‘Ms. Marvel’ Review: Marvel’s Most Authentic Adaptation Yet

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This past week I had the privilege to preview the first two episodes of Marvel Studios’ Ms. Marvel. Possibly the most comic-faithful adaptation Marvel has ever done, I absolutely loved it. It was so pure and so perfect that I had to pause watching only a few minutes in because my eyes were filled with the tears of joy and the tears of being seen. I was laughing and crying and trying not to jump around. They did it. 

They did it.

The road to Ms. Marvel has been a long and winding one. I remember reading the comics when they were first coming out 8 years ago. I was still getting into comics at the time and I only read Batman and DC, but then I saw the cover. Even though it seemed like a “girl’s book,” I just had to pick it up because of that iconic cover.

A brown girl with an Arabic bracelet. A superhero whose skin looked like mine, and was the same age as me. I remember standing in that spot, reading the first few pages of my first ever Marvel comic, and getting a dizzy feeling because a major corporate publication was basically sharing my private diary with the world. Kamala’s world was my world. Her family, her hobbies, her background, her dorkiness, her naivety, her fandom – it was all me. And when I watched the show, I cried. It was me, too. Marvel Studios’ Ms. Marvel is the show I always wanted as a kid. Every part of me is on that screen.

Ms. Marvel #1 (2014) by G. Willow Wilson

 

Ms. Marvel Is the Comics Brought To Life

Of course, there are changes from the comics. There is nothing in the MCU that has never dealt with changes! But of all the changes the MCU has ever made to any of their projects, these two episodes are the most directly faithful to the comics the MCU has ever been.

Her big hands turn purple instead of yellow and she makes little platforms. This does not break her character. This has not changed her journey. The biggest difference is the absence of the few pages where Kamala chooses to literally shapeshift into Carol Danvers, but the show is laying out its own version of a similar story.

In nearly every aspect, Marvel Studios’ Ms. Marvel is the comics brought to life. The comics and the show are alternate tellings of the exact same character going on the exact same character arc. You’d be hard-pressed to find another superhero adaptation that captures the tone, world, character, and voice of its source material in such an authentic way.

From emotional beats, to sloth babies, to giant hands, to literal lines of dialogue, Bisha K. Ali’s Ms. Marvel script is so surreally reverent to G. Willow Wilson’s original comics that the first two episodes gave me deja vu multiple times due to scenes translated directly from page to screen. Beat by beat, I had to react like “Wait I’ve heard this line before, I know this speech,” only to recognize that it was taken directly from Ms. Marvel: No Normal. This series is simply a humongous love letter made by Kamala Khan fans for Kamala Khan fans, a giant “WE LOVE YOU” dedicated to comic readers around the world.

Ms. Marvel Directors Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah with Executive Producer and Ms. Marvel Co-creator Sana Amanat
Directors Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah with Executive Producer and Ms. Marvel Co-creator Sana Amanat

 

The Weird and Wonderful World of Kamala Khan

But more than a simple re-creation of the comic book, head directors Adil El Arbi & Bilall Fallah take full advantage of the film medium to retell Kamala’s story in a fresh new way. With the non-stop soundtrack, inventive animation styles, and reality-warping camera effects, Marvel Studios is using every cinematic tool in their arsenal to bring Kamala to life in a way that traditional paper-and-ink comics never could.

Every scene is infused with the style and personality of Kamala Khan herself, truly putting you in the world of her weird and wonderful mind. There has never been a Marvel Studios project with more immersive visual creativity than Ms. Marvel. It is one of the rare cases where a book and an adaptation are both so good and so similar, yet both take advantage of their medium to deliver wholly unique experiences. Both are fantastic variations of the same origin story, adapted to their specific medium. 

Like most page-to-screen adaptations, the show is less philosophical than the comics are, with less social commentary, but otherwise I don’t think I’ve ever seen a comic book adaptation that’s so close to specific pages and conversations from the comics. I think the show makes up for what it loses with the animation, set design, music choices, and overall immersion into a realistic South Asian American world, to the point that the series transcends the comics in some ways. The show is as good as the comics are, and even better in ways that paper comics could never be.

Beyond the filmmakers’ phenomenal flair, what makes this adaptation so authentic is that Iman Vellani is Kamala Khan. Her casting is as perfect as RDJ as Iron Man, Chris Evans as Captain America, Chris Hemsworth as Thor, any comparison you want to make. Of all the iconic comic book castings, she is the top of the top. It is a JOY to watch her work.

In her first acting role ever, this young performer captures the heart, the humor, the energy, the fear, the youth, the responsibility, the creativity, the silliness, everything that Kamala Khan is. As soon as the show started, I couldn’t think of her as a comic character or an actor performing a part, or a person reciting lines written for a corporate studio project; she just was. The person on screen just was.

