CAST: Iman Vellani, Matt Lintz, Yasmeen Fletcher, Zenobia Shroff, Mohan Kapur, Saagar Shaikh, Laurel Marsden
RUNNING TIME: 49 mins
BASICALLY…: Teenager Kamala Khan (Vellani) acquires powers like her hero Captain Marvel…
NOW FOR THE REVIEW…
Upon Captain Marvel’s debut in the MCU, the Internet did a classic Internet by quickly dividing itself into for and against camps, with the latter being especially ruthless in its cruel and – let’s be honest – rather sexist trolling against the casting of Brie Larson in the title role. However, there is unlikely to be quite as divisive a reaction to the screen debut of Ms. Marvel, the Captain’s closest partner in the comics, and now the star of her own Disney+ show which already manages to both set itself apart from the more serious flaws that have befallen some of the recent Marvel entries, and also embrace its own identity as a superhero-loving bundle of joy.
The debut episode, titled Generation Why, introduces us to Kamala Khan (Iman Vellani), an American-Pakistani teenager who lives in Jersey City with her conservative family, and has a major love for all the superpowered beings in her world – none more so, however, than Captain Marvel who Kamala looks up to as her role model. She and her best friend Bruno (Matt Lintz) are eager to go to “AvengerCon” where she hopes to win a Captain Marvel cosplay competition, but when her parents (Zenobia Shroff and Mohan Kapur) refuse to let her go she decides to take matters into her own hands. However, the introduction of a mysterious bracelet soon brings unexpected chaos into Kamala’s life, for it suddenly gives her cosmic powers not unlike her superhero idol.
Though it may be an introductory episode in all meaning of the phrase, Generation Why is a very strong start to Kamala Khan’s story as it establishes not just the teen’s realistic arc of being a fangirl in the face of her family’s traditional way of life, but also the colourful and artsy – like a comic-book, if you will – world that she lives in. Bad Boys for Life directors Adil El Arbi & Bilall Fallah are behind this episode (they also directed the upcoming sixth and final episode of the series), and it certainly has the energetic pacing and even the bright, neon-drenched look of their successful Hollywood breakthrough, with stylistic flair that visually sets it apart from the likes of other recent Marvel shows like Moon Knight or Hawkeye. There are moments in this episode where it gets very inventive with the structural framing, such as displaying text messages and emojis through the neon signs of store windows, or having hand-drawn illustrations come to (literal) animated life during fantasy sequences. It’s a lot of fun to see all of these things come to life in unique ways, adding an even stronger depth to an already well thought-out universe with the fervent imagery it constantly projects.
Arbi and Fallah – as the Belgian duo are named during the end credits – also do well to highlight the Muslim culture which Kamala Khan and her family belong to. In the episode’s narrative, writer and series creator Bisha K. Ali (who has worked on shows such as Sex Education, Four Weddings and a Funeral, and even Marvel’s own Loki) pays close attention to the ways in which Kamala’s community exists within this universe, including the food vendors and the swapping of superstitious myths surrounding djinns, which the directors lovingly recreate from the bright and optimistic viewpoint of the show’s lead character. As is often the case whenever Marvel takes time to explore a different culture, a lot of love has been put into its depiction to where it becomes incredibly inviting to the viewer and makes them interested to learn and see more of what it has to offer. Ali also has the wisdom, wit and wily heart to also depict the more conservative examples of Islam, mostly represented in the form of Kamala’s family who are quick to pass judgement on others for not following the traditional path to matrimony; however, the writer also doesn’t just make them one-dimensional stereotypes, as there are moments when we see even Kamala’s stern mother (a gently domineering Zenobia Shroff) try to make her daughter happy, with a piece of amateur cosplay that will have you laughing but also crying in the same scene.
As for Ms. Marvel herself, Iman Vellani is an absolute delight. The perfectly cast teen is instantly lovable in the main role, emitting a strong hue of charisma from the moment she is introduced, an impressive feat seeing how this is the 19-year-old actress’s very first on-screen role (one that she will reprise next year in her big-screen debut The Marvels). Vellani shares good chemistry with almost everyone she acts opposite, from her cute relationship with best friend Bruno to her stern but still loving family, and does especially well with embodying the character’s pure fangirl love for all things Avengers, approaching the role like any enthusiastic young cosplayer you’ve surely encountered at every convention ever (her homemade Captain Marvel costume is particularly passionate in its craft). Already, Kamala Khan proves herself to be a hero worth following all the way to the bitter end, and Iman Vellani has as much to do with that as Ali’s writing and Arbi and Fallah’s direction does, all of which have a clear love for the original comics character that is brought to ecstatic life in live-action televisual style.
There’s still five episodes to go in Ms. Marvel’s debut screen story, but already there are strong signs that this is going to be a unique MCU experience, different to that of previous Marvel shows in both its ideas, visual style and its representation of different cultures. With a vibrant vision, neatly established writing, and an instantly lovable main hero, Ms. Marvel – at least, this first episode – shines with cosmic energy that should do well to keep shining for the remaining weeks it’s scheduled to have new episodes released.
SO, TO SUM UP…
Ms. Marvel: Episode 1 – Generation Why is a strong introduction to Marvel’s newest hero, the vibrant and colourful culture in which she resides that writer Bisha K. Ali creates and directors Adil El Arbi & Bilall Fallah realise, and the instantly charming lead performance that Iman Vellani brings her to life with.