The “Phase Four” of the Marvel Cinematic Universe has received a lot of negative press and hate from fans. It’s not entirely undeserved. “Eternals” was boring. “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” is, without exaggeration, the biggest disappointment I’ve ever experienced after walking out of a movie theater. Disney+ shows like Hawkeye and Moon Knight were entertaining but don’t seem to add much to the broader Marvel storyline, as everything was meticulously built in the run-up to 2018’s Avengers: Infinity War.
Nevertheless, there are highlights there. Spider-Man: No Way Home, in stark contrast to the Doctor Strange sequel, was perhaps the funniest movie I’ve ever had in a theater and is an easy top 5 MCU film for me. While the character is completely unknown to the general public with a sketchy comic history, “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the 10 Rings” was an exhilarating ride that I said was “Enter the Dragon” mixed with “Lord of the Rings.” I wrote a review last week about how I dug up Thor: Love and Thunder, and to wrap up the first season finale on Disney+ this week, I’ll also mark Ms. Marvel as a win in this era of MCU entries.
Ms. Marvel stars as Kamla Khan, a Jersey City-based Pakistani-American teenage girl who may be even more of an Avengers superfan than the guy writing this review. Struggling to fit into contemporary America as a Muslim with strict but loving parents and typical high school problems, Kamala finds escape in the exploits of Iron Man, Captain Marvel and the like. As the season progresses, Kamala finds a family heirloom, a magical bracelet that absorbs and unlocks some aspects of Arabian mythology. Her power set allows her to “embigge” and stretch her body and limbs and then also have crystalline energy manipulation, a new trait distinct from the comics’ source material.
Just as “Multiverse of Madness” set the mood for horror and “Love and Thunder” went the rom-com route, “Ms. Marvel” in the realm of teen dramedy. It’s as indebted to Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World as it is to the character’s original comic stories. The inclusion of stylized graphics that convey that “Scott Pilgrim” vibe and open approach to “normal” teenage issues set it apart from the rest of the MCU package. Critics might not like emerging from the pure-play superhero tradition of the past decade, which explains some of the apathy the MCU is currently grappling with, but I give some credit for being ahead of the next “big” event Trying new things is taking place (which will likely be a loose adaptation of Jonathan Hickman and Esad Ribic’s 2015 Secret Wars story).
It feels like Marvel is treading water a bit before later picking up the Fantastic Four and X-Men (more on that later), releasing series and movies about lesser-known characters, and experimenting with different vibes. On the surface, “Ms. Marvel” doesn’t seem earth-shattering in the larger MCU picture, but that doesn’t detract from the show. The relationship that develops between Kamala and her parents is uplifting. It doesn’t all have to be cutting edge and uncompromising action. I’ve been trying to grow out of my younger, cynical ways and enjoy things seriously. Perhaps I can credit that to “Ted Lasso” as a new philosophical approach to fiction, but I can’t help but relate to my own relationship with my parents as the walls between Kamala and her parents come down as Ms. Marvel herself transformed into Jersey The hero of the town.
Kamla’s father Yusuf, played by Mohan Kapur, is a special highlight for me. He’s so pure. The way he tries to connect with Kamala before going to an Avengers convention by dressing up in a Pakistani-style Hulk costume while painting his body green made me howl with laughter . He just loves his daughter so much and it hurts him to see her fight. On the other hand, Kamla’s typical teenage embarrassment at seeing him like this made me feel guilty for perhaps pushing my parents away when I was younger when they tried to get closer to me with my interests. I’m sure I’m not alone in feeling this way when I watch the series. It’s really hard being 16, isn’t it?
I have to commend actress Iman Vellani, who also plays Kamala. As someone who says “Ms. Marvel” when the character got her first comic book series in 2014, it was clear from the start that something special was brewing. It’s so difficult to make a new character in superhero comics a household name. Achieving this with one of Kamala’s religious and ethnic background makes it an even greater triumph. Vellani sums up the Kamala experience perfectly. Coupled with the awkwardness and clumsiness of high school life and an apparent desire to do good, Marvel Studios couldn’t have cast the role better.
Ultimately, “Ms. Marvel” is an enchanting teen dramedy with loving family dynamics that brings a unique flair to a Marvel franchise that’s increasingly discarding its usual formula.
