Previously in the Marvel Cinematic Universe: After recovering her memory and remembering who she was before gaining her superpowers, Carol Danvers, a.k.a. Captain Marvel, defeated her former mentor, Yon-Rogg, and prevented Ronan the Accuser and his Kree squadron from launching any further attacks. She then leaves Earth to help the Skrulls find a new place to call home, and later returns to Earth to help The Avengers defeat Thanos once and for all. Wanda Maximoff, a.k.a. Scarlet Witch, released the town of Westview from her possession after defeating Agatha Harkness, and rescuing her children with the help of Monica Rambeau, a.k.a. Photon. When Wanda leaves and disappears, Monica is approached by a Skrull in disguise who informs her that she’s needed in outer space to meet with someone who was once friends with Maria Rambeau, Monica’s late mother.
THE STORY SO FAR: Kamala Khan is a teenage girl who lives in Jersey City, New Jersey with her strict-but-loving parents, and her older brother, who is about to be married. She is obsessed with The Avengers, particularly Captain Marvel, who is her favorite superhero, and she even records YouTube videos about her because of how awesome she thinks Captain Marvel is. Kamala and her best friend, Bruno, are both planning to attend the fan convention AvengerCon, where they intend on competing in a cosplay contest with Kamala dressed as Captain Marvel in a costume that they both designed. Kamala’s parents refuse to let her attend, resulting in her sneaking out with Bruno and going to AvengerCon anyway. It is there that, thanks to a bangle that once belonged to her grandmother and which she is now wearing as part of her costume, Kamala discovers she has superpowers, particularly the ability to create and harness cosmic energy. Unfortunately for Kamala, it doesn’t take long for those superpowers to gain her the kind of attention from others that will only make things worse instead of making them better.
WHAT’S GOOD ABOUT THIS EPISODE?: Kamala’s ten-part YouTube video series about Captain Marvel, which concludes with her arrival at the end of Avengers: Endgame to help Captain America, and every other hero in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (except for Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, Iron Fist, The Punisher, the Runaways, Cloak & Dagger, Ghost Rider, and any of the characters from Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., even that version of Deathlok played by J. August Richards), and her next episode is about her theory that Thor is actually a gamer. Kamala failing her driving test by crashing her parents’ car into the car that’s parked right behind her … which of course belongs to her license examiner. The background murals coming to life with animation that shows Steampunk Captain Marvel, Captain Panther, Iron Marvel, Captain Marvel as a Valkyrie, and Captain Marvel as a zombie, as Kamala and Bruno discuss cosplay ideas for AvengerCon. Kamala showing her support for a woman named Fatima who broke off her engagement so she could travel around Europe and learn more about herself.
Bruno and Yusuf bonding over his inventions for the Khan household, including a not-Ring surveillance system that can be viewed from Yusuf’s phone, and the not-Alexa used to activate all of the appliances, and can also understand Urdu. Muneeba and her ability to move faster than a speeding bullet when packing up food for Bruno to take home. Kamala and Bruno’s text-message conversation, and how each word and emoji is cleverly integrated into the background. Muneeba agreeing to let Kamala to go to AvengerCon, but only if she gets to dress up in an outfit that makes her look like The Hulk and is accompanied by her dad who is also dressed like the Hulk, complete with green body paint all over his face and head. The look of disappointment on Yusuf’s face when Kamala makes it clear that she doesn’t want to go to AvengerCon with him.
Kamala’s plan for sneaking out of her house to attend AvengerCon, which is first seen via Expectation (complete with Kamala and Bruno launching their bicycles onto a moving bus like they’re Michelle Yeoh in Police Story 3: Supercop (or maybe like Nicole Kidman in BMX Bandits, and if you recognize that reference, you’re probably as old as Captain America), and then shown as Reality, which of course turns out to be a lot messier. Kamala’s first usage of her powers, which results in her firing an energy blast that knocks off the head of a giant Ant-Man statue and sends it rolling and wrecking everything in sight like the boulder in Raiders of the Lost Ark. Kamala’s confrontation with Muneeba, who expresses her disappointment at Kamala sneaking out and being rebellious, and tells her that she needs to be normal, and either choose between focusing on herself and her family, or spending the rest of her life focused on fantasies and living with her head in the clouds. Kamala, still reeling from the discovery of her powers, gladly choosing the latter.
WHAT’S NOT SO GOOD ABOUT THIS EPISODE?: Nothing that really comes to mind.
DO ANY OF THE AVENGERS APPEAR IN THIS EPISODE?: Unless you count Kamala’s drawings of the Avengers in her YouTube video, and all of the cosplayers at AvengerCon, then the answer is no.
CAPTAIN MARVEL?: No.
MONICA RAMBEAU, A.K.A. PHOTON?: No. As far as we know, she’s still in outer space with Nick Fury and his hoochie-daddy shorts.
