Disney Plus’ Ms. Marvel series alters the comics to give Kamala Khan a backstory that fits better with the current Marvel Cinematic Universe. But more so than that, Ms. Marvel is showing a side of the MCU that we just haven’t seen in a really long time: the way ordinary people live their lives, amid these superheroes and supervillains and catastrophic, world-ending events. Head writer Bisha K. Ali and the rest of the show’s creators smartly kept the more slice-of-life plot elements alongside Kamala’s superhero origin. Because the MCU currently seems more focused on constantly setting up the next big thing, it’s refreshing to remember what the hell these heroes are even fighting for.
Previously, we’ve gotten some glimpses of what regular people are up to in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, usually due to their relationships with the leading heroes. But after a certain point, the MCU stopped introducing completely new heroes. Even the ones not introduced as side characters in mainline Avengers movies had some existing ties to previous heroes or a life already embroiled in the inner machinations of the MCU already. Shang-Chi might not know any of the Avengers, but he was still raised as an assassin in a secret cult. Likewise, Kate Bishop took up archery because of Hawkeye and meets him straight away, so her adventures across the show are intrinsically intertwined with Clint Barton’s story. They’re also already skilled, so much of their hero origin (if you can even call it that) involves being in the right place at the right time and meeting the right people. And that naturally takes them out of everyday life and yanks them away from their friends and family who are just doing normal-people things.
Not so much Kamala Khan, however, who starts the first episode just really wanting to go to AvengerCon. Being a hero is just a distant daydream for Kamala, who is more concerned about completing her cosplay in time. She doesn’t get powers until the end of the first episode, but even after that, she keeps those abilities a secret from everyone in her life but her close friend Bruno. Because of that, the show explores more of what her family and friends are doing without the knowledge that there is a superhero in their midst. Kamala’s brother still has his wedding — complete with a little kid dancing in the Hulk salwar kameez her mom made in the first episode. Her friend Nakia gets the mosque board position. When she goes to Pakistan to talk to her grandma about their shared vision and ends up learning about the Red Daggers, her family remains blissfully unaware and takes her out sightseeing. It’s beautifully different from the rest of the existing MCU, where secret identities aren’t really a thing anymore.
The closest comparison in the MCU’s recent lineup are the first two Spider-Man movies, where Peter Parker still somewhat hides his identity and tries to balance regular high school things like the homecoming dance and a school vacation. Seeing Peter’s classmates navigate the blip and react to supervillains crashing their vacation is pretty fun, but unfortunately, because Peter himself knows basically all the Avengers and has access to Tony Stark’s personal armory, it doesn’t quite ever feel like a proper slice-of-life.
And that’s where Ms. Marvel shines. Because even though Kamala gets her powers, she doesn’t have any sort of mentor figure. She’s figuring this out all on her own, navigating her new powers and responsibilities. It’s a true, proper, actual origin story for the first time in a long time. The Spider-Man movie that Ms. Marvel shares the most DNA with, then, isn’t Spider-Man: Homecoming, but the first of the Sam Raimi trilogy, where Tobey Maguire’s Peter Parker doesn’t even know how to sling his webs. Kamala is similarly testing the extent of her powers, without anyone to advise her (except for a genre-savvy friend willing to help her test the limits), and the show is more focused on this exploration instead of defeating the bad guy or saving the world.
Yes, Kamala eventually faces a villain who wants to harness her powers for selfish gain and possibly destroy the world. But that villain has a grudge against Kamala’s family, which also ties into their generational trauma over the partition of India. It makes the stakes more personal and grounded. Kamala’s family is still involved in the story, despite not being aware of her superpowers. She has beautifully complex relationships with her family and friends as she juggles her cultural upbringing, her modern sensibilities, and also her burgeoning abilities. By not shying away from the everyday lives of the regular people, Ms. Marvel finally gives the MCU a hero who actually feels relatable — and one with an actual connection to the world that she needs to save.
New episodes of Ms. Marvel hit Disney Plus on Wednesdays.