Ms.Marvel Review: Kamal!

This is a Non-Spoiler Review for Marvel Studios’ Ms.Marvel the live-action adaptation of one of Marvel’s most popular recent comic-book characters. I would like to thank Disney for providing access to the first 2 episodes of the series which made this review possible. Kamal is an Urdu word which means wonderful or amazing and it really works perfectly in summarizing my thoughts on the series and Iman Vellani’s perfect performance as the character. It’s not perfect, but it’s certainly a spectacle.

(L-R): Rish Shah as Kamran and Iman Vellani as Ms. Marvel/Kamala Khan in Marvel Studios’ MS. MARVEL, exclusively on Disney+. Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios. ©Marvel Studios 2022. All Rights Reserved.

Ms.Marvel or Kamala Khan also happens to be Muslim and Pakistani. So for someone like me who also happens to be both those things, the promise of this series brought about both great excitement and fear. The fear of it all really just stems from how poorly Pakistanis, Muslims and South Asians have previously been represented in Hollywood. Yes, sure the creative team is Pakistani but is that really enough to overcome decades of poor representation? After watching the first 2 episodes I can gladly say, Yes! This really does authentically capture the feeling of living in a Pakistani household. Obviously, it’s not perfect but it surely is a big step up from previous South Asian and Muslim characters in Hollywood. Even the MCU itself has been guilty of misrepresentation and stereotyping, with the only Muslim characters previously seen in the franchise being Terrorists all the way back in Iron Man (2008) and the South Asian character being nothing Karun in Eternals (2021) who himself was nothing more than a side-joke.

Iman Vellani as Ms. Marvel/Kamala Khan in Marvel Studios’ MS. MARVEL. Photo by Daniel McFadden. ©Marvel Studios 2022. All Rights Reserved.

Fun, Fun and more Fun!

Every time a new Marvel series comes out the same statement “nothing like we’ve seen before in the MCU” is used, fans online may disagree but this statement is entirely true, because none of the MCU shows have been similar to the other. They’ve all brought in a new flavor to the universe, be it the weird sci-fi multiverse aspects in Loki or the sitcoms in WandaVision or the exploration into mental health with Moon Knight. So what is Ms.Marvel‘s new flavor? The flavor of fun, which instantly gets you excited for the future of the MCU, also reminding you of everything that has happened previously in the universe. Even though it doesn’t have any returning MCU characters, other than a familiar DODC agent in the post credits of the first episode, Ms.Marvel feels the most connected to everything we’ve seen in the MCU till now. The series also makes great use of cartoons, street art, and thought bubbles, adding a great new dimension of the series. Which not only makes everything more enjoyable to watch, but also gives you a look into the fantasies in Kamala’s mind, resulting in the series feeling more like it’s comic-book counterpart.

(L-R): Mohan Kapur as Yusuf, Iman Vellani as Ms. Marvel/Kamala Khan, Saagar Shaikh as Aamir, and Nimra Bucha as Najma in Marvel Studios’ MS. MARVEL. Photo by Daniel McFadden. ©Marvel Studios 2022. All Rights Reserved.

Family

One of the things I was most excited to see was how the Pakistani family household would feel. Would it feel stereotypical, oppressive and lifeless, like Hollywood would have you believe, or would it be the full of life and real family that I see at home everyday. I’m very happy to say that it does very much feel like a real Pakistani Muslim family. Be it Aamir reciting Ayat U-Kursi (verses of the Quran) in the morning, her Dad’s unfunny jokes, reciting Bismillah before her driving test or the 100s of random decorations sprinkled throughout the house, this feels like a Khan household. The use of classical and modern Pakistani Music also goes a long way to make it all feel very authentic. Mohan Kapur and Zenobia Shroff are great as Kamal’s parents. But Iman Vellani, truly just steals the entire show, you can feel every bit of her excitement and nerdiness. Both her and Aamir perfectly embody to typed of Desi Muslim kids who were raised abroad. One thing that could’ve been given a better look at was the accent work for Kamala’s Mom and dad, as it doesn’t represent a Karachi accent, where they are supposed to be from or a typical Pakistani English accent. This is really just a nitpick but is distracting to me, as someone who can instantly differentiate accents. Another big letdown is Nakia (Yasmeen Fletcher), in the comic book Nakia is a strong proud Muslim activist who is a big part of Kamala’s journey in self acceptance. While, in the series she is a mere shadow of the character she was in the comic. What we see of Nakia is mostly great, however, we don’t really see much of her. She doesn’t serve a purpose to the narrative and is there just for the sake of being there. This is from jsut the first 2 episodes so hopefully her arc has more importance to the narrative in the next 4 episodes.

