Ms Marvel – this Muslim-American superhero is a colourful new spin on a familiar formula

Ms Marvel – this Muslim-American superhero is a colourful new spin on a familiar formula

Premiering today on Disney+ Hotstar, Ms Marvel is a heartwarming coming of age comedy in a superhero costume

JUST in the past year, Disney+ Hotstar has premiered five shows set within the ever expanding Marvel Cinematic Universe. There’s also been five movies in that time, bringing the current total of movies to 28.

So yeah, the MCU is getting awfully crowded, if it wasn’t already. With more to come, any new costumed Avenger needs to be able to stand out.

Ms Marvel aims to do just that. As the first Muslim-American (and Pakistani-American) superhero from the House of M, this six-episode series is in many ways the most extended look at a religion that is little understood and even maligned in the United States.

Maybe for Muslims in Muslim majority countries this depiction might not be anything special, but it’s still fresh seeing it in a Western production.

And it’s not mere window dressing to tick some corporate boxes for representation, as plenty of time and care is spent on just living in this world. You can feel the love and care for these characters.

Ms Marvel is centred on Kamala Khan (newcomer Iman Vellani), a teenage girl in Jersey City, who is going through the usual high school things and is trapped between family expectations and teenage indecisiveness. She’s also a massive fangirl for the Avengers, specifically Captain Marvel (Brie Larson). The way Iman plays it comes off as very sincere and makes her relatable to fans of the MCU who also love these characters.

The high school setting and the fact that Kamala is a fan of superheroes is not that different from the MCU’s Spider-Man movies. But Kamala’s cultural background and how it is foregrounded in the story gives Ms Marvel its unique hook.

Set at some point after the events of Avengers: Endgame – which is retold early on in a colourful montage in Kamala’s fangirl tone – the plot takes a back seat for most of the first two episodes as we are introduced to her family, friends and community.

There’s her overprotective mother Muneeba (Zenobia Shroff), her playful father Yusuf (Mohan Kapur), and her understanding older brother Aamir (Saagar Shaikh). Their interplay is warm and believable, though it does sometimes devolve into common tropes, especially when it comes to the relationship between mother and daughter. However, there are some hints that the roots of her mum’s distrust might be revealed in later episodes.

Speaking of history, there is surprisingly a decent bit of talk about the partition of the Indian subcontinent in 1947 by the British. This bloody event was part of the creation of the modern countries of India and Pakistan. Yusuf’s family was in Karachi for generations, while Muneeba and her family fled into Pakistan during the partition.

While the show is primarily made for an American audience, one must wonder how some other parts of the world will take this telling of history and how it is used as part of a superhero’s origin story.

The other notable characters are her friend Bruno (Matt Lintz), the token white guy who also helps Kamala by designing her costume. Nakia (Yasmeen Fletcher) is her ‘cool’ friend who balances being rebellious and a pious Muslim. There’s a subplot where she is running to be elected to the mosque board and it will be interesting to see how the show toes the line between being progressive and respectful of religious realities.

Of course, this being a Marvel show, while Kamala is dealing with all this drama she happens to get superpowers.

Her abilities are seemingly awakened by a bangle sent in a mysterious package by a distant relative and are still undefined early on in the show. She can project these solid purple/pink energy fields in unique ways, either by making platforms for her to jump and climb to great heights, or to punch things really hard. It’s reminiscent of the Green Lantern.

Part of the weirdness is that her powers have been changed from her comic origins where she could stretch and expand in size. It is of course inevitable that she will get to show off her skills to impressive effect by the finale, but this early in the story she is still learning the ropes.

The push and pull between the personal character journey, which is a well told and energetic coming of age story – despite some well worn tropes – and the superhero origin, which hits all the familiar beats is the biggest conflict in the show. Right now, the former is a lot more interesting, compelling and unique.

On a visual level, what really sticks out is the use of colour in every scene, be it in terms of the costumes, the set design or the lighting. It really pops and helps set it apart from the sometimes bland looking Disney+ Hotstar Marvel shows. This is also reflected in creative ways the show visualises Kamala’s overactive imagination.

If seen cynically, Ms Marvel could be seen as Disney ticking off the boxes of minority representation, but the creative team, from the creator/head writer (Bisha K. Ali) to the episode directors are of a South Asian background and seem sincere in telling their story.

After two episodes, despite all the fun Easter eggs and references, the show is still separate from the larger MCU, though Kamala will show up in next year’s MCU movie The Marvels, which will feature Captain Marvel, and Monica Rambeau (Teyonah Parris), who was last seen in WandaVision.

So to go from there to where Kamala is at the beginning of Ms Marvel means the show will likely end on a much bigger scale. A common problem of the Disney+ shows have been how they devolve into rather basic beat ‘em ups in the final episode. It’s like they remember they need to fulfil their quota of superhero action.

Hopefully Ms Marvel maintains its fresh playful tone and stays focused on the friendships and family dynamics that make it stand out from all the other comic book inspired shows out there.

source – The Vibes

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