I don’t think it’s a secret anymore that the MCU television shows, led by Kevin Feige and his team have been popular rating juggernauts. It’s also not a secret that these shows have pacing and ending problems. Part of the reason would be the shows are structured more as 6-hour films than television shows with individual episodic arcs, with cliffhanger endings. The biggest culprit though is that even after being advertised, most of these shows come off surprisingly homogenized as part of the factory setting of MCU content. Not entirely here.
Directors Adil and Bilal and creator Bisha K. Ali had an ethos statement right from the jump. Not only would it show an immigrant perspective in the MCU, that too from the Pakistan- American perspective, but it’s an even ballsier perspective when you consider exploring the origins of Pakistan, its relationship with India as well as the partition itself. The fascinating throughline in exploring a superhero origin story through a multi-generational legacy tale while also managing to introduce new factions into this already crowded but still flexible universe.
Flexibility is the name of the game here. From the very first episode itself, Adil and Bilal as directors show a sense of visual identity and uniqueness, showcasing the imagination of Kamala Khan in interesting ways (graffiti coming alive, designed window drapes mutating into text messages), but while the superheroic angle is always important (because let’s not forget the actual superhero genre) the show doesn’t forget its heart – the characters. Kamala and her friends and especially her family are the beating heart and soul of this show. The Khan family especially, from Kamala’s parents (Yusuf and Muneeba), to her brother (Ameer) to her best friends (Bruno, and Nakia) and her community itself show a lived-in world with its uniqueness and own sense of place and insular milieu. There are elements where the politics of that community (Nakia fighting for a place on the mosque board, Damage Control trying to enter the mosque and getting thoroughly owned) are commented on and while that is not the most heightened or poignant of commentary, it is still an effort which is highly appreciated. A better-appreciated effort would be the exploration of Karachi as well as the exploration of the Partition of India through the ground level, bringing in elements of her family as well as the otherworldly aspects and integrating them into the narrative.
The flaws of the show don’t derail the narrative but it is more on the technical side of things as well as the pacing in certain moments; action set-pieces, especially the chase scene through the rooftops in Episode 5 as well as the special effects in the final battle scene are noticeably wonky. Characters like Nakia and Bruno are completely absent in the episodes where Kamala is dealing with the exploration of her past and reckoning in Karachi. The show also does have an antagonist problem. The clandestines, other than Najma (a scene-stealing Nimra Bucha) aren’t the most developed of antagonists, while Damage Control feels like elements of governmental surveillance showing its face at inopportune moments while finally getting its time to shine in the final episode when it is also suitably undermined by a group of teenagers in a high school. The climax could have been laughably bad like it had been in Hawkeye. Thankfully, the emotional quotient of the show forces the show to stick to its landing effectively.
Iman Vellani is a legitimate superstar. While there are moments where you can feel this is her first acting gig, she is so effortlessly charming for the majority of the runtime of the show that the coming of age aspect of Ms Marvel becomes the best part of the show by association. Her friendship with Bruno (Matt Lintz) and the one-sided love which Bruno has for her tugs at your heartstring. The jokes too landed more often than not, because the writers manage to maintain the balance between sincerity and comedy, and the comedy too is largely situational. Indian and Pakistani viewers would find it easy to relate to the family dynamics depicted on the show, while also enjoying the glut of Indian and Pakistani music as background score, rounding off as a very unique soundscape. Flaws notwithstanding, Ms Marvel is the surprise win of the MCU in 2022 and one of the better shows of this year. I am looking forward to The Marvels in 2023, for Vellani and the entire Ms Marvel crew. That is an impressive feat in itself.
Disclaimer: The above review solely illustrates the views of the writer.