Sometimes, the focus on ticking off all the representation boxes can take away from the entertainment quotient of a piece of content. At least if its first episode is anything to go by, there are no such worries for Ms Marvel — the long-awaited debut of Marvel’s first Muslim superhero. Laying a few more sturdy bricks in the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s (MCU) plans for Phase 4, Ms Marvel focuses on everyday teenager Kamala Khan. Except that Kamala is not really an everyday teenager. The daughter of Pakistani immigrant parents living in Jersey City, New Jersey, Kamala is a superhero fanatic who dreams of dressing up as her hero Carol Danvers/ Captain Marvel and attending the Avengers comic convention, her geek/ tech genius pal Bruno for company.
But she has to first get past the hurdle that her parents represent. Parents who aren’t really overly conservative, but aren’t comfortable with their daughter being out late. They also believe that she is “losing touch with reality”, given that Kamala’s unbridled attraction towards superheroes mirrors the real-life fan culture of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. She doodles all day, makes fan videos to upload on her humble YouTube channel, is almost giddy with joy as she painstakingly puts together her Captain Marvel cosplay costume, vlogs her superhero theories and daydreams of “fighting” one day alongside Captain Marvel.
Ms Marvel deviates slightly from its source material — the six-episode series is an origin story, with the Ms Marvel comic series debuting in 2014 — which only helps in humanising its players. But like in the comics, Kamala’s faith and ethnicity, which act as a baggage but are also indelible aspects of her identity, are represented here, but in a way which never feels performative or obligatory. In fact, the show explores why children of colour growing up in the West feel that the world doesn’t always see them as people who can excel. “It’s not really the brown girls from Jersey City who save the world,” is how Kamala succinctly sums it up.
Ms Marvel benefits from having its narrative told by those who share Kamala’s ethnicity and are aware of her challenges, without having an “outsider” being parachuted in to tell the story. Creator Bisha K. Ali and directors Adil & Bilall, while ticking off the right boxes, never forget to make Ms Marvel a fun, colourful capsule of escapist entertainment. The graffiti that animates as Kamala and her ever-active imagination walk or bike past is a delight, and so are her interactions with Bruno.
The fact that this is a well-cast series goes a long way in making Ms Marvel immensely watchable. Mohan Kapur and Zenobia Shroff as Kamala’s parents are a hoot, and the family dynamic is built very organically. The Khans play off their ethnicity casually, and not in the self-conscious, forced way that we have seen happen before. Matt Lintz as Bruno is a perfect foil to Kamala, and the chemistry between the two will bring on a smile more often than not. Farhan Akhtar hasn’t appeared yet, and neither has Fawad Khan, and we really can’t wait to watch what they bring to a show which is already a winner.
Which brings us to the real winner of Ms Marvel. Debutant Iman Vellani as Kamala/ Ms Marvel is a natural, bringing both exuberance and importance to the character. “From our first Zoom, I knew she’d be the best Marvel,” Brie Larson, who plays Captain Marvel, tweeted shortly after the first episode dropped on Wednesday. We can’t wait for more!
A new episode of Ms Marvel drops every Wednesday on Disney+Hotstar