Directed by: Abdil & Bilal, Meera Menon, Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy
Distributed by: Disney+
Written by Anna Harrison
“Captain Marvel” has its problems, chief among them the lack of charisma in its main character; despite later appearances in “Avengers: Endgame,” Brie Larson’s Carol Danvers still has little personality for a character of supposedly great importance. That anyone would be enough of a fangirl of hers to put up Captain Marvel posters in their bedroom is a bit of a stretch, but that’s what Kamala Khan (Iman Vellani) has done. Kamala is a typical MCU fangirl, only she’s fangirling about the real superheroes, not the movies about them; she’s just like us, except the heroes we idolize so much actually exist in her world.
Kamala’s eyes shine a new light on the MCU, reminding us of the joy it can still inspire as she fantasizes about Captain Marvel flying over Jersey City, makes Avengers-inspired vlogs for her YouTube page, and dreams of going to AvengerCon with her best friend, Bruno (Matt Lintz). (If you’re hoping for some self-meditation on the MCU’s monolithic nature, look elsewhere.) Kamala is unabashed in her superhero love, and it’s this bright-eyed and bushy-tailed eagerness that makes “Ms. Marvel” so irresistible, helped by an irresistible performance by newcomer Iman Vellani, who within minutes gives Kamala more charm and spunk than Brie Larson managed to wrest out of Carol Danvers in two entire movies.
“Ms. Marvel” is at its best when focusing on Kamala’s inner life, and though her high school woes may resemble Peter Parker’s in “Spider-Man: Homecoming,” there’s more visual pizazz at play here as the show responds to Kamala’s wild imagination. Her doodles come to life, her texts are represented in the lights and graffiti she passes, and the colors almost make up for the dull look of most other Disney+ MCU offerings. But though Kamala gets taken up by flights of fancy, her parents, Muneeba and Yusuf (Zenobia Shroff and Mohan Kapur), are there to bring her back down to earth—as Kamala begins sniffing through family secrets, Muneeba in particular tries to put a stop to her antics. It’s here, as Kamala’s story begins to branch into the world of superpowers, that “Ms. Marvel” falters.
The problem is less that the requisite superpower beats are poorly done (though they are certainly a bit rushed, there’s nothing horrible about them) and more that watching Kamala simply interact with her friends and community (there is something remarkably refreshing about how well-integrated her Muslim faith is: it’s given a hefty amount of weight, but only because it informs Kamala’s everyday life, not because of some heavy-handed morality point, and the representation feels natural, if overdue) is so much more interesting than watching her try to figure out plot beats. The actual mechanics of her powers—very different from the comics, as the word “Inhumans” is never even mentioned (justice for “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.”!)—have enormous implications for the MCU, but they are underexplained while simultaneously taking up too much screentime that could be better spent watching Kamala giggle over her senior crush. Instead, we are treated to a few dazzling episodes of Kamala simply being her wonderful self before we are rushed off to learn about her family’s complicated history and given a flashback episode with far too little of the titular character.
But even if “Ms. Marvel” suffers from the same pacing issue that has plagued every other Disney+ Marvel show, its successes—and the sheer joy radiating off of Iman Vellani, herself an MCU superfan—are enough to outweigh the missteps. One can only hope that “The Marvels” does away with Carol Danvers entirely and we are just treated to a two hour coming-of-age movie starring Kamala.