In the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the stakes have only been getting greater and greater since Demir Adam‘s debut in 2008. In Avengers: Endgamefans saw the culmination of Kevin Feige’s multi-phase master plan, in which every hero across the galaxy came together to defeat their most powerful foe yet: Thanos.
butt in Ms. Marvel, Kamala Khan’s (Iman Vellani) story brings Marvel back down to Earth — figuratively and literally. Set in Jersey City surrounding a (seemingly) normal Pakistani-American family living in modern-day Earth-616, the Disney+ series sheds light on a more realistic version of our own society within the MCU, giving audiences a glimpse into the normal day- to-day living in the post-Blip aftermath.
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And that’s not to say that our titular hero doesn’t see her fair share of action sequences, chase scenes and run-ins with galactic forces throughout the show, but Ms. Marvel takes a step back from the Avengers-focused narrative that Marvel audiences are so used to. Rather than focus on Earth’s Mightiest Heroes taking on the Galaxy’s most threatening villains, Kamala’s story lies more within her personal struggles than it does with her newfound cosmic powers. At its heart, it’s a coming-of-age story about a girl searching to find her own identity. And that is wildly refreshing, and in a way, makes her perhaps the most relatable MCU character for some.
“It’s not really the brown girls from Jersey City who save the world,” Kamala tells her best friend Bruno (Matt Lintz) in an early scene of the series. But it’s exactly that part of Kamala’s identity that makes her so relatable, lovable and a joy to watch. While the MCU has seen its fair share of teenage heroes thus far — Peter Parker, Shuri, America Chavez and even a more mature but still young Kate Bishop — they’ve all been closely connected to one of the Avengers, some of them even fighting alongside the heroes themselves.
Of Ms. MarvelThe Kamala stands on her own — but that’s enough. Every story is multifaceted, every identity multi-dimensional. It’s refreshing to see a hero so completely far removed from the sphere of the Avengers, and yet, the quick-witted writing and deep world-building manage to keep viewers invested all the same.
She’s a Muslim-American, but she’s also a struggling teen trying to figure out her future at school. Who hasn’t been there? She wants to make her parents proud, but her true interests lie deep in the world of fandom, specifically for her superhero idol Captain Marvel. At just 16 years old, she yearns for independence but doesn’t quite know how to navigate it. And although she’s acquired superpowers and gotten wrapped up in a dangerous entanglement with otherworldly beings, above all, you’re rooting for her and her family on basic levels.
While Peter Parker had Iron Man, Yelena Belova had Black Widow, Kate Bishop has Hawkeye and America Chavez has Doctor Strange, Kamala (for now) only has her family. Despite not having any special connection to a well-known or beloved character, (besides her admiration for Carol Danvers), the Khan family’s natural chemistry and deeply-rooted history is a breath of fresh air in this universe with so many moving parts. From big wedding celebrations and conversations around the dinner table to mother-daughter tensions and the struggle of family sacrifice, at times Ms. Marvel can feel like being enveloped in a warm hug. You know the Khans, so you care about them. In her journey to find her identity, Kamala finds that looking back on her family roots is the solution to not only figuring out her powers, but also finding out who she truly is.
Courtesy of Daniel McFadden/Marvel Studios
And this shift isn’t just character-based. Rather than center the MCU world-building around fictional events (The Blip, the Battle of New York, the Sokovia Accords, etc.) and the traumas that resulted, one of Ms. Marvel‘s major plot points surrounds the Partition — the division of British India into two separate states of India Pakistan in 1947 — and the struggles that the Muslim population perpetrated as a result of religious discrimination and displacement.
In episode five, viewers, along with Kamala herself, are let in on what truly happened the night that Kamala’s grandmother Sana (Samina Ahmad) got on a train to Pakistan during the Partition. It’s in these flashbacks that Kamala realizes she’s been transported to the fateful night that her grandmother always talks about, and that it’s Kamala herself who leads Sana back to her father. The history of Kamala’s great-grandmother Aisha (Mehwish Hayat) is also revealed — the matriarch comes from the Noor dimension, but elected to stay on Earth to remain with the man she loved, passing on her magical bangle to Sana, and eventually, Kamala .
“Even at my age, I’m still trying to figure out who I am,” Sana tells her granddaughter in episode four. “My passport is Pakistani, my roots are in India. And in between all of this, there is a border. There is a border marked with blood and pain. People are claiming their identity based on an idea some old Englishmen had when they were fleeing the country. How is one to deal with that?”
In shedding light on this real-world event, Ms. Marvel presents a truly human story, perhaps one that is more resonant today than ever before. Away from Earth’s mightiest heroes, the show explores how the Earth continues on spinning, even without them. The stakes here do n’t lie within the fate of the universe, but rather, with the fate of Kamala’s family. Taking audiences deep into Kamala’s life not only makes us root for her now, but cultivates a love for her among fans later down the road, when she’s sure to pop up in future films and shows.
After the series comes to an end, fans will no doubt be holding out for the epic moment of Kamala’s dramatic entrance in an Avengers film, which is sure to be met with an eruption of hollers and applause in theaters. While she’s writing her own story now, it’s only a matter of time before Ms. Marvel becomes integral to the fate of humanity.
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