‘MS. MARVEL’ Episodes 1-2 Non-Spoiler Review: Turning Marvelous

“Too much of anything is unhealthy,” my aunt used to advise me. Sure, we were using this expression as justification of our third slice of pizza (who can deny NY pizza?), but the sentiment can be shared with empty-calorie franchises like the MCU, a franchise that has reached a point of content overload. Four or five movies a year with an equal amount of streaming shows is far too much content for anyone to keep up with who watch anything outside of the franchise. Seven-year-old me would’ve been thrilled with the idea of never waiting more than a month to see a new story within the franchise, but older, and (somewhat) wiser me can barely remember what happened to Florence Pugh’s character in “Black Widow,” let have the will or patience to see her arc continue in “Hawkeye.”

Now, in all fairness to the MCU and Disney, they’ve earned the right to begin phoning it in if they wanted to. After 20+ successful movies and an amazing blend to their first chapter with “Avengers: Endgame,” success like that is unlikely to ever be seen again. That isn’t to say the MCU hasn’t tried, but some of their recent projects have been questionable misses or lackluster sequels. Perhaps this is just the early-MCU in me speaking — “Iron Man” came out when I was seven — but the MCU has needed a fresh face that brought something new to the table. Enter “Ms. Marvel,” the MCU’s newest young hero

When you’re a complete cash cow like Disney that is guaranteed hundreds of millions of dollars with every theatrical release, it can become a case of “quantity over quality.” And to be fair to Disney, they have earned that right with a franchise as big and successful as the MCU. But as we’ve reached a point where there is little to no downtime in between MCU projects, a far cry from where this all started, the creativity and overall quality of the franchise have suffered. Up until “Endgame,” I was a pretty big supporter of the franchise. But since then, the MCU has been a mixed bag and the sense of content overload has increased with four movies and four or five shows a year, and that’s a rough estimate. Simply put, it’s hard to keep up with all of the MCU shows and the only one I’ve seen through is “WandaVision.” Well, “Ms. Marvel” is here to save the day and likely become the second MCU series I see through. Within 15 minutes, “Ms. Marvel” will make you forget anything else that has come before in Phase 4 of the MCU and appreciate the most unique and creative content that they’ve put out in years.

Episode one is directed by the duo that revived the “Bad Boys” franchise, Adil El Arbi and Bifall Fallah, who instantly make their presence known. They may have proved their worth when they first brought a steady hand to a Michael Bay franchise, but now, in the MCU, they bring such energy and flair with camera movement that has not been seen in any other MCU projects (save for “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness”). They nail the modern teenage angst that was somewhat tackled in Jon Watts’ Spider-Man trilogy but also deliver on the MCU origin formula that viewers have come to expect.

Iman Vellani immediately wins you over as Kamala Khan (with one of the coolest examples of comic book alliteration ever). You’ve seen the awkward high school story arc enough times to fill up its own cinematic universe, but Vellani’s charm is irresistible. I wasn’t on board with the idea of a Young Avengers group, but Vellani has single-handedly changed my view on that. She’s all of the things that most of us were in high school: Awkward, angsty (especially with our parents), and scared of what the future held post-graduation.

Kamala also faces the biggest adversary that all teenagers face: Social media. The phenomenon that constantly dictates the moods of countless teenagers over numbers is cleverly woven into the plot. For example, when Kamala ends up saving her school’s popular girl from a near-death experience, Zoe (Laurel Marsden), she has to hold back the urge to take credit for the save. Zoe’s social media pages blow up, inflating her ego and creating a Flash Thompson-like dilemma for Kamala.

A still from “Ms. Marvel.” Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios.

Every high school social outcast needs their quirky best friend and Kamala has Bruno (Matt Lintz). Bruno is this hero’s tech wiz that created an Amazon Alex system — titled “Zu-Zu” in this universe — for Kamala’s father (Mohan Kapur) and fills the role as the lovestruck guy best friend that gets uber jealous when Kamala hits it off with Kamran (Rish Shan). And take it from someone with experience in that type of situation, it doesn’t usually get better. The one thing he does have going for is that this show takes place under the Disney banner.

