We often see profile pieces in which someone of a certain age is asked what they would say to their younger self – what type of wisdom they’d impart, the advice they’d give, that sort of thing. I never have to worry about that, because Doc Brown gave me a souped-up DeLorean so I can toggle back and forth along the timeline – and one of the things I tell my younger self is, You’re not going to believe how the superhero and sci-fi universe on film and TV has expanded. It’s fantastic!
Oh, sure, we had your Superman and your Batman and your Iron Man and your Wonder Woman and your “Star Wars” back in the day, but now it seems as if hardly a month goes by without another feature film or streaming series introducing or reintroducing characters from a much more diverse, intricate, mind-bending and often creative universe. Just look at what Disney+ has accomplished in the span of a few years, what with “WandaVision” and “Loki,” “Moon Knight” and “Obi-Wan Kenobi,” “The Mandalorian” and “Hawkeye.”
And now comes “Ms. Marvel,” with newcomer Iman Vellani making a sparkling debut as the MCU’s first Muslim superhero: a 16-year-old Pakistani-American high school girl in Jersey City who loves the Avengers and Captain Marvel in particular, is a superhero fangirl of the highest geekiness (and we mean that as a compliment) – and then finds herself gifted/cursed with superpowers, and what in the name of Peter Parker is going on here! Created by Bisha K. Ali (“Loki,” Hulu’s “Four Weddings and a Funeral”), this is an instantly captivating, high-energy, relatively light and humorous series with first-rate production values and one of the more likable casts in any series of any genre so far this year.
Consisting of six episodes on Disney+, “Ms. Marvel” opens with a clever animated sequence in which Vellani’s Kamala Khan is in her bedroom, posting her latest video in which she gushes about Captain Marvel and talks about attending the very first “Avenger-Con,” instantly plunging us into an MCU universe in which the Avengers have become famous and high school kids like Kamala revere them as if they’re rock stars. Once Kamala logs off, her life as a regular, attention-wandering 16-year-old high school junior awaits her, as her mother, Muneeba (Zenobia Shroff), reminds her it’s time for her driver’s test and she needs to look in the mirrors every 15 seconds; her father, Yusuf (Mohan Kapur), dispenses sage advice, and her older brother, Aamir (Saagar Shaikh), says she should say Bismillah before she even starts the car, “because you’re going to need all the help you can get.” Parents! Big brothers!
At Kamala’s high school, it’s immediately clear she’s something of an outcast, what with a clueless gym teacher mispronouncing her name and some Mean Girls snarking at her in the hallways. At least she has the obligatory Fellow Nerd Best Friends in Matt Lintz’s Bruno Carrelli, a cheerful and brilliant tech geek, and Yasmeen Fletcher’s wisecracking and loyal Nakia. (The chemistry among the three terrific young actors is so natural, we immediately believe their friendship dynamic.) Adding to the color-popping visuals of the series: a nifty conceit in which animated background creations often reflect what’s happening in Kamala’s life and what she and her friends are saying or texting to each other. Very cool stuff.
“Ms. Marvel” would be entertaining enough as a coming-of-age comedy-drama about this wonderful, whip-smart, rebellious, slightly offbeat girl and her family and friends – but once we’ve established who Kamala is and what her life is about, it’s time for … SPECIAL EFFECTS! At the Avenger-Con, Kamala dons a bangle bracelet once owned by her grandmother, and something magical and chaotic and semi-disastrous transpires. Kamala definitely has some superpowers, but which ones? (“What makes you think you have Ant-Man powers?” asks Bruno. “Because we’re both charming and we look younger than we are,” comes the Rudd-ly reply from Kamala.) Cue the scene in which Kamala and Bruno try to figure out what her superpowers are and how she can harness them, a la Peter Parker when he first became Spider-Man. Am I Asgardian? Kamala wonders. Am I related to THOR?
As Kamala tries to navigate her home life, her high school adventures and her newfound superpowers, we get a number of nifty callbacks to various key moments and characters in the world of the Avengers and even a “Devil Wears Prada” riff, the introduction of a couple of humorless Dept. of Damage Control agents, a possible love interest for Kamala, some simmering BIG CONFLICTS and even a montage set to “Be My Baby” by the Ronettes. What’s not to love? Based on the early episodes, I can’t wait to see what’s next for Kamala and her new alter ego.