The first time Marvel (the studio) seems to care about one of its female characters.
Marvel films have shown a clear lack of care, bordering on disdain, for their female characters. Captain Marvel (2019) is a mess of film and a smudge of a character – which, given how perfected the Marvel formula was by that point, are both significant achievements in actively failing to follow even their own most basic template. Black Widow’s solo film, which finally appeared after both a decade of multiple solo films for Scarlett Johansson‘s male counterparts and no less than her character’s in-universe death, and which should have been a spy adventure instead of the weightless CGI nonsense into which it descends, was an inconsequential prequel which answered questions no-one asked and raised only further questions going forward. The first season of Hawkeye (2021) drew focus away from Kate Bishop (Hailee Steinfeld) as it ultimately devolved into a mess of back-door pilots and half-baked fan service. The Agent Carter series (2015-2016) was a lot of fun (and Hayley Atwell a treasure) before it was unceremoniously cancelled, and the character reduced to cameo appearances in MCU films since. And while WandaVision (2021) began as an outstanding showcase of creative storytelling and Elizabeth Olsen‘s acting chops, that series also fell flat at its finish line. If only that were the worst treatment Wanda Maximoff were to receive – but then Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (2022) happened, and… well:
So what a bittersweet joy it is to see Ms Marvel display even a basic level of care for its character and storytelling.
Unlike other MCU series, Ms Marvel sets out to tell one story, and seems, for the most part, to stick to it.
Newcomer Iman Vellani, who stars as teenage Muslim Pakistani American superhero Kamala Khan, is a real find: charming, authentic, and in real life just as huge a Marvel fangirl as her character (let’s all wish her the best against the inevitable, bigoted, vocal online “fan” backlash in the years to come).
The show’s focus on Kamala’s immigrant family, particularly the inter-generational relationships between the women, is maintained throughout the series – and to its credit, this is the show’s most uniquely interesting element. The development of Kamala’s relationship with her mother (Zenobia Shroff), not to mention the biggest-hearted moments from her doting father (Mohan Kapur), are the bear-hug bookends from episode to episode, from series start to series end.
Real-world elements such as Muslim-American experience, specifically in New York and New Jersey, and the partition of India, which initially informs the backstory and ultimately plays a part in the main story, are balanced with colourful visuals (one highlight being the way text messages are visualised within physical environments), vibrant needle drops, a light-hearted tone, and more than a couple of cartoonish performances – some of which may wear a bit thin, depending on your taste (the joyous wedding dance scene may be your litmus test).
Ms Marvel, at least, remains consistent throughout: it sets out to tell one story, and seems, for the most part, to stick to it (though not without obligatory, if unnecessary here, world-ending stakes and not-entirely-clear CGI powers). It’s Marvel, the studio, finally seeming to care about one of its female characters, albeit it in a “kids” show (as in: the tone seems to target a younger teen demographic, even if the teenage characters only talk the way adult writers imagine teenagers talk).
When they aren’t lazy or thoughtless, comic adaptations can function as introductions to episodes from human history not widely shared in popular culture or education, and prompt examination of how and by whom history is written. The Watchmen mini-series (Damon Lindelof‘s outstanding sequel series, not Zack Snyder‘s embarrassing adaptation of Alan Moore‘s original graphic novel series) introduced much of its audience to the 1921 Tulsa race massacre. Ms Marvel‘s story revolves around the partition of India, just one example of the havoc wreaked by British colonialism. Writer Haimanti Roy, together with directors Jagriti Khirwar and Raghav Arumugam, offers this beautifully-animated history lesson (via TED-Ed):
There is criticism of Ms Marvel‘s rosy portrayal of police treatment of the Muslim American community (and this isn’t the first Marvel series to tease a critique of policing, only to “resolve” it with some nonsense):