If there’s one thing I’ve noticed about the streaming content of the MCU’s Phase 4 is that no matter how good the show is, there’s always something of an awkward transition when the show shifts gears into the hard superhero stuff. The problem seems to be that the character stuff in the first few episodes are usually so strong, that when we inevitably transition into superpowers and villainy, the equilibrium seems to be a little off as we wait for the balance between the two to assert itself.
Perhaps it was inevitable that Ms. Marvel would succumb to the same issue that also caused Moon Knight and Loki to oh-so-slightly stumble at the midway point (the Marc Spector heavy episode and the episode set on that purple planet, in case you were wondering), but after the introduction of the overarching plot in the previous episodes, a show that started incredibly strong finds itself treading water as Kamala Kahn’s endearing teen issues clumsily makes way for more familiar fare.
After the events of Eid that saw superpowered teen Kamala Kahn not only save a small child from certain death, but get pursued by government agency Damage Control who attacked her with drones and Sonic cannons, the superhero in training got an instant lesson regarding the highs and lows of the life she’s so admired. However, the plot thickens when salvation came in the form of Kamran and his mother Najma who manage to whisk her away from the scene and give her some interesting insight into the bangle that unlocked Kamala’s ability to project hard light and how it all connects to her great-grandmother Aisha who disappeared during the Partition in the 40’s.
It seems that Aisha, Najma and Najma’s associates are all from another dimention who found themselves trapped here long ago and who need the bangle to find their way home. Known by many names, the two most prominent ones seem to be Clandestines or Djinn and Kamala is welcomed into the group and agrees to aid them in their quest, but when she passes this information on to best buddy Bruno to do some research in dimentional travel, he warns that such an operation could be unbelievably dangerous for this dimension.
On the fence about what to do, Kamala is further worried that her superhero secret life is having a negative effect on her people when her other friend Nakia reveals that Damage Control has been searching for her at her local mosque, but she puts everything on hold in order to have fun at her brother Amir’s wedding. Of course, anyone who’s watched even the bare minimum of superhero movies knows that it’s inevitable that a dual lifestyle will merge at the absolutely worst possible time, so Kamala will have to take a crash course in bad guy fighting when the Clandestines crash the event looking to take the bangle by force.
Regardless of your opinion of the never ending output of Marvel Studios, they usually make sure that their main characters are extremely well served with focus aimed almost exclusively on the title character and their surrounding social group and Kamala Kahn is no exception of this. In fact, bizarrely enough, Kamala’s set up was so well done that now it’s time for the supervillain plot to kick in it leaves the third episode somewhat off balance.
So before we start to pick apart Ms. Marvel’s weakest episode so far, let’s first concentrate on the good and, thankfully, there’s still plenty of this to go around. Iman Vellani is still the epitome of adorable and still gives the show the endearing drive that sets it apart nicely from the other shows in the Marvel vault on Disney+ and Kamala herself still feels as fresh and relatable as she did the first moment we laid eyes on her. Likewise her world is still a multicolored blast to the senses and its roots in Pakistani-Muslim culture contine to go admirably deep as we finally get to the wedding of Kamala’s brother and a full on Bollywood-style dance routine (the MCU’s second after Eternals) that continues the show’s trend of being as perky as it possibly can. Of course, the show also knows when to make a point and a scene of Damage Control Agent Deever (Orange Is The New Black’s Alysia Reiner) staging a dubious line of questioning in Kamala’s mosque without even removing her shoes is a stark commentary at some of the issues modern muslims have to face without purple aliens and multiversal fissures making things extra tough. Similarly, the relationship between Kamala and her friends and family are still a good provider of warmth as Bruno continues being her guy in the chair when figuring out inter-dimensional ramifications (nice name drop of Eric Selvig, too) while Nakia keeps her connected to the goings on in her community. However, it proves to be Kamala’s forced upgrade from saving falling kids to her first actual super powered scrap.
It almost feels like the show runners were having so much fun simply getting Kamala Kahn’s life and energy onto the screen that they suddenly realised that “oh shit, we’re three episodes in already” and they needed to step up the plot sharpish. Thus, in no time at all, we are rushed through an introduction with Najma and her group, an explanation to the fact they’re all beings from another dimension, their connection to Kamala’s great-grandmother and the bangle, convincing Kahn to help them return home and a shift to villainy all within a single episode and needless to say, the ungainly plotting leaves things a little too much to swallow.
Now, I realise that we’re only at the halfway point and further, future plot twists may throw things into better focus much like the characters reveals in Eternals, but as of right now it just reeks of the show shoehorning in a baddie that automatically has a link to the mystery of Kamala’s great-grandmother in a way that feels about organic as plastic fruit. Maybe it’s this kind of awkward storytelling that explains why Peter Parker’s inevitable graduation from fighting street level crooks to full blown cackling super bastards has always been mainly covered in montages and her battle with Najama’s underwritten cronies at the wedding feels so unearned is throws off the excitement we should feel at Ms. Marvel getting into her first brawl that includes her belting people with giant fists and everything – something that’s to Ms. Marvel as flinging a shield is to Steve Rogers.
So, even after this noticable trip over it’s own feet, Ms. Marvel still has all the moves that made her such a breath of fresh air three weeks ago and with a proposed trip to Pakistan on the cards (mirroring Moon Knight’s shift to Cairo, I guess) there’s still a lot to be revealed – I just hope it’s delivered a bit more with a bit more finesse than this…