This discussion and review contains light spoilers for Ms. Marvel episode 1, “Generation Why,” on Disney+.
The premiere episode of Ms. Marvel, “Generation Why,” is absolutely brimming with style, confidence, and heart. Instead of a continent, galaxy, or multiverse-spanning adventure, the series focuses its attention on the micro, to great effect. Between her tight-knit Muslim Pakastani-American family, relatable stumbles at school, and the tangible depiction of her home of Jersey City, Kamala Khan doesn’t just enjoy one of the strongest intros we’ve seen so far on Disney+, but across the Marvel Cinematic Universe as a whole.
Right from the get-go, it’s clear that Ms. Marvel has a distinct visual style and tone. While a lot of the MCU has a tendency to paint with the same handful of brushes, this show immediately pops with a unique confidence. The first thing we hear is The Weeknd’s “Blinding Lights,” a song whose energy matches that of the show. But more than that, it reflects the frequent use of lens flares throughout the episode, as well as the inciting incident at AvengerCon that ultimately draws out Kamala’s new powers.
From here we’re quickly thrown into the animated intro, which does an excellent job of telling us exactly the kind of high school kid Kamala is. She’s a hardcore Avengers fangirl, with Captain Marvel unsurprisingly being her favorite. She spends her free time dabbling in cosplay, listening to Scott Lang’s podcast (which Disney should 100% make a real thing), and creating YouTube videos despite only receiving a handful of views from her two subscribers.
Iman Vellani’s passion and excitement as Kamala is absolutely infectious, and it provides the most immediately likable hero we’ve seen in the MCU since Tom Holland’s Peter Parker. Everything from her failing her driving test in spectacular fashion, to her daydreams during the banality of school, to her ultimate first steps towards being a superhero makes me so excited to have her as a part of the MCU for years to come.
While Vellani is a revelation, plenty of credit also goes to the creative team behind the camera. Head writer Bisha K. Ali embodies each and every scene with humor and authenticity. From family squabbling to the Circle Q convenience store, Kamala’s world feels so incredibly rich and lived in. It’s immediately clear that her family is close and all love each other, despite all of the baggage that comes with that. There’s her older brother who can seemingly do no wrong, her warm and loving father who’s willing to turn a blind eye to rule-breaking, and her stricter and stern mother, who most likely already knows some of the family’s more mystical history, something I’m sure later episodes will be digging deeper into.
While the writing and performances are stellar, it’s the direction of “Generation Why” that really stands out amongst its MCU streaming peers. The duo of Adil & Bilall, the pair behind 2020’s Bad Boys for Life, injects the kind of unique visual identity that we need to see more of in the MCU — this episode feels like a blend of Edgar Wright’s Baby Driver and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. There are a ton of fearless creative choices at play here, and nearly each one pays off. I loved watching Kamala and her best friend Bruno ride their bikes through the neighborhood thinking of different Captain Marvel cosplay mashups, all while those ideas materialized as animated graffiti on the walls behind them. Likewise, their text exchange appearing on their bedroom walls and in neon storefront signs adds a propulsive sensation to a simple conversation.
I also loved this episode’s trip to AvengerCon, which did a great job of showing us the cultural impact that these heroes are having on the world around them. The Hulk test of strength, Giant Man photo opportunities, and array of overpriced chotchkies brought to mind our own fan conventions like Comic-Con, as well as Kamala’s introduction in the Marvel’s Avengers game during A-Day.
Of course, fans of Ms. Marvel’s excellent comic runs throughout the 2010s will notice that her powers in the series, as well as their origins, differ greatly. Gone are her dormant Inhuman abilities triggered by Terrigen Mist that focus on her Mr. Fantastic-like embiggening. Instead, her powers here come from the bangle sent to the family by Kamala’s grandmother and manifest themselves more akin to cosmic light and energy, which would align her with the likes of Captain Marvel and Monica Rambeau’s Photon, who are set to join Kamala in 2023’s film The Marvels.
Honestly, I’m totally fine with this change. The whole Inhuman experiment was kind of a mess on television, with the only lingering payoff being a quick gag in Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness. What’s most important is that this show’s creators totally nailed who Kamala is as a person, and I couldn’t be happier for that.
Even with the mid-credits stinger featuring Arian Moayed’s Damage Control agent whom we last saw in Spider-Man: No Way Home, we still don’t have a clear sign of who the antagonist of this series might be. I’m sure we’ll find out more about Kamala’s grandmother, how her mother ties into this all, and just what that strange purple realm she quickly fell into right before the costume contest was all about. There’s also a good chance her family’s bangle has some kind of cosmic roots, possibly Kree or Skrull.
One episode in, I’m completely enamored with Ms. Marvel. It’s a breath of fresh air from the drab stumbles we’ve seen in a lot of Marvel’s television efforts so far. While we’ve definitely been in this place before, with a promising pilot that eventually gives way to a paint-by-numbers third act where two giant CGI things bash against one another (cough cough WandaVision cough), this first episode’s sheer delight makes it worth forgetting about all that for now. The important thing is that Kamala Khan is finally a part of the MCU, and it’s absolutely better off for it.