The first episode of “Ms. Marvel” revolves around Kamala’s quest to attend “Avengers Con,” perhaps the coolest convention that a nerd can attend, in an effort to win a Captain Marvel cosplay contest. Let it be known that this cosplay contest is far tamer than the things I’ve seen at some comic conventions. Of course, Kamala’s mother is very opposed to this and tries her damnedest to prevent her daughter from going. The one thing that is still puzzling is how she equates “Avengers Con” to a wild, drug-filled party and yet allows Kamala to go to an actual house party thrown by Zoe. Also, if Kamala is fully aware of the fact that her mother wants her nowhere near this convention, why is she picturing Instagram posts with pictures from the convention during the “Oceans”-style montage that shows her plan to sneak out? Wouldn’t putting pictures on the internet run the risk of her mother or a family friend seeing them? Perhaps I’m thinking too hard about this, but it’s one of those plot conveniences that makes little sense and sticks out like a sore thumb.

Also, I know the MCU has the right to reference not only themselves but also the dense catalog of IPs that are hidden behind the gates of Cinderella’s Castle should not be an excuse to do so much self-referencing such as the shoehorned references to “Mulan” and Darth Vader.

A still from “Ms. Marvel.” Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios.

Most important to a story like “Ms. Marvel’s” is the family. Mohan Kapur is a scene-stealer as Kamala’s father. Zenobia Shroff plays Muneeba Khan, Kamala’s mother, who is given a lot more time to shine in the first episode that has a plot resembling “Turning Red” and sees Muneeba being the overprotective mother that Mei had in the aforementioned Pixar film. Above all else, both Shroff and Kapur portray parental figures with authenticity that is equally effective in the family dinner scenes and the scenes where the parents have their hearts broken by their teenage daughter.

In all fairness, I don’t know anything about Ms. Marvel the character. What I do know, however, is that Kamala’s powers look a whole lot like if you combined the powers of Mr. Fantastic and Captain Marvel (you two cosmic heroes have some explaining to do). Despite the apparent controversies surrounding Kamala’s powers and the accuracy to the comics, her powers had no effect on my viewing experience. Let’s be real; will this affect anyone other than diehard fans that will stick up for anything the MCU does regardless? I doubt casual viewers like myself are going to do a deep dive into the history of Ms. Marvel before the series.

Above all else, “Ms. Marvel” has its own distinct aesthetic. Leave it to a directing duo who took over a Michael Bay property to have some of the most unique camera movements (sans “Multiverse of Madness,” of course). Additionally, beautiful comic book font a la “The Mitchells vs. the Machines” occasionally graces the screen in place of exposition from time to time. There’s both energy and urgency to all of the montages.

And while Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah’s direction really stands out in the first episode, Meera Menon directs the second episode and does a good job carrying the torch. It’s not an exact replica, as Menon brings her own style to the table, but both of the first two episodes are directed by steady hands. It’s funny that pre-“Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness,” I said that very few MCU films/shows felt as if there was a director’s fingerprint on the project. Sure, James Gunn and Taika Waititi both brought something to the table, but it wasn’t until “Multiverse of Madness” that a director’s style was palpably felt. Enter, “Ms. Marvel,” which also has its directors’ fingerprints all over it and its own aesthetic/setting unique to itself.

“Ms. Marvel” is a promising start for what could be the best of the MCU ins a long, long time. From the opening sequence that uses a remix of The Weeknd’s “Blinding Lights,” to the energizing montages, “Ms. Marvel” is something new and refreshing for the MCU. It also highlights Jersey City and provides representation of the Pakistani culture. While I’ve been burned in the past by good starts from MCU shows (looking directly at you, “WandaVision”), “Ms. Marvel” simply gives me more faith in what is to come than anything else the MCU has given us recently. It’s bold, funny, and the right kind of wacky that is needed in this franchise. To go back to my terribly-accurate quote from earlier, yes, the MCU has put itself into a corner of sorts with the amount of content it provides, but think of “Ms. Marvel’s” first two episodes as garlic knots; not needed but delicious.

“Ms. Marvel” will premiere on Disney+ on June 8.

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