ANY EASTER EGGS WE SHOULD WATCH OUT FOR?: At the beginning of the episode that shows us Kamala’s newest YouTube video, there’s a brief glimpse of a cockatiel drawn on a sheet of paper, which looks very much like Ms. Marvel’s first arch-nemesis from the comics, The Inventor. (And yes, Ms. Marvel actually went up against a gigantic cockatiel whose DNA was accidentally spliced with the DNA of Thomas Edison) Scott Lang, a.k.a. Ant-Man, has his own podcast called Big Me, Little Me, which is partly how Kamala is so familiar with Captain Marvel and her superhero exploits. Thanos rocking a crown in Kamala’s YouTube video makes him look very much like this artwork here, which was inspired by Rick Ross. Coles Academic High School, where Kamala and Bruno attend, has a plaque out front that features the names of writer G. Willow Wilson (the school’s guidance counselor shares her initials, as well as her surname), and artists Adrian Alphona and Jamie McKelvie, who created this version of Ms. Marvel, as well as Stephen Wacker, who helped edit the series, and other notable Ms. Marvel artists such as Takeshi Miyazawa, Joe Caramagna, Nico Leon, and Ian Herring. Kamala’s bangle looks and acts somewhat similarly to the quantum bands that are used by cosmic superhero Quasar. AvengerCon occurs at Camp Lehigh, which is where Steve Rogers was trained with the military before he received the Super-Soldier Serum to become Captain America in Captain America: The First Avenger, and is also where he and Black Widow discovered that S.H.I.E.L.D. had been infiltrated by HYDRA in Captain America: The Winter Soldier.
As Kamala and Bruno head inside to enjoy AvengerCon, they hear the song “The Star-Spangled Man With A Plan” which was performed when Captain America went on a USO tour instead of being permitted on the battlefield in The First Avenger, and several of the female cosplayers are dressed in the same outfits as the backup singers and dancers who performed with Cap on that very same USO tour. There are way too many familiar faces to be listed here when it comes to who is cosplaying as what, but two of the most notable things seen at AvengerCon are a book being sold with Captain America and his BBL on the cover saying “You’re welcome, America,” in reference to him being America’s Ass, and a mural dedicated to Iron Man and Black Widow, thanking them for their sacrifice. At the start of the closing credits, many of the murals on display are comprised of cover art from issues of Ms. Marvel. And one of the vehicles that can be seen driving through the streets of Jersey City during the closing credits is a truck belonging to Trust-A-Bro, the moving company owned by the Tracksuit Mafia from Hawkeye.
ANY FAN THEORIES SPREADING LIKE WILDFIRE ACROSS THE INTERNET BECAUSE OF THIS EPISODE?: Just that Kamala’s grandmother, who owned the bangle that grants Kamala her powers, was possibly a superhero when she was younger, and Muneeba is fully aware of this and clearly doesn’t want her daughter following in those same footsteps. Not just because she expects Kamala to be good and not act like American teenage girls, but also because she probably wasn’t happy about her mother being a superhero and saving the world instead of being home with her family.
ARE THERE ANY SCENES DURING THE CLOSING CREDITS?: When Kamala discovers her superpowers at AvengerCon, and accidentally begins using them, the other AvengerCon attendees unsurprisingly use their cell phones to record what is happening. (Fortunately for everyone, it’s much less violent and disturbing to witness in comparison to John Walker-as-Captain America angrily bashing someone’s head to a bloody pulp with his shield). This cell phone footage ends up making its way to Agents Cleary and Deever of the U.S. Department of Damage Control, the same government organization that largely contributed to Vulture’s villain origin story in Spider-Man: Homecoming, and who later interrogated Peter Parker, his friends, and his family in Spider-Man: No Way Home when Mysterio revealed to the world that Peter is really Spider-Man. (Remember when the No Way Home trailer first dropped, and Marvel stans somehow became convinced that this white man with his sleeves rolled up and his forearms exposed as he’s slamming paperwork down on a table right here was Matt Murdock, a.k.a. Daredevil, and that this was somehow proof that he’d be in the movie? *sighs* Good times.) After watching the footage and seeing what Kamala is capable of, they both decide that they need to bring her in.
SO WHAT IS UP WITH MS. MARVEL’S POWERS BEING CHANGED FROM WHAT THEY WERE IN THE COMICS?: In the comics, Kamala received her superpowers from Terrigen mist that she comes into contact with after walking back home from a party that she snuck out to attend. And Terrigen mists were featured in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., but since Kevin Feige and Marvel Studios rarely acknowledge that show’s existence, that origin story wasn’t a possibility. It’s why the source of Kamala’s powers is changed from that of Terrigen mists to the magical bangle that once belonged to Kamala’s grandmother. Instead of shape-shifting, elongation, and altering the size of her entire body (or “embiggening,” as she calls it, which as we all know is a perfectly cromulent word), she still has elongation and embiggening, but the majority of her powers are now cosmic and focused on creating and harnessing cosmic energy constructs.