Iman’s performance is so definitive and the filmmaking tricks are so immersive and the storytelling is so authentic that when I re-read the comics now, it almost feels like G. Willow Wilson’s comics were based on the show, and her Kamala was based on Iman. Iman is Kamala.

Ms. Marvel/Kamala Khan (Iman Vellani) in Marvel Studios' MS. MARVEL. Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios. ©Marvel Studios 2022. All Rights Reserved.
Iman Vellani as Ms. Marvel/Kamala Khan

 

The Immigrant Experience On Screen

The way the show introduces the audience to the Khan family is just as well done. The show’s representation of South Asian American life is wonderful. I had tears, I just couldn’t believe it. By taking full advantage of their real-world live-action format, the show immerses the audience into Kamala’s culture more effectively and authentically than the comics ever have.

The Islamic set decoration, the costumes, Aamir’s Arabic prayers (played by Saagar Shaikh), the mix of languages at home, the constant aunty gossip, even the details like cricket, Kamala’s dad (Mohan Kapur) being fascinated by technology, Kamala’s mom (Zenobia Shroff) packing Bruno (Matt Lintz) extra food, and even Nakia (Yasmeen Fletcher) and Kamala washing themselves before prayer (wudu) – this is real! These are things from my own life that were brought to screen for the world to see. As a South Asian Muslim American, I am stunned by how true Ms. Marvel’s snapshot of typical desi life in America is.

While Ms. Marvel’s family is naturally cartoonized for a sitcom-style show, it still remains so real. The blend of languages and even music styles is so true to our mixed identities as the children of immigrants. At one point, Iman meets a new desi friend and they immediately bond over their similar backgrounds and families. Her excitement to meet him is so pure and so real. I’m amazed how authentically the show is able to re-create the instantly indescribable connection between two strangers who come from the same background. The show re-created our normal lives so faithfully that there are probably several little cultural moments that could be foreign for other audience members that I haven’t even thought about, because they the filmmakers captured our regular, mundane daily lives so truthfully.

It’s hard not to get emotional or personal because when I was a kid, we never saw heroes like this. For Halloween, I always had to be the “Indian Harry Potter” or the “Indian Clark Kent.” I got excited by the Batsuits when Bruce Wayne covered his chin because I could imagine myself in the costume. My friends didn’t understand my home culture either. Growing up, I tried to hide from it and pretend I was just like the white people around me. Indian people were just the weird outsiders in a white person’s world, and I didn’t want to be a weirdo. I wanted to be normal. I wanted to belong.

With projects like Ms. Marvel, this all changes. Previously overlooked cultures are being shared and celebrated with some of the largest audiences around the world. The beauty and joy and heart of Islam and South Asian families are being introduced to millions of people for the first time. The wonder, fear, and bravery of the impossibly complex immigrant experience is being captured on screen.

Kids like me are being seen and appreciated for who they are. The world can see that we’re not weirdos, that there are others like us, that we have so much in common, that we are brothers and sisters from the same family, going through the same experiences together. That we matter, we belong in the fabric of society, and we can create our own stories too.

Ms. Marvel is a fun show and a great adaptation of a beloved comic, but more importantly, it’s a cultural showcase and a powerful message of inclusion being broadcast by the biggest studio in the world, telling us all that these people and their stories and their complicated lives matter too. That we contain multitudes and can’t be held by stereotypes.

And what’s brilliant about the way that Marvel Studios does their culturally-specific projects is that they’re also showing how cool our culture is, from our music to our food to our clothes to our traditions. They’re reminding us that yes, our weird home cultures can actually be our strengths too, that we can be proud of the heritage we come from, that we can embrace our family’s roots and legacies – while still being Americans. Instead of being torn between two worlds, we can embrace both parts of our identities and become one unique multicultural whole. There is no single message that is more meaningful for immigrant children. And that’s pretty cool.

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

If you have questions about cultural things in the show, just ask a friend! My DMs are always open. The beauty of projects like Ms. Marvel is to help people understand other cultures and to re-see the same world we all share from the point-of-view of others.

What might seem “unusual” in a show like this is usual for someone else, and making the realization that we’re all the same humans living in different home cultures is the magic of stories told by different voices. It is a joy and privilege to see the minutiae of my home culture shared with the global audiences of the MCU and to help people understand what they’re seeing on screen. If you have questions, just ask!

