How Ms. Marvel succeeds where Spider-Man: Homecoming failed
The new Disney+ series is the closest Marvel has ever come to nailing a coming-of-age comedy.
Ms. Marvel is a lot of things.
It’s a superhero origin story, a comic book action series, and even a show about being a fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But Ms. Marvel is also a coming-of-age dramedy in the same vein as movies like Pretty in Pink, The Breakfast Club, and 10 Things I Hate About You. However, unlike 2017’s Spider-Man: Homecoming, which was heavily marketed as a high school comedy leading up to its release, Ms. Marvel doesn’t dress itself up as a John Hughes-esque teen comedy.
The new Disney+ original actually looks, moves, and feels like a coming-of-age story — one that’s centered on a teenage girl who just so happens to be obsessed with the MCU’s superheroes. As a result, Ms. Marvel manages to do what Spider-Man: Homecoming couldn’t.
Ms. Marvel follows Kamala Khan (Iman Vellani), a teenager living in New Jersey who suddenly finds herself capable of wielding extraordinary powers. For Kamala, whose love for Captain Marvel and the Avengers is made immediately clear in Ms. Marvel’s premiere, becoming a superhero is all she’s ever wanted. Despite that, Episode 1 isn’t that interested in Kamala’s superhero powers or her inevitable alter ego.
Instead, the series’ first installment dedicates almost the entirety of its runtime to following Kamala as she struggles with her day-to-day school and family activities. The show establishes the social dynamics of her school, and it takes the time to explore Kamala’s goals and ambitions and why she feels like an outsider.
Over the course of Ms. Marvel’s premiere, Kamala becomes the kind of eccentric, misfit high schooler that is at the center of every great coming-of-age movie. And it’s only after she’s been fully fleshed out that Ms. Marvel gives her superpowers.
Ms. Marvel also goes out of its way to visually express Kamala’s emotions. It embraces her imagination by frequently taking her inner thoughts and digitally plastering them onto the world around her, making it that much easier to become fully immersed in Kamala’s teenage world.
All of this is to say that Ms. Marvel manages to achieve the kind of coming-of-age, high school comedy tone that it’s striving to reach. However, Ms. Marvel isn’t the first MCU title that has tried to emulate the classic John Hughes coming-of-age movies of the 1980s. In 2017, Marvel and Sony attempted to accomplish something similar with Spider-Man: Homecoming, but their efforts to make Tom Holland’s first solo film as Peter Parker a coming-of-age comedy ultimately came up short.
That’s because, despite packing itself full of 1980s-themed needle drops and centering its plot around a school dance, Spider-Man: Homecoming never spends enough time actually exploring Peter Parker’s normal day-to-day life. His school never feels nearly as real or authentic as Kamala’s, and the film abandons many of its high school-centric plot points to explore Peter’s rivalry with Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton).
But Ms. Marvel doesn’t just top Spider-Man: Homecoming as a high school comedy.
The new Disney+ series also tells a far better MCU-set coming-of-age story. In Spider-Man: Homecoming, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) and Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) are featured so heavily that they end up taking away from Peter’s own story in the film. In Ms. Marvel, however, Kamala’s idolization of Carol Danvers never overshadows her role in the show or impacts how active she is in her story.
Ms. Marvel simply treats Kamala’s love for the Avengers and Captain Marvel as nothing more than the MCU equivalent of real-world fandom. It doesn’t define her character arc in Ms. Marvel like Peter’s relationship with Tony does in Homecoming. But it does make her coming-of-age story feel custom-fitted for the MCU in a way that doesn’t come across as obnoxious or self-congratulatory on the part of Marvel.
Ms. Marvel’s first episode does a lot right. The show’s creators paced and constructed Episode 1 incredibly well. However, Ms. Marvel’s ability to replicate the same tone and feel of so many coming-of-age classics makes it feel quite unique.
The fact that it manages to achieve that tone and style while still telling a superhero origin story is a testament to the precision of the show’s storytelling. The series isn’t telling a coming-of-age story that just so happens to be set within the same world as the Avengers, but one that’s actually about coming of age in the MCU.
Ms. Marvel is streaming now on Disney+.