Plot summary: Desperate to participate in a Captain Marvel costume contest, Kamala Khan stumbles on a family heirloom that gives her superpowers.
Episode Title: ‘Generation Why’
Air Date: June 8th, 2022
Directed: Adil & Bilall (1)
Written: Bisha K. Ali (1)
In the comics, Kamala is one of the many Inhumans – basically X-Men from space – acquiring Reed Richards style stretching powers. Both aspects have been changed significantly here with the direct consultation and blessing of Kamala’s creator, G. Willow Wilson.
Speaking of Wilson, her name appears on a plaque outside Kamala’s school, and the principal, Gabe Wilson, is ostensibly named for her.
The word ‘Bismallah’, spoken by several of the characters and appearing on Kamala’s bedroom wall means ‘in the name of God’.
Kamala Khan goes about her ordinary life, creating Avengers fan videos, failing a driving test and navigating the perils of high school with her friends Bruno and Nakia.
She and Bruno make plans to attend AvengerCon so she can compete in a Captain Marvel cosplay contest, seeking the perfect personal flourish on her costume.
Unfortunately, her parents refuse to let her attend – well, they offer to let her go with her father in matching Pakistani Hulk costumes, but she’s not into that idea at all.
Instead Kamala devises an elaborate scheme to sneak out and be home before they can even notice she’s gone.
Naturally nothing goes quite to plan and they barely make it in time. Kamala suits up, adding a bangle found among her grandmother’s belongings as her personal flair.
The bangle gives her strange powers, conjuring hard-light structures that cause chaos and nearly injure her classmate, Zoe.
Upon returning home, Kamala is grounded for disobeying her mother and told to give up her childish obsession with the Avengers.
Elsewhere, the Department of Damage Control learn of the incident at the convention, taking great interest in Kamala.
What a breath of fresh air.
It doesn’t take an awful lot for an MCU project to feel that way given how monotonous their filmmaking style is, so I feel comfortable calling this the most visually interesting thing they’ve made in years. The directors have called Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse an inspiration, which makes a tonne of sense based on the litany of animated backgrounds and vibrant on-screen text. From the graffiti coming to life while Kamala and Bruno talk about mash-up heroes, to the diegetic visualisation of their text messages later on, it’s a colourful show that will draw lazy/unfair comparisons to Scott Pilgrim vs. the World.
More so than that, there appears to have been genuine thought put into where actors should stand in each shot! The camera moves! The much-discussed camera flip/couch flop shot is a little clunky, but hey, they tried, and that’s genuinely the least we can ask these days. For me things like pulling out from the crashed car past The Khans and the driving instructor are far more effective anyway. I’m half dunking on them for how lazy they are with their production choices normally, but it is amazing the degree to which a little can go a long way in terms of making the series feel more engaging.
I feel weird talking about authenticity and representation given I’m just a big ol’ pile of generic white boy, but I’m happy to see a Muslim character and their family feature in such a high profile project without feeling the need to hold the audience’s hand and over-explain every tiny piece of verbiage. I loved little silly things like Kamala’s mother getting some leftovers ready for Bruno in literally 10 seconds or telling Kamala she straight up doesn’t trust her. The show has enraged the ridiculous Online Petition folks, so that’s a seal of approval as far as I’m concerned. Here are a couple of takes from some very good people I follow on Twitter who are far more qualified to speak on this:
I dug the AvengerCon idea, which is very similar to the opening of the much maligned Marvel’s Avengers video game, where Kamala attends a public event called A-Day featuring little customised attractions themed around each hero. It makes the world feel lived in, even if it is weird that so many people know who Captain Marvel is despite the complete lack of bystanders at the end of Endgame. Plus the narrative device of Kamala and Bruno trying to make it there and back undetected made for some goofy low-stakes fun and the heartbreaking offer from her father to attend as a Pakistani Hulk.
The part where it’s a superhero show has yet to fully come together; it has only been one episode after all. There’s been a significant change to the source and nature of Kamala’s powers, which doesn’t bother me at all. Quite the opposite in fact, as it makes it feel like a more personal story for Kamala, rather than her being just another Inhuman. Plus let’s be real: The Inhumans suck.
There’s also nothing in the way of a villain presence yet, but more on that below. Likewise, the single most important element they absolutely had to nail was the casting and characterisation of Kamala, which is also covered below, but let’s just say I’m pleased.
Beyond that I don’t really have much to say. It felt different. It was fun. But it’s only been one episode.
Most Marvellous Player
Dear reader, I have never been so torn.
Iman Vellani is cute as a gosh darn button. Truly an incredible find who can and should be a cornerstone of their plans for the next decade. Her real-life Marvel fandom shines through, and she’s a plucky clown more than happy to make a fool of herself. That’s an underrated quality in my opinion.
But honestly from a pure acting perspective I’m tempted to go with Zenobia Shroff as Muneeba, Kamala’s stern mother. She anchors Vellani’s performance without being a comically cruel parent stereotype, and as clichéd as it is, her disappointment in Kamala at the end feels infinitely more savage than if she had yelled at her.
I suppose the deciding factor would be that Iman is also able to bring it on the Serious Acting front in addition to being a charisma machine. I promise I’m not being one of those ‘Oscar Isaac should win an Emmy for Moon Knight!’ people, but I did think for what is functionally a first-time performer, Iman is a shockingly good actor. There’s even a subtle hint that she may have romantic interest in her classmate, Zoe.
There are no bad choices here, as the entire supporting cast are good from Matt Lintz as Bruno to Mohan Kapur as Yusuf (eternal sad face over the rejected Hulk costume) and even Saagar Shaikh as Aamir the obnoxious perfect older brother.
As has been somewhat of a tradition in the first episodes of the MCU shows, there isn’t really a villain. Yay!
You can argue Kamala’s mother is the villain of this episode, refusing to let her go to AvengerCon and not respecting her passions. The way she looks down on the very notion of daydreaming, and piling on with the other aunties for shunning a woman who went travelling around Europe is the kind of everyday villainy Marvel need a lot more of.
Arian Moayed reprises his role as Agent P. Cleary of Damage Control from No Way Home, and it’s pretty difficult to look at him and not see Stewey from Succession, so he’s automatically a great villain to me.
My MCU podcast, Ben & Matt’s Marvellous Journey has already finished for another year, taking a look back at Marvel’s 2021 projects alongside Ben Phillips.
In its place, There Will Be Movies returns soon for its fourth volume, wherein Ben and I will look at 25 of our favourite films from the 1980s.