Marvel’s Ms. Marvel is part of Phase IV of the MCU that has expanded nicely in the last two years. There was uncertainty around the idea of continuing the Universe expansion without the superstars. It was indeed a big swing going from the Avengers to a completely new set of superheroes with some familiar surprises.
Ms. Marvel fits in well with the group, despite not being the most refined in terms of storytelling and overall impact. The character of Kamala Khan will be seen again in The Marvels, due to release next year. Iman Vellani will reprise her role, and it can be safely said after watching the first season, it will be something to look forward to.
The Khan family is the central focus of the series. Originally from Pakistan, they settled in the US as humble immigrants. But when Kamala, the youngest of Muneeba and Yusuf, opens a box of old things given to her by Sana, her grandmother, their fortunes change.
A bangle that belonged to Aisha, her great-great-grandmother, forces Kamala to reconcile a newfound identity with her own. While navigating these powers, she also must come up against mythical creatures called djinns who want to go back home using Kamala’s noor (the source of her light).
She has help from cousin Nakia, friends Bruno and Zoe, and the boy of her dreams (and nightmares), Kamran. At the same time, she also has to wade off the Department of Damage Control, looking to neutralize the threat of “enhanced individuals”.
One of the most important elements of creator Bisha Ali’s work on the show that headlined press outlets was the cultural representation of her own roots. It was Marvel’s chance to tap into a huge and diverse market, that was as easily pleased as it was offended.
Although it cannot be said that the MCU was any less popular before Ms. Marvel, it has garnered a different, more special place of audiences who were hitherto uninitiated with this superhero stuff. Bisha Ali and all the directors deliver satisfactorily on this tangent. After a dreadful first episode, they find the right tone and ethos to connect with viewers and make Kamala’s story an innocent bait for the populist sentiment.
The mosque, the weddings, the clothes, and the food all are used to give you a full picture of how it is in a South Asian household. We couldn’t have expected the parts of the culture to be any different, but their reimagining in a refreshing way was certainly on the cards.
Ms. Marvel is mostly successful in doing that with some rough edges. The execution of this part truly came to life in the later stages of the season. Some bits including her heritage and the controversial and evocative subject of the Partition were remarkably poignant. When Kamala goes back to Karachi when Sana calls her to discuss their vision and “seek answers about her identity”, we all can agree that Sana’s conflicted idea of herself is a universal phenomenon.
Millions of families that were displaced during the bloody Partition found themselves reeling under the effect of a change they weren’t ready to accept. They were thrust into a war in the name of religious mongering and biased British action to destroy India’s legacy.
The masses became the unsuspecting victims in the entire saga, left with no choice but to either migrate or live in the fear of their lives on this side of the border.
Beyond the Partition and cultural & social ethos, Ms. Marvel has a comparatively weaker narrative structure than other Marvel projects. The noticeable absence of a fierce antagonist is one among them. Najma and her group, barring that one fight scene at the wedding, and another in Karachi, barely featured in the episodes and there was little to no character development on that side. Even other ancillary characters like Bruno and Nakia, who were important figures otherwise, are not given enough attention.
This brings Kamala firmly in focus of everything. And although Iman Vellani gives a charming debut performance, albeit slightly unpolished, it makes the show a bit one-dimensional in hindsight.
The skewed priorities disturb the equilibrium of the storytelling that feels inconsistent and unfulfilled because of this. Ms. Marvel packs a strong punch and has the likable kinetic flow that makes such superhero stories tick. It never really leaves the well-informed formula of filmmaking that the studio giant has perfected over the years.
The writing and direction follow the trend, only rarely bucking it. But when they do so, they do it with aplomb and style.
Overall, the first season of Ms. Marvel is a lukewarm introduction to the character but a decent setup for the film to follow. It tries too hard to merge sincerity and comedy on many occasions but is reasonably enjoyable when the show gets this balance right.
Verdict - 7/10