Through medical help, Baymax is once again saving the day—but the lovable robot won’t save you from Disney’s agenda.
Kamala Khan isn’t normal.
Her mother, Muneeba, might tell you as much, if you catch her in an unguarded moment. Oh, she loves her daughter. But the girl’s always dreaming—spending her time doodling in her notebook instead of paying attention in class, or creating another silly YouTube video instead of studying.
Some of her schoolmates might say Kamala deviates from the norm in other ways. She doesn’t drink, for one thing. She’s always going on and on about superheroes. She’s Muslim, too—not secular and cynical like most of her peers.
But only a few know just how, um, abnormal Kamala really is.
Kamala didn’t know herself how different she was until that night she snuck out of her parents’ house to attend AvengerCon: the first-and-biggest gathering of superhero fans this side of Brooklyn. She dressed as Captain Marvel, of course. Who else? But she also slapped on a bangle that supposedly belonged to her mysterious grandmother. And whaddya know? Thanks to that bracelet, Kamala suddenly started manifesting all these strange, stretchy, shiny powers that she never knew she had.
Why, Kamala even saved a fellow student at AvengerCon in genuine superhero fashion. Sure, Kamala kinda-sorta put the girl’s life in danger in the first place, but hey. Accidents happen.
But others know about Kamala’s new … talents. The Department of Damage Control would definitely like to bring the girl in for a bit of questioning. More alarming, a group calling themselves the ClanDestine—known throughout the ages as djinn—wants to harness Kamala’s powers so they can go home to their own dimension. And they’re through asking politely.
Well, Kamala will come up with a name later. For now, she must explore her super abilities, grapple with her family’s complicated past, steer clear of those government agents who seem determined to track her down and bring her in and, who knows, save her little corner of the world from extradimensional beings.
Yeah, Kamala Khan’s not normal. Not normal at all.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe has leaned mostly on its Golden and Silver Age superstars for a while now: Captain America was a product of the 1940s, Iron Man from the early 1960s. Ditto the Avengers. But Ms. Marvel—at least, the 2013 iteration, not the earlier versions from the ‘70s and ‘80s—is technically younger than Kamala Khan herself.
Fitting that the Disney+ show feels so fresh.
Ms. Marvel—a little like the Tom Holland Spider-Man movies—feels almost as much like a coming-of-age romcom as it does a superhero story. But it ratchets the atmosphere up a bit. Her emotions are conveyed in the show through changing lights, clever animations and, occasionally a dance move or two. Text exchanges are splashed out not on tiny, prosaic phone screens, but in the neon signs adorning shops or reflected in puddles on the street. It’s creative and colorful—fitting not only for our likable heroine, but for the oversized emotions that are common to most teens.
And even as Kamala explores her superpowers (and in spite of my lead above), she feels oh so normal, and thus winsomely relatable. She crushes on guys. She struggles to relate to her family. She, like many a teen (fictional and real-life alike), is trying to balance being the person her parents raised her to be and casting out in her own direction. Only in Kamala’s case, that new direction involves a handful of superpowers.
She’s also the first Muslim Marvel superhero. And while Kamala’s religion might give many Christian parents fair reason to pause, let me suggest that her faith actually might make her more relatable to Christian families, not less.
No, she doesn’t worship the Christian God. But her faith separates her from many of her more secular students. Her parents hold Kamala to high standards, just as many Christians hold their own kids: For instance, Muneeba fumes at how Kamala’s peers dress and act. She worries about her little girl falling for boys and drugs and insidious secular influences.
“I wish you would just focus on you,” Muneeba sighs. “Your grades, your family, your story. Do you want to be good, like we raised you to be, or do you want to be this cosmic-head-in-the-clouds person?” That doesn’t sound too different from what Christian moms might tell their own sons and daughters. And like so many moms and dads reading this review, Kamala’s own parents are deeply loving and very dedicated to their daughter—even if they’re not exactly sure what that dedication might entail as of yet.
And the fact that Kamala is Muslim might give parents an opportunity to talk with their kids about the differences between the two faiths—and open up new streams of spiritual discussion.
But we’re not out of the woods yet.
The show, being a superhero story, comes with its share of action and violence. Costumes (much to Muneeba’s chagrin) can sometimes be tight and a bit revealing. Mild profanity can be heard in the dialogue. And if the series follows Ms. Marvel’s comic-book lead, one supporting character will likely be gay.
Those concerns shouldn’t be minimized. But so far, Ms. Marvel feels pretty innocent when compared to, say, Disney+’s grim and spiritually murky Moon Knight or the gritty, complex Falcon and the Winter Soldier. And in its early going, it’s way more navigable than the big screen’s Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness.