Islamic Representation

Islamic representation was by far the factor I was most worried about, going in. The Islam in the series is definitely the best representation of the religion we’ve got in pop-culture. But that isn’t a very high bar however, due to years of racism, stereotyping and islamophobia. The series does well to flesh out each of the Muslim characters as actual Muslims. Aamir reminding everyone to pray, Kamala reciting Bismillah before her driving test, Nakia wearing her hijab with great power and the many discussions in the Mosque make her community feel like a real Muslim community. It is by no means perfect, but it does feel authentic. Changing small things like music playing while they are praying in the mosque could really make it feel better. One other thing was the exploration of Eid in Episode 2. This was pointed out to me by Vin of The Cosmic Circus, it’s not made clear if this is Eid Al-Adha, celebrated after Hajj (The annual pilgrimage to Makkah), or Eid Al-Fitr, celebrated after Ramadan. It is only referred to as the “lesser Eid”. Which makes it seem like it is referring to Eid Al-Fitr which is commonly referred to as small Eid and takes place after Ramadan. Where the confusion comes in is that no reference is made to Ramadan and no character is ever shown to be fasting. Since then Mo Hoosen from Streamr had pointed out that this was indeed Eid Al-Adha which is after Hajj.

So it seems that this was actually Eid Al-Adha which is very reassuring, because missing on something so basic and vital would’ve brought the series a few pegs down. , but it is what Hollywood has previously accustomed us to expect. I will be talking more on the specifics in my spoiler-breakdown on Thursday.

(L-R): Directors Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah, and Executive Producer Sana Amanat behind the scenes of Marvel Studios’ MS. MARVEL, exclusively on Disney+. Photo by Daniel McFadden. ©Marvel Studios 2022. All Rights Reserved.

Final Thoughts

Sana Amanat who is also an American-Pakistani raised in Jersey City is the showrunner, with British-Pakistani Screenwriter and Comedian Bisha K. Ali, who also wrote episode of Loki, serving as Head-Writer. Oscar-Winning Pakistani Director Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy is also involved and will be directing 2 out of the 6 episodes. Recently, Sharmeen Spoke with Mohammad Kamran Jawaid of the Pakistani publication Dawn-Icon Magazine where she highlighted the intricacy and importance that was placed on making the series feel authentically Pakistani. Ms.Marvel has always been a cultural icon, connecting with teenage girls across the world, specifically with South-Asians of all ages and genders, who really haven’t been exposed to much positive or authentic representation in Hollywood. As a Muslim and Pakistani myself I have never felt and truly represented in any form of mainstream media. With G. WIllow Wilson and Sana Amanat’s Ms.Marvel (2014) graphic novel being the rare mainstream media to ever feel authentic to my experiences as a Pakistani. It truly represents the Pakistani experience living abroad, which can connect with anyone who has ever struggled with their identity. As someone who was born in Pakistan but has lived abroad for most of their life, the story immediately resonated with me and I hope it with resonates with others like me and those from different backgrounds.

I would like to thank Disney and The DDA group for providing access to the first 2 episodes of the series which made this review possible.

Ms.Marvel arrives on Disney plus June 8th.