*Warning: The following article contains spoilers for episode one of Ms. Marvel*
How great does it feel to see the MCU expanding its visual canvas for more visually arresting and dynamic projects? Chloé Zhao opened the portal with Eternals and showed Kevin Feige that not every MCU movie (or show) needs a cut-and-paste style and can look and feel so cool. It was so exciting to see WandaVision break the mold during its first three episodes and emulate a faux-sitcom style, only for it to regress in the fourth episode and deliver one of the blandest projects from Marvel ever made. The studio needed confidence, but they’re clearly in the right direction. Projects like Moon Knight and Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness signal a new era on how Marvel Studios should trust their creatives and let them go to work.
[On a related note: You can check out my interview with one of Moon Knight’s cinematographers, Gregory Middleton, here. We talk about breaking the mold from conventional MCU and trying to give a wholly different look and feel to the series.]
And Marvel does it again with its latest series, Ms. Marvel, by letting directors Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah infuse the style they brought to Bad Boys for Life inside an uplifting coming-of-age story that already poises Iman Vellani as the biggest breakout star of the year.
There’s no denying that Marvel is one of the best vehicles of stardom out there. This year’s slate is a great example, with May Calamawy (you can check out my interview with her here) in Moon Knight and Xochitl Gomez in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness genuinely giving their all as Layla El-Faouly and America Chavez, respectively. They emerge on the screen as total stars, even outshining their leads at times, and become ones to watch for their following projects.
Iman Vellani can be added to that roster of MCU stars to watch for their future projects. But the difference between Calamawy and Gomez was that she never starred in a major TV (or film) project before. Hence, the responsibility of making one heck of an impression right from the get-go is enormous. And she does. The episode opens with a recap of the final battle in Avengers: Endgame, where Captain Marvel (Brie Larson) saved the day while the others were getting their asses kicked by Thanos (Josh Brolin). The entire sequence is animated and already signals to the viewer two things. First, Iman Vellani is Kamala Khan. We don’t even see her in that scene, as she narrates the battle from her viewpoint in voiceover. Still, she nails her vibrant spirit brought to life in Sama Amanat, Stephen Wacker, G. Willow Wilson, Adrian Alphona, and Jamie McKelvie’s comic run.
And once she appears on the screen, it’s Iman’s time to shine, and boy, does she crush it. Already, she’s my favorite addition to Phase Four, and we haven’t even gotten to the part where she starts to do “superhero stuff.” Yes, there’s a tease of it during a pretty exciting sequence at AvengerCon, where she saves her “nemesis” Zoe Zimmer (Laurel Mardsen) from almost certain death, but it’s sparse. Instead, what we get in this episode is a glimpse of Kamala Khan’s idolization of Captain Marvel and how she inspires her while also trying to navigate her strict family. Vellani manages to nail every aspect of Kamala’s coming-of-age plight in a single episode and gives us hope that the series’ superhero aspect will be just as fun as her coming-of-age one.
Second, the style is markedly different from anything else the MCU has done (once again!). It’s a mixture of John Hughes, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, and, surprisingly, Edgar Wright’s smash zooms and quick cuts, especially apparent in Hot Fuzz. It gives the show life and is another sign that the MCU seems done with cut-and-paste approaches to filmmaking and will let their creatives go all-in on the style they want to convey for their respective projects. Adil and Bilall electrified the screen when they made Bad Boys for Life, so you’d be absolute fools not to let them have some creative input for the episode.
As an introductory episode, “Generation Why” establishes Kamala’s relationship with her friends, Bruno Carrelli (Matt Lintz) and Nakia Bahadir (Yasmeen Fletcher), and her family. The episode focuses more on Kamala’s friendship with Bruno than Nakia, and so one hopes that Fletcher’s character is more fleshed out in subsequent episodes. But Kamala’s relationship with Bruno is tons of fun. Her chemistry with Matt Lintz is highly reminiscent of Tom Holland’s with Jacob Batalon in the MCU Spider-Man movies.
But the most exciting aspect of the episode is Kamala’s relationship with her parents (Mohan Kapur & Zenobia Shroff) and brother (Saagar Shaikh). Her mother, Muneeba (Shroff), is as overprotective as most coming-of-age movie mothers are. Still, a certain charm to her already makes her one of the big standouts of the series, alongside Kamala’s father, Yusuf (Kapur). Both are terrific together and give significant amounts of emotional levity to Kamala. Everyone is on their A-game, and the show’s carefree tone and vibrant aesthetic set the stage for an already incredible entry into the MCU. And after two dark and surprisingly violent titles, it’s a nice change of pace for the franchise and is an excellent showcase of how versatile it can be.
If Ms. Marvel keeps up the same aesthetic flourishes with its episodes directed by Meera Menon and Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, it’ll be another incredible show for Marvel Studios. But Iman Vellani’s introduction to the world of stardom is already a high point of the series. It makes her one to watch when she will inevitably breakout after her tenure in this show and Nia DaCosta’s The Marvels next year. With stars like May Calamawy, Xochitl Gomez, and now Iman Vellani, the future of the MCU is in more than capable hands.
The first episode of Ms. Marvel is now streaming on Disney+.