“Ms. Marvel” gets off to a reassuringly confident start. The only obvious complaints are entirely superficial—don’t promise The Weeknd’s Blinding Lights as a recurring theme song and then not follow through. Secondly, Disney+ needs to more accurately report the run time without credits. I was expecting something like an hour-long first episode. Instead, it’s an extended half-hour, approximately forty-two minutes of action.
The episode opens setting up the show as a Captain Marvel spin-off. Lead Iman Vellani is an Avengers fanatic who edits great, hand-illustrated videos for YouTube (or whatever MCU YouTube would be). Anonymously, of course. Best friend Matt Lintz knows she does it, but her family has no idea. It’ll be interesting to see if there’s any juxtaposing of her exceptional video talent—I mean, she’s sixteen but cuts video like she’s a multi-million dollar streaming show—with her superheroing. Her family is primed to disapprove of both.
Vellani’s a modern MCU teenager living with Pakistani Muslim parents who don’t want to let her live her life. The show does a pretty good job with the home life. Brother Saagar Shaikh gets to show a bunch of depth, there’s clearly something to mom Zenobia Shroff (remains to be seen if it’s just performance subtext or if the show will explore it), and dad Mohan Kapur’s a lovable, aloof sitcom dad. The home stuff feels very sitcom. Good sitcom, thoughtful sitcom, but sitcom. Vellani’s the rambunctious one, though only because she’s a girl.
White guy Lintz has an entirely different understanding of her home life—the first half of the episode is him trying to convince Vellani to ask mom Shroff to drive them to the Avengerscon Convention because since Shroff’s so nice to him, she’s got to be cool all time. It’s very nice detail; again, not sure it’ll really matter. Because this episode’s very first act of a Disney+ Marvel limited series. We meet the characters, get the superpowers, introduce a couple potential subplots, and it’s off to the races.
But, for now—one episode in—there’s nothing wrong with any of the setup. Lintz mooning over a completely unaware Vellani’s a nice touch (I read the comic for a while, but I don’t remember enough of it, and not a moony best friend), and Shroff’s got multiple finely layered moments in the episode. She’s projecting her insecurities on Vellani. It’s good character work, and Shroff’s excellent.
The whole show, obviously, is Vellani. She’s doing a Marvel movie version of a Disney Channel teen show, which “Ms. Marvel” does through visualized imagined sequences. So, for example, when Vellani draws out a plan for Lintz, there’s a montage. Or when they’re texting, responses and emoji become part of the urban landscape. Or, when they’re biking, their conversation plays out on the graffiti they pass. It’ll be interesting to see if they keep going with the device. Seems like they can either do it for the “pilot,” then maybe towards the end a couple times, or they’re going to have to keep it going and not stop.
Though Vellani’s also got a different perception of reality once she gets her powers, so that device might function similarly going forward. The show seems to have a handle on everything; no reason for concern, just moments to enjoy.
Vellani’s outstanding. With Tom Holland’s Spider-Man off swinging through the land of limited mentions and potential studio squabbling, Vellani’s Ms. Marvel is the obvious heir apparent. The interesting thing about Marvel—comics, movies, and TV—is how the “universe” needs an invested, involved, detached participant observer, usually in the form of an outcast teenager.
I only hope Marvel uses Vellani so well when she gets promoted to the Captain Marvel sequel next summer.
We shall see. But for now, “Ms. Marvel”’s capably kicking ass on its own.