All right…when I’m doing all these superhero articles, I try to keep them as broad as possible for the majority of the viewing audience. No, these movies and shows are not made for people like me, nerds with a deep understanding of Marvel Comics history, but for the general public. Still, it would be a waste not to put all this relatively useless information out there for the hardcore fans out there.
Here is my new section:
Nerd corner 🤓
The revelation at the end of the episode that Kamala’s DNA constitutes a “mutation” set the internet on fire. Following Disney’s acquisition of 21st Century Fox in 2019, Marvel inherited the vast world of X-Men characters whose film rights had previously been sold to Fox decades ago. Marvel created its cinematic universe without being able to capitalize on the characters and crew that were its best-selling comics for years. Following this deal, Marvel now has all of these mutants available, but it feels like it’s going to be a slow burn until these big characters are officially introduced in the MCU proper.
Marvel did not ambiguously mention this “mutation”. The series will play the theme song of the upcoming animated feature film X-Men ’97, which continues the adventures of the legendary ’90s X-Men: The Animated Series, as this information is revealed to Kamala. An article from Marvel’s website Wednesday doesn’t hold back on the subject, making it seem like this isn’t some sort of comic book spoof.
Kamala being the first mutant in the universe featured in the MCU is remarkable because… she was never a mutant in the comics. Not every comic book adaptation has to go straight back to the source material, and again, the most die-hard hardcore fans are certainly not the target audience for these productions. Still, as an idiot with an X-Men tattoo on my forearm, I’m pretty disappointed that the introduction of the X characters turned out like this. There are hundreds and hundreds of other mutants that could have been put in this situation, both super famous and ones unknown to most viewers. With the overall theme that mutants are a “minority” in the Marvel Comics universe (sometimes it’s corny, sometimes it works well), I wonder why the introduction of the X-Men starts off that way.
Past MCU failures are the reason Kamala is put in this strange situation. In the comic series “Ms. Marvel” from 2014, Kamala is described as an Inhuman, an evolutionary form of humanity that arose from the experiments of the alien race Kree thousands of years ago. That’s where her powers come from, not something unlocked with a magical bracelet that activated her X-Gene. Marvel made an Inhumans TV series on ABC in 2017 that bombed. It only lasted eight episodes before being scratched and basically never mentioned again. If this trait had been successful and found a footing like the vast majority of Marvel’s traits, it would have been easy to have Kamla as an Inhuman. Since this show totally sucks and is quickly shelved, the average MCU viewer knows nothing about these characters, necessitating a major change in Kamala’s background.
As Marvel’s comics division increasingly aligns its continuity and storyline with MCU canon, I can’t imagine it’ll be long before readers figure out that Kamala was a mutant all along, not a brute, and will be showing up in a multitude soon is inspired by X-Men books (there are plenty of them in local comic stores these days!). In the 2014 series in which she was introduced, Kamala initially thought she might have been a mutant, even teaming up with Wolverine in the process, but was eventually revealed to be an Inhuman. Perhaps it’s an easy switch for Marvel editorial staff to illustrate that the original diagnosis of Inhumans and Mutants was wrong for lack of a better word.
One of the problems with introducing the mutants and X-Men into the MCU is the awkwardness that they must have already existed in the film’s storyline, even though they never appeared in any conflict, storyline, or story. Are you saying that Charles Xavier became a telepath out of nowhere as he got older? How do you account for these evolutionary “homo superior” humans standing on the side during all of these universe-spanning conflicts? That’s not a problem for me to decide (although I’d love the responsibility!), but it can lead to some clunky world-building before those classic X-Men stories play out onscreen.
I won’t lie, it left a bad taste in my mouth after enjoying the series. Let me see Magneto or Kitty Pryde or Emma Frost instead! However, I must remind myself and other comic book readers that this whole ordeal is not designed to please us. If Marvel Studios thinks this is the best way for viewers to engage with the story of a teenage Muslim superhero, then so be it. The mutant die has been cast, but endgame (pun intended) is still years away.
Like us on Facebook: PhillyVoice Sports
Add Shamus’ RSS feed to your feed reader