It’s early yet, yes. But so far, Ms. Marvel is a marvelous return to superhero form.
Kamala and her mother, Muneeba, fly to Karachi, Pakistan, to visit with Muneeba’s own aged mother, Naani. It turns out she knows something about Kamala’s newfound powers and mysterious heritage. But Kamala will be visiting more than her grandmother in Pakistan: She runs into a covert organization—the Red Daggers—that seem to want to check the ambitions of the ClanDestine. Why? Because if the ClanDestine get their way, it’ll mean the end of the world as they know it.
The ClanDestine don’t care, and we see quite a bit of them in moment of frenetic violence. Members of both the ClanDestine and the Daggers apparently die, often via knife wounds to their chests and backs. People are thrown into walls and fall from high places. Kamala throws some energy-enhanced punches and blocks (again using energy fields) blows from various weapons. Some characters get blasted with energy guns, knocking them senseless. Trucks and other vehicles crash, harming more property than people. A water explosion scalds someone.
While the episode takes place in Islamic Pakistan, religious content takes a backseat here to Kamala absorbing Karachi’s colorful, chaotic streets. We do hear something about the nature of both the ClanDestine and Kamala, who share special abilities what Naani waves away as “just genetics.” We learn that the ClanDestine are far different from the djinn from myth and religion, too. “If Thor landed in the Himalayan Mountains, he too would’ve been called a djinn,” Kamala is told.
The partition of Pakistan and India forms an increasingly integral part of this story, and we see and hear about the hardship that this historical 1947 separation created. Naani says that people are still trying to define themselves based on what an “old Englishman” thought was best.
We see some glasses of wine at a posh get together. One character blurts out “b–tard” during a moment of great stress, and God’s name is misused four times.
Kamala learns more about who and what she is from some folks from another dimension—folks like her—and who need her help to go home. Kamala and her friend, Bruno, discover it’ll take a bit of time to figure out how to do that safely. But turns out, these extradimensional beings don’t have a lot of patience. “I’m not going to ask anymore,” one says. And they crash the wedding of Kamala’s brother to deal with her—even if it means everyone else present might die.
The episode offers plenty of love and strong advice from Kamala’s friends, family and the imam of her mosque. “Good is not a thing you are, Kamala,” the imam tells her. “It’s a thing you do.” Her mom tells Kamala that she and her father love her and want to help her—but they’ll have to know what she’s actually dealing with before they can. (She doesn’t tell them.)
Kamala also overhears her father offering advice to her nervous brother, Aamir. “A man has one fundamental choice in life. To live a life in fear or love,” he tells Aamir. “A man who chooses love chooses joonoon. Passion. He chooses faith. Courage. You are about to stand in front of God and family and commit to the love of your life; You are brave, my son. Because you have chosen family. And the man who chooses family is never alone.”
We see the wedding ceremony (attendees shout “Allahu Akbar”, or God is greater, at the ceremony’s conclusion) and the party afterward. Officials from the Department of Damage Control stomp into the mosque to ask questions about the mysterious superhero they believe the place of worship may be hiding: The imam tells them to remove their shoes when they return with a warrant, and Nakia (Kamala’s friend who was elected to the mosque’s board) steams over the DODC’s efforts to have Muslims “surveil on our own people.”
Those extradimensional characters call themselves the ClanDestine, but admit they’ve been called other things throughout history—most notably djinn (supernatural beings that originated in pre-Islamic folklore and are often seen as demonic creatures). We hear references to ghosts as well.
Kamala and a couple of her friends fight members of ClanDestine, who wield a variety of weapons. Punches are thrown, heads are butted, and people are thrown into walls and off balconies. Kamala’s powers shield her from most of the damage, but Bruno seems to suffer a cracked rib or two. Another combatant is rendered unconscious.
Kamala lies to and misleads her parents (which she clearly doesn’t enjoy doing). We hear one or two misuses of God’s name.
It’s a busy episode for Kamala: She begins to explore her newfound powers (resulting in a few bumps and bruises); she encourages her friend, Nakia, to run for their mosque’s leadership committee; and she begins crushing on a new boy at school. But shadowy figures have noticed her superpowers, too. And some seem to be up to no good.
