Introductions matter. Sure, that’s an obviously reductive statement, but it’s a critical thought to keep in mind nonetheless. How something begins is just as important as how it concludes. For the life of me, I couldn’t remember how half of the various Marvel’s Dinsey+ series began, but I’ll certainly remember the inspired opening of Ms. Marvel. “Finally, the moment everyone has been waiting for,” Kamala Khan (Iman Vellani) excitedly narrates as viewers are treated to a hand-drawn animation recapping the climactic battle between the Avengers and Thanos at the close of Avengers: Endgame. While these opening moments are yet another recap of a movie most of the world saw, it’s executed so charmingly that you won’t mind seeing it again.
How you respond to that animation short will likely determine whether or not Marvel’s latest Disney+ series works for you, as it functions as an aperitif to the show’s tenor. After first meeting Kamala in this voiceover, we are quickly introduced to the rest of her status quo; she’s a Pakistani-American living in Jersey City, New Jersey, among the city’s thriving Muslim community. As a high school junior, Kamala’s days are spent dealing with the typical realities of young adulthood; she obsesses over Captain Marvel with her best friend, Bruno Carrelli (Matt Lintz), attends service at the local mosque with pal Nakia (Yasmeen Fletcher), gets starry-eyed over Kamran (Rish Shah), scoffs at burgeoning social media influencer Zoe (Laurel Marsden), and tries to be a good daughter and sister for her family, including brother Aamir (Saager Shaikh), father Yusuf (Mohan Kapur) and mother Muneeba (Zenobia Shroff).
However, the pressure of college admissions feels minuscule compared to Kamala’s main issue in the first episode: Finding a way to make her Captain Marvel costume for the upcoming Avengers Con feel unique. In her pursuit to stand out from the legions of other cosplayers in the costume contest, Kamala comes across an old family heirloom. She soon realizes the familial bangle grants her superpowers—making Kamala a hero like her idol Carol Danvers.
Despite Kamala’s obsession with Captain Marvel—and the MCU on Disney+’s overwhelming desire to set up new legacy characters for an inevitable Young Avengers project—Ms. Marvel is committed to charting its own course. The resulting look and feel of the series are certainly inspired by some of the best of its genre; the typical touchpoints of John Hughes and other beloved teen comedies are certainly present throughout the first two episodes Disney provided for review. Visually, directors Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah—who effectively channeled Michael Bay in Bad Boys for Life—smartly curb from Scott Pilgrim vs. the World and Into the Spider-Verse. To wit: A text message conversation between Bruno and Kamala in the premiere overlays emojis into a building’s exterior and even into neon storefront signage. Likewise, Kamala crushing over Kamran in the second episode sees lens flare lighting shift into hearts exactly like this scene from Scott Pilgrim. Combined with the maniacal magic Sam Raimi conjured in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, these flourishes make it feel as if Marvel is finally starting to loosen up the reigns on its infamous house style.
Ms. Marvel feels fresh in its performances, too. Iman Vellani was born to play Kamala Khan. Upon watching these episodes, it’s hard to reconcile the fact that she’s a first-time actor; her portrayal crackles with a playful vibrancy so effortless it’s almost as if she’s already on her eighth or ninth role. Once Vellani gets into the heroics, there’s a subtle shift in the physicality and confidence she brings to Kamala’s under-the-mask persona; here, her performance often evokes the best parts of Christopher Reeve’s iconic Superman performance. The supporting high school trio—Lintz, Fletcher, and Shah—serve as windows into the different parts of Kamala’s life, and each help to provide further richness to Vellani’s portrayal. The playful, platonic chemistry Lintz and Vellani have together is a notable highlight. On the adult side, it would be easy to paint Kamala’s parents as just unsupportive, but the writing and nuance in the performances of Kapur and Shroff provide plenty of understanding around why they’re a little reluctant to let Kamala indulge in her love of superheroes at the expense of figuring out her future or focusing on her faith.
Through the first two episodes, it’s a bit difficult to tell where the overall plot of Ms. Marvel is headed outside of exploring what it means for Kamala to balance all the competing priorities in her life—superpowered or otherwise. The MCU version of the G. Willow Wilson and Adrian Alphona-created character retools her powers for the better; comic book lore for Kamala relies heavily on the Inhumans, who are largely missing in the MCU, and also posits Kamala’s abilities as a combination of both Ant-Man and Mr. Fantastic. Creator Bisha K. Ali—wisely—swaps both in her translation of Kamala to live-action; the heirloom bangle allows Kamala to generate constructions out of light, a la Green Lantern, and provides a richer connection to the show’s generational familial themes in the process. Even with the heroics, Ms. Marvel feels pretty low-stakes; compared to the grand scope that eventually befell Moon Knight and other MCU/D+ shows, worrying about boys and grades is a breath of fresh air.
That’s not to say Ms. Marvel won’t eventually end up there—hopefully, it won’t, as the MCU is better when it’s focused on saving a single life instead of a whole universe—but for now, it feels content to stay in its corner of Jersey City. Equally refreshing is how dedicated Ms. Marvel is to exploring the Muslim American experience. While I can’t speak to each individual nuance in the show’s exploration of this culture, it feels like it’s an integral part of the show and not something tacked on for the sake of it, like Marc’s Jewishness in Moon Knight. It will be essential to see how the larger Muslim community feels about what the show accomplishes throughout its six total episodes.
After a few bumpy installments in a row of MCU/D+ shows, Ms. Marvel’s entrance into the MCU makes for an exciting new addition. It functions far more like an actual television series than it does as a cog in the ever-moving Marvel machine, allowing the space and pace to develop its characters with a welcome sense of lived-in reality. Ms. Marvel has nailed its first impression—let’s just hope it provides a conclusion worthy of its superlative start.
Ms. Marvel debuts on Disney+ on Wednesday, June 8.