 

It’s the Same Kamala From The Comics

In short, I’m stunned by how much fun Ms. Marvel is, how creative it is, and how inventive it is. It takes the comics and adapts them to screen through a new lens, while still staying faithful to the comics in every way possible. There are some changes and abbreviations, but this is really one of the most faithful 1:1 adaptations Marvel Studios has ever done.

There is still much left to unpack for the rest of the series, but the tone, direction, characterizations, and energy of the series are exactly what everyone hoped they would be. Her powers are different, but the change never breaks the flow of the story or her character’s journey. It’s the same Kamala from the comics, struggling with the same problems as in the comics, with the same family and friends from in the comics. And yes, there are lots of giant hands and sloth babies.

Ms. Marvel Title Card

 

 

Next time on Ms. Marvel

The most important thing for future episodes is that I would like them to go deeper with the big cultural details. Considering this is the first show starring an Islamic family that many kids and adults have ever seen, I would have liked them to at least cover the basic tenets of Islam and life as a Muslim in America.

Whether it’s the five daily prayers or the no-pork rule or even a basic explanation of what Eid is, I would have liked the show to go more in-depth with the ABCs of the religion and how regular Muslims structure their daily lives around them. However, I understand they are easing audiences into the world naturally and slowly, so I will just hope that they cover the rest of the important things naturally by the end of the show.

In addition, I need more food! As great as the cultural representation is in these two episodes, they barely scratch the surface with the food shown on screen. I would love a quick montage showing off all the wonderful curries and sweets from our South Asian cuisine! In the episodes so far, they frequently cut around the eating, focusing the scenes on their discussions instead of the actual food they’re eating.

Where is my South Asian Goodfellas cooking montage? Where is the food respect for the thousands of years of history behind our colorful and intoxicatingly aromatic cuisine?

These first two episodes feature “lesser Eid” but do not elaborate on what the Islamic holiday actually means. Lesser Eid is another name for Eid Al-Fitr, the day of celebration at the end of Ramadan, and one of the only two major holidays in the Islamic calendar. Also called “Sweet Eid,” it traditionally involves feasts and endless deserts. This should have been the perfect showcase for South Asian sweets, as well as Kamala’s fun energy – but the show glosses over the significance of the day entirely and makes it a generic social event with food trucks and little snacks.

Furthermore, the fact that Eid Al-Fitr comes at the end of Ramadan means the show starts during Ramadan, yet this is never touched on in either episode. Ramadan is a huge, month-long event that could be a whole season to itself, or at minimum an episode. But the show inexplicably chooses to start during the holiest month in the Islamic calendar, without any reference to it, and without any of the characters fasting (not even Aamir, Kamala’s very religious brother).

I hope future episodes can somehow explain how they skipped over Ramadan entirely, but it is likely too late by the end of episode 2. As great as everything else in the show is, this is a humongous miss. It could be possible that young Kamala mixed up “Lesser Eid” and “Greater Eid,” which is a common mistake. But until that is explicitly confirmed in the future, this seems like a shocking mistake on the part of writer Kate Gritmon and the Muslim creatives supervising the show.

UPDATE: After this review was published, we were able to ask Sana Amanat (executive producer, writer, and Ms. Marvel co-creator) to clarify this situation. She explained that the show actually features Eid Al-Adha, and Kamala’s line is a joke to how the Greater Eid is the lesser one because there are fewer sweets, presents, and celebration involved. I’m glad they didn’t gloss over Ramadan, but it’s still confusing! 😅

Natalia Lisovskaya/Shutterstock
Photo by Natalia Lisovskaya/Shutterstock

Beyond showcasing the wonders of our food itself, I have also been waiting to see how the show approaches the tradition of eating by hand. Showing whether or not they choose to eat with their hands is important because many South Asians, especially immigrant parents, feel more comfortable eating traditional food like rice with their hands.

For my family from Bangladesh, this is crucial for helping remove fish bones while eating. However, the tradition of eating by hand can create a conflict for immigrant kids because eating rice with our hands isn’t culturally “acceptable” in America. As a result, the decision to eat by hand or not can symbolize where someone sits on the identity continuum between “home culture” vs “adopted culture.”

At family gatherings, expecting everyone to eat by hand can alienate Americanized kids who don’t feel comfortable eating with their hands and feel embarrassed to ask for a spoon or for help removing their bones. Meanwhile, other families might have a mix of people eating by hand and by utensils, or only with utensils! The decision to eat with hands or with utensils symbolizes an important part of our sliding spectrum of internal self-identity, which is genuinely worth addressing in a show like Ms. Marvel.

By simply not showing characters eating, the series is avoiding the conversation altogether. Hopefully, we will see this explored in the future when Kamala goes to Pakistan, where eating by hand is the cultural norm.

