Ms. Marvel is a wholesome celebration of culture within a lacklustre narrative

The MCU’s ever-expanding roster of characters is further fleshed out with the introduction of Ms. Marvel, a young teen who has a fascination with superpowers and Captain Marvel herself. Struggling to fit in at school and sometimes even at home, Kamala Khan’s (Iman Vellani) world is flipped upside down when she discovers she too has superpowers.

In aiming for a younger target audience, Ms. Marvel hopes to expand the reach of the MCU’s Phase Four, while bringing with it more inclusion and representation of Muslim and South Asian culture. Firstly, I’ll cover what I loved about this series – the heavy themes of family, culture and religion that are prominent through the majority of the series. It was very refreshing to see an MCU project take so many breaks from the classic hero vs villain formula, stopping to explore the importance of family and culture in Kamala’s life. It humanises the character and makes her feel like a real everyday teenager as she’s coming of age in an ever-changing world. She’s just a kid who loves her family, respects her culture and is a fan of superheroes – it’s that simplicity that worked for me. The small moments of Kamala trying to find ways to satisfy both her family and her passion are great, and some of the most memorable. Unfortunately some of that focus on culture is lost towards the end, but it was impactful while it lasted.

Being targeted at a younger audience, the series makes use of quirky visual elements like bordered dream sequences and fun cartoony graphics across a number of scenes. It’s cheesy and it’s silly, but it all fits the tone the writers establish from the very beginning. If it was in any other MCU project, it would probably feel out of place. However in Ms. Marvel, it really complements the character of Kamala, playing into her more quirky qualities and love for drawing and doodling. Despite my admiration of the focus on culture, the quirky visuals and the character of Kamala Khan, the series still falters in terms of the narrative.

When the series kicks off, it’s not really clear what the central narrative is going to be, nor is it clear who the villain is (or if there even is one). It’s a decently fun time exploring Kamala’s life, but in terms of a story, it wasn’t completely hooking me in. The third and fourth episodes begin to weave in hints at a more intriguing narrative, using a neat change in location and villain reveal that indicate things are on the up. There’s a thrilling action sequence at the height of the fourth episode that marks the peak of the series, but then it’s all downhill from there. The penultimate episode is the series’ greatest fault – completely killing any momentum built up in the middle of the season. The first half of the episode feels like an unnecessary departure, not really adding anything to the story or Kamala’s character arc, then the latter half of the episode is anticlimactic and doesn’t make much sense. The flow-on effect ruins the finale too, in what feels like an emotionally flat and lacklustre ending. Sure, there’s two exciting moments at the very end – but they only make me more excited for other projects, not this one.

I don’t know if the writers were intentionally trying to create a series without a proper villain, but that’s the way it felt. The crew of antagonists that pose a “threat” to Kamala feel more like a group of nameless mercenaries than actual characters – making it hard to care about what they’re trying to accomplish. I couldn’t tell you any of the names off the top of my head, meaning they just didn’t make an impact.

On the other hand, one person who did make an impact is Iman Vellani. Considering this is her debut performance, she did a great job at introducing and fleshing out her character. Having seen her in interviews outside of the series, I get the impression that her real-world personality matches that of Kamala Khan quite closely. That’s evident in how effortlessly and authentically she plays the character, bringing ample emotion to the role. She plays well against her mother (Zenobia Shroff) and father (Mohan Kapur), leading to some wholesome family-focused moments.

In the end, the best I can describe Ms. Marvel is that it’s short and sweet, but nothing impressive. I was really rooting for the show to succeed, but it’s let down by a drastically uneven and unfulfilling story, despite showing promising signs mid-way through the season. The focus on culture, family and religion is a heartwarming element, and the series’ biggest strongpoint aside from Iman Vellani’s performance. If the final episodes had remained consistent, it could have been another great MCU series… but it just wasn’t meant to be. Younger audiences are going to get more out of this series, but MCU fans in general should look forward to seeing more of Ms. Marvel in future films.

5.8/10

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