After spending quite a lot of time with superheroes, billionaires, mythical chaos witches, and gods, it’s nice to get my feet back on some solid ground. Disney+’s latest foray into the MCU introduces Iman Vellani as the young Kamala Khan. While the series may lack explosions and world-ending stakes, it is full of effusive joy that makes Kamala’s joy and youthfulness completely addicting to watch. The series is a win for anyone looking for more representation, Kamala is a Pakistani American who is also a practicing Muslim. But it isn’t just played for show, we are immersed into Kamala’s community and her family, their life is on proud display, leaning into the culture completely.
At the heart of the series is Vellani’s Kamala, who is full of life and completely relatable. Anyone who grew up as a teenager raised by first-generation immigrant parents will find something to tether themselves to Kamala. Created by stand-up comedian and screenwriter Bisha K. Ali, who has writing credits with Four Weddings and a Funeral and Loki, the series doesn’t lack for laughs. But it isn’t just the jokes being thrown around, the show is deliberately light-hearted. While the predecessor of Moon Knight was quirky with wry humor that always seemed to wink at something (or someone) off-screen, Ms. Marvel is more of a full-bellied laugh.
We’re taken along for the ride as Kamala introduces herself as a Captain Marvel fangirl, making her perspective as a fan and a devoted cosplayer an easy point of reference for anyone who has dipped a toe into fandom. We follow her as she fails her driving test (which this writer did as well), begs her strict parents to go to a convention, and struggles with finding a place within her school’s social ecosystem. It isn’t until she finds her grandmother’s golden bangle that her story takes a sharp turn for the fantastical.
But even without the kaleidoscopic abilities that liken her more to Green Lantern than any other MCU character, the show dips into more serious territory. There’s a devastating scene in the first episode, “Generation Why,” when we see Kamala’s dad, Yusuf (Mohan Kapur), dress up in a slightly flimsy Hulk costume in order to fulfill Kamala’s wish of attending AvengersCon. It’s obviously a gesture meant to please his daughter while also dressing up in a costume that Yusuf and his wife Muneeba (Zenobia Shroff) can accept. It obviously is not what Kamala wants and she brutally rejects the costume – her mom prepared a little Hulk costume to match her dad’s big Hulk costume. It’s a scene that is understandable and also incredibly painful to watch.
The series constantly tries to balance the divide between generations, which is far wider when you grow up with parents who are immigrants. There is a clear cultural divide that Kamala has to live through and the scene is the perfect example of it. She is Pakistani American but she is constantly pulled in one direction or the other. The final cosplay that she wears to AvengersCon (after sneaking out of the house) is a marriage of her two worlds. The cosplay is obviously styled off the distinctly American Captain Marvel, but her power comes from her grandmother’s bangle.
From celebrating Eid with her community to learning about her family’s past during the partition of India, the show is clearly comfortable embracing Kamala’s identity and it serves the series all the more. What is less interesting is her rather bland friendship with Bruno (Matt Lintz). Although he is her best friend, it’s hard to watch their scenes and not be a bit worried that the show might slip him into the role of unrequited-pining-best-friend. It’s made more obvious when Bruno becomes openly jealous of Kamran (Rish Shah), the new senior boy who immediately forms a connection with Kamala. Given Kamran’s comics background, it’s likely he’ll end up more villainous than heroic, putting Bruno in the position of jealous, but well-meaning best friend is a little rote.
The better friendship is with Nakia (Yasmin Fletcher), who not only attends school with Kamala but also goes to the same mosque as her. The two navigate the social structures of their community together as Nakia participates in the Mosque Board Elections to become the head of the Mosque Board to get some real change going. Although Bruno helps Kamala train with her powers, it’s far more entertaining seeing her scheming and plotting with Nakia. Still, when her powers do come out, like when she saves a kid at Eid, it is an exciting sight to behold.
With a total of six episodes, it’s hard to imagine the series will expand too far beyond the bounds of what we’ve seen so far. Kamala’s visions of a mysterious woman (Nimra Bucha) clearly will lead her deeper into her family history, and when she meets the woman, Najma, the revelation that she is Kamran’s mother comes as a stark surprise. Dipping into cultural history and exploring the social dilemmas of growing up as a second-generation kid is where Ms. Marvel stands out from the other stories. It’s also where the story can express a unique perspective. Who knows where Kamala will end up by the end of the series, but I’m excited to find out.