This particular change has bothered many fans of the Ms. Marvel comic book series, who felt that Kamala’s original powers, particularly her shape-shifting, in which she would make herself look like a blonde-haired white woman instead of her usual brown-skinned Pakistani-American self, were a perfect reflection of her self-doubt and her insecurities about herself and her ethnicity. Some of those same fans also feel that Marvel Studios changed her powers to avoid any comparisons to Mister Fantastic, as if heroes having similar abilities and powers in the same comic-book universe is purely inconceivable and would cause mass hysteria amongst fans. Either way, both Wilson as well as Sana Amarat, who also co-created and helped edit the comic-book series Ms. Marvel, and who is now a producer for the television adaptation, have both stated in interviews that Kamala’s powers being changed for live-action isn’t a dealbreaker and doesn’t change who the character really is. Which is fine, but it also reminds me of how author Lee Child made very similar statements when Tom Cruise was cast to play Jack Reacher, and how he gave the thumbs-up to this casting choice, despite the fact that Cruise looks nothing at all like the six-foot-five, 250-pound brick sh-thouse that Reacher is described to look like in all of his books, and a lot of Jack Reacher fans were more than willing to point this out. (Which is clearly not an issue with the newest version of Jack Reacher that is now gracing our screens) So … yeah, just go ahead and draw your own conclusions.
A thread on why Kamala Khan’s stretchy powers are essential to her character: pic.twitter.com/aaKnGHL5sP— Moe (@NOTSpawnOfVenom) May 23, 2022
As she comes to terms with her newfound abilities, she should learn to accept herself for who she is, and not be concerned about how others perceive her based on various factors. pic.twitter.com/EzRh9VwilL— Moe (@NOTSpawnOfVenom) May 23, 2022
And for people complaining the powers wouldnt look good: pic.twitter.com/kXOGjvlsdt— Moe (@NOTSpawnOfVenom) May 24, 2022
YOU’RE NOT SOUTH ASIAN/MUSLIM/MENA. WHY ARE YOU RECAPPING THIS? HOW COME ROXANA ISN’T RECAPPING THIS?: Because Roxana no longer writes for Pajiba, and is now writing for Vulture. (And if you’re not reading her work over at Vulture? Fix that, and fix it now!) Because I was asked to recap Ms. Marvel (much to my own surprise), and I said yes. Because I’m not Sean O’Connell at CinemaBlend, and I make it a point not to write and publish horsesh-t reviews about the things I watch just because the characters don’t look or sound like me. (I would link to his infamous review of Turning Red, but after it was rightfully called out on social media for being the ignorant horsesh-t that it was, the review was pulled, and it got sent to The Phantom Zone in a rocket-powered dildo where it belonged, though Google is your friend if you really want to find it.) I’m fully aware that I’m not Pakistani or of South Asian heritage, and what I know about those cultures couldn’t fill a thimble. (The same can probably be said about many a non-Black critic who has reviewed Atlanta, for example, and their lack of familiarity with the many aspects of Black culture that the show touches upon) But that isn’t going to stop me from appreciating what Ms. Marvel has to offer, and from giving it a tough-but-fair shot when writing about it. Besides, I really don’t have to try that hard to relate to a teenager in a brown family whose parents are very strict about having said teenager doing the right thing, following family traditions, and focusing on their studies instead of obsessing over all aspects of pop culture that sometimes make little to no sense to them. (As I’ve said before, being 14 years old and having to explain to your very religious and very Jamaican family members why you have a poster of Brandon Lee from The Crow on your bedroom wall was not the easiest of tasks.)
TO SUM IT ALL UP: This was one of the best pilots I’ve seen for any Marvel show so far that has aired on Disney Plus, and much of that is due to Iman Vellani and her performance as Kamala Khan. Her love and enthusiasm for Captain Marvel, her inability to fit in with the other kids at school, her friendship with Bruno and how much joy and comfort it brings her whenever they’re together, and her need to be independent and do her own thing instead of being smothered by her parents, Vellani is fantastic at conveying all of this, and makes it very easy to cheer her on as we go along on the ride of seeing her become the superhero that is Ms. Marvel. It also helps that this episode, in showing us what it looks like when Kamala’s imagination runs wild, was very reminiscent of Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (which we caught a glimpse of Kamala watching on television as she was lying on her living room couch) in terms of its mood and its visuals, and did the most to deviate from the usual Marvel house style and give viewers something that is a little more unique to look at.
I’m not saying that this pilot completely reinvented the wheel, but it does give some hope that Ms. Marvel will continue to give the audience something that’s a little bit different and more unique from most of the Marvel shows that have come before and that it will also make it all the way to the season finale without losing momentum, narrative coherence, or entertainment value, as many of these same Marvel shows have been accused of doing by both critics and fans.
This episode of Ms. Marvel has been brought to you by “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” by The Chromatics:
“Reflection” by Lea Salonga:
And “Reflection” by Christina Aguilera: