Ms. Marvel episode 2 review Crushed MCU Disney+ Muslim culture explored in thoughtful way Iman Vellani

This discussion and review contains spoilers for Ms. Marvel episode 2, “Crushed,” on Disney+.

The vibrant energy and fresh take on the Marvel Cinematic Universe displayed in last week’s excellent premiere of Ms. Marvel only continues in the wonderful follow-up, “Crushed.” Kamala’s juggling act of new powers, a new crush, new wrinkles in her closest friendships, and new mysteries of her family’s past all weave together for an expertly paced 50 minutes that fly by, leaving us with a compelling cliffhanger of some of the dangers that come with being a superhero.

The episode kicks off with Kamala strutting through the halls of her high school with a newfound confidence following her cosmic awakening at AvengerCon. Her mix of confident swagger and lingering jealousy over not being able to reap the social media benefits of being a superhero feel wonderfully grounded in reality, and so much of that is thanks to another impeccable performance by Iman Vellani, who is solidifying herself as the most exciting thing to happen to the MCU in a long time.

Vellani’s infectious energy is met with equal verve from her pals Bruno (Matt Lintz) and Nakia (Yasmeen Fletcher), who bring extra layers to the story. Lintz’s Bruno is great as Kamala’s “man in the chair,” but it’s clear he wants to be more than that. It’s rough seeing him in pain as Kamala starts crushing hard on Kamran (Rish Shah), the new kid in school. But even as we root for Bruno, it’s understandable why she falls for the new guy.

It’s not just that he’s handsome, drives a nice car, and does sick flips off a roof into a pool, but his background means that he gets all the nuance, baggage, and wrinkles of what it was like for Kamala to grow up as a Muslim Pakastani-American kid. That said, the final moments of the episode reveal he is holding his own secrets with a pretty nefarious-looking mother, so there’s hope for Bruno yet.

Ms. Marvel episode 2 review Crushed MCU Disney+ Muslim culture explored in thoughtful way Iman Vellani

As the only person close to her who knows her secret, Bruno is there to guide Kamala through a familiar, if not entertaining training montage. The baby steps made during this sequence pay off nicely in the episode’s final rescue, until a spiritual blast from the past throws a wrench in those plans, but more on that a bit later. Also, shout-out to Bruno playing New Super Lucky’s Tale on his phone via the Xbox Cloud, which gives Kamala the idea to use her powers to create platforms.

And then there’s Yasmeen Fletcher’s Nakia, who seems to be acting as the moral anchor to the more grounded portions of Ms. Marvel. It’s surprising in the best way to see the MCU evolve to a point where a large portion of this episode can deal with Kamala encouraging Nakia to combat the inherent sexism present in their mosque by running for the board. Throughout the past decade, we’ve seen this cinematic universe expand into Norse mythology, the deepest reaches of space, the inner sanctums of mysticism, and the infinite wonders of the multiverse. And honestly, seeing Nakia try to drum up support at their local Eid celebration by promising the halal guy first dibs on catering future events is a welcome addition to the scope of the MCU. Also, the introduction of the Illumin-Aunties was just one of the many moments in “Crushed” that made me laugh out loud.

As for Kamala’s bangle and new powers, we discover layers to the mystery at a crucial family dinner scene. It’s a wonderful sequence that highlights the Khans’ past, their stories, and their secrets. While it starts with a pretty solid goof about her brother’s goth phase while working at Hot Topic, things take a serious turn when we learn about the family’s history dating back to the partition of India. I loved the reveal of the line that “she followed a trail of stars.”

Ms. Marvel episode 2 review Crushed MCU Disney+ Muslim culture explored in thoughtful way Iman Vellani

It’s once again clear that Kamala’s mother knows more than she’s letting on, and the mystery of what happened to her great-grandmother Aisha, who originally owned the bangle, will most likely fuel what’s to come. I understand that some people might be impatient at the slower pace that we’re being given answers here, but I’m thrilled at how much the show has made me care about not just Kamala, but her friends and family members after two episodes. That solid foundation is going to make the impending revelations all the more powerful.

While this episode’s direction by Meera Menon lacks the kinetic energy of the Ms. Marvel pilot by Adil & Bilall, “Crushed” makes up for it with some absolutely stellar needle drops. Whether it’s Kamala’s secret victory lap at school to Ma$e’s “Feel So Good,” Kamala and Nakia rushing to get ready at the mosque to MIA’s “Come Around,” or Kamala’s puppy love being personified by The Ronettes’ “Be My Baby,” this has been far and away my favorite use of licensed music in the MCU this side of Guardians of the Galaxy.

Two episodes in, and I’m completely smitten with Ms. Marvel. Excellent performances, a fresh perspective, a tangible sense of place, and the seeds of a compelling mystery all weave together into a story that reaches the current highs we’ve seen in the Disney+ era of the MCU alongside moments of Loki and WandaVision. The building blocks are here for Ms. Marvel to take a cosmic, yet grounded step even higher.

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