As for the soundtrack, the music choices are a TON of fun. With nearly 30 licensed songs across the first two episodes, the majority of music is soundtrack, with Laura Karpman’s score assisting in key emotional scenes and transitions. Her music is a fantastic blend of poppy modern electronica with traditional Indian influences, but the main Ms. Marvel hero theme has left me a little underwhelmed so far.

A mainly brassy tune with South Asian instrumental touches, the trumpet motif feels stereotypically heroic but it didn’t feel like authentic South Asian music to me. As great as the music is within the series, the hero theme has moments where it feels like an outsider using our instruments to be ‘exotic.’ The music has moments that gave me the impression of an American trying to act South Asian instead of a genuine South Asian American.

Considering that Karpman is scoring Kamala’s next appearance in The Marvels, I hope the theme grows with me with time, and I hope the show uses it in meaningful ways as Kamala’s journey continues. For now, the theme makes me think more of Shang-Chi than Ravi Shankar. But the scene-to-scene music within the show is still very good, and I’m interested to see how Karpman continues to incorporate her unique style in the future episodes, especially those set in Pakistan.

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.
Iman Vellani as Ms. Marvel/Kamala Khan

In the Ms. Marvel comics, there was a brief but major subplot early on about Kamala learning to be happy in her own skin instead of fantasizing about being a blond white girl like Carol Danvers. Early on, she even has the power to transform into the Americanized body image she always wanted, before she learns to embrace herself for who she already is. This character arc is a crucially important part of the immigrant experience.

The show does follow Kamala struggling with her own identity, especially as her first hero costume is based on Captain Marvel, just like in the comics. However they haven’t yet touched on her relationship to her physical appearance and skin tone as powerfully as the comics did, and I don’t know if they will. I hope it comes later in the series, and I think there are creative ways for them to do that even with the new power change. I am hoping to see this elaborated on in the future because the shift from wanting to be white, to being proud of who she, is was a major and very relatable part of her origin story in the comics.

The coming-of-age heart with goofy teen humor matches fan favorites movies like Spider-Man: Homecoming, Shazam!, and Turning Red. But more than those films, Ms. Marvel shows Marvel Studios launching their own superhero version of a high school sitcom, loosely sharing DNA with the Disney and Nickelodeon teen shows from the 2000s like Lizzie McGuire, That’s So Raven, and Ned’s Declassified. I grew up with those shows when I was a kid, so I think it’s nostalgic and endearing, but your mileage may vary.

With the TV format, I’m curious to see if these high school scenes are concentrated in the first two episodes only, or if they continue into the future as well. I would love for her high school hijinks to continue onwards regularly, which I felt Marvel lost sight of with Spider-Man: Far From Home and No Way Home.

(L-R): Yasmeen Fletcher as Nakia; Matthew Lintz as Bruno, and Iman Vellani as Ms. Marvel/Kamala Khan in Marvel Studios' MS. MARVEL. Photo by Chuck Zlotnick. ©Marvel Studios 2022. All Rights Reserved.
Yasmeen Fletcher as Nakia; Matthew Lintz as Bruno, and Iman Vellani as Ms. Marvel/Kamala Khan

I was excited that Kamala’s mom has much more presence in the show than she did in the comics. The show is really leaning on Muneeba and Kamala’s relationship, to the point that Kamala’s mom was given several of the father’s more pivotal moments from the comics. It will be interesting to see how their relationship plays out in future episodes.

Given the changes they’ve made to the family lore, I’m looking forward to seeing how they reconcile Kamala’s lineage and the relationship among her maternal ancestors. Although it seems different from the comics for now, I think their character arcs are building towards a truly heartwarming finale.

But in short: I really loved the episodes! I love this show. I am ecstatic about Iman’s Ms. Marvel being in the MCU for years to come. Words are not enough to express how special these two episodes were to me. I would like a 20-episode season extension and a second season confirmation immediately, especially if they can address the concerns I mentioned.

Thank you all for reading! Please let me know your thoughts and reactions to the show tomorrow at @vinwriteswords and remember to follow the site at @MyCosmicCircus! I hope everyone enjoys the show as much as I do!

 

Before the show starts this Wednesday, be sure to also catch up with Ms. Marvel: No Normal and the rest of Kamala’s comics with our complete Ms. Marvel reading guide! With a show as dedicated to comic fans as Ms. Marvel is, reading the comics will make your experience twice as fun!

Ms. Marvel Reading Guide

 

Images courtesy of Marvel/Disney.

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Reviews, reading guides, and crazy theories. Currently obsessing over Moon Knight, Blade, and Doctor Strange. Find me on Twitter @vinwriteswords!
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