We see quite a bit of Kamala’s religious life here. She and Nakia run late for services (“Always the same two that are late,” sighs one of the mosque’s matrons), and they grumble about the condition of the women’s section of the mosque. (Mosques always separate worshippers by gender.) They gripe about the “mold under the carpets, and Nakia is horrified to find that someone stole her shoes while she was worshipping. We see the two, and others, engage in other Islamic worship activities, including washing before entering the worship space and bowing to Mecca. Two girls—younger than Kamala and Nakia—have their phones confiscated as they giggle during services.
Nakia begins her campaign during a more social Islamic event, where she and Kamala talk about the various cliques that need to be wooed for the election (including the Mosque Bros, the Pious Boys, new converts, etc.). Nakia wears a hijab, and she says that when she wears it, she feels like she has purpose. But it’s been a source of tension in her family: “Between the hijab and the girlies [breasts], my parents can barely look at me anymore.”
We hear references to the “evil eye,” and when Kamala faints, her brother sings a prayer over her. We hear mysterious rumors of Kamala’s grandmother, who disappeared decades before. “I heard she had a secret affair,” someone says. “I heard she had many affairs and had a secret family,” another adds. “I hear she killed a man!” a third says.
Kamala, Nakia and Bruno attend a party where Kamala’s crush is also attending. (He jumps from a rooftop, shirtless, into a swimming pool, and Kamala ogles him as he dries off.) They go out for food later and she and the boy secretly hold hands. But when Kamala’s brother shows up, Kamala lies and says her crush is their “cousin.” Kamala’s parents confess a love of Bon Jovi. “If it wasn’t for Slippery When Wet (referencing a famous Bon Jovi album), “your father and I might have never met.” A lesbian couple loiters around Kamala’s locker. She pushes them apart as they talk but tells them that she’s rooting for their relationship to work.
Kamala and Bruno suffer a few minor bumps as Kamala explores her powers. She saves a child from nearly falling to his doom. Police break up a party. Someone gives Kamala a drink, telling her it’s just orange juice. When she takes a sip and chokes, he amends his statement and says, “and some vodka.” (Kamala, who clearly doesn’t drink, says, “Am I drunk?”)
Jersey City teen Kamala Khan really wants to go to AvengerCon, a gathering of superhero fans. But her mom won’t let her dress up as her favorite hero, Captain Marvel, because of that hero’s “very tight suit.” So Kamala decides to sneak out of the house and go anyway, accompanied by her best friend, Bruno. She brings along a bangle that belonged to her mysterious grandmother, too. But when she adds it to her costume (bringing a bit of her Pakistani heritage to the outfit), she discovers that it gives her (or channels her already latent) superpowers. Chaos ensues.
Her powers manifest in a huge, crystal-like fist that extends far from her body. That fist sends a gigantic display helmet tumbling down the convention floor (attendees scream and run away) and causes a huge replica of Thor’s hammer swinging—dragging a fellow high school student high into the air and forcing Kamala to save the girl.
Kamala and her family are Muslims (as is Kamala’s good friend, Nakia, who wears a hajib). Her older brother is particularly devout, and their father chides him for praying too long. (“May Allah forgive you one day,” the brother jokes back.) We hear talk of djinns, spiritual creatures found in Islamic literature.
Kamala’s mother, Muneeba, worries that if Kamala goes to AvengerCon, she’ll run into “strange boys thinking god knows what and drinking god knows what.” Later, Mom tells her that she’s definitely not going to leave the house and “dress like all those other girls in those skimpy outfits. That is not you.” (We see some of those skimpy outfits at AvengerCon: Kamala’s own outfit covers her body but is a bit tight.) We see a bit of underwear in a dressing room as well.
Kamala’s parents flirt with each other. Bruno clearly has a crush on Kamala. We see a rainbow symbol along with the words “Asgard Pride” at AvengerCon.
Kamala has her nose bloodied during a game of dodgeball. She crashes into another car during a driving test. We hear a reference to cocaine. Kamala and Bruno concoct a comically complicated plot to sneak out of Kamala’s house. Kamala disobeys and belittles her parents in a moment of frustration. But when she realizes how much she’s hurt her father by her actions, Kamala feels terrible about it.
We hear one use of the word “a–,” and one of “crap.” God’s name is used inappropriately five times.
Paul Asay has been part of the Plugged In staff since 2007, watching and reviewing roughly 15 quintillion movies and television shows. He’s written for a number of other publications, too, including Time, The Washington Post and Christianity Today. The author of several books, Paul loves to find spirituality in unexpected places, including popular entertainment, and he loves all things superhero. His vices include James Bond films, Mountain Dew and terrible B-grade movies. He’s married, has two children and a neurotic dog, runs marathons on occasion and hopes to someday own his own tuxedo. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.
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