity sitting in the hands of a barely-contained Angry Green Set of Muscles and the God of Thunder who don’t get along. (Perhaps that’s a morbid stance, but it’s exhilarating to witness.)
And yes, we got some of this buddy-frenemy-comedy in The Falcon and The Winter Soldier, but overall, things are now heavy in the MCU. Not only was Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness essentially an Evil Dead movie, but WandaVision gave us Zombie Vision and Wanda Maximoff beginning to descend into insanity. Moon Knight, while a very good show, was not the easiest watch and threatened to reverse our compasses on heroes vs. villains, at least in terms of being inside of one’s head. Things got intense! So a reboot of the MCU’s mood isn’t uncalled for. In fact, I welcome it.
(2) There’s nothing like a big purple set of hands to demonstrate fun. Seriously, you can fight me on this one. Kamala’s powers include being able to save people by turning her hands into giant purple things and doing cool things to save people. Granted, things are not too comic-booky here because we don’t see her body bending and shifting due to a triggered Inhuman nature, which led (in the comics) her molecular structure to bend and adapt and genuinely shapeshift. That doesn’t happen here, at least not in the episodes screened for critics.
Rather, we see Kamala, although she is powered by those bangles, strive mightily to pull off those new powers. She, like Peter Parker, has a real zest for heroics (for the sake of them), and you know, I’m alright with seeing this happen. I can even overlook how the show offloads how Kamala’s comic book-based molecular structure morphing can be a stand-in for the transformations associated with coming of age, particularly as a young lady. I don’t see that as a real problem here. We can use our imaginations and appreciate how Kamala engineers her own path, rather than having it foisted upon her as a matter of biology. Honestly, I see this as a strength of the show, especially in a time when white men in red states are increasingly taking it upon themselves to tell women of color what they can’t do with their bodies.
(3) Even when things are heavy, it’s alright to have fun. Alright, so I’ve painted this picture of absolute bubbles and sunshine. That’s not entirely accurate. There are some nefarious forces afoot, maneuvering around in the background of Ms. Marvel. A Spider-Man: No Way Home character, Arian Moayed’s Agent P. Cleary, shows up after pushing Peter Parker around. That doesn’t bode well for Kamala enjoying a smooth ride to superhero glory, but I have a feeling that she can handle it. If a teen can juggle all the pressures of our contemporary world along with meddling family members and social chaos and still want to be a hero, then she can do anything.
So far, Ms. Marvel previews a beautiful journey of a young woman coming into her own power, not as a matter of physical development or puberty or hormones or what society expects but because she feels driven to pursue the greater cosmic good. There’s a key difference there, and it’s a joy to watch it happen.
Disney+’s ‘Ms. Marvel’ debuts on June 8.