Spoiler Alert: This interview contains major spoilers for Ms. Marvel Season 1
After more than 15 years at the MCU, Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige has gotten pretty good at segmenting information. So when it came time for Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah to film the now-famous moment in which Kamala Khan appears to be revealed to be a mutant – complete with the familiar jingle from the classic X-Men cartoon – they had to as next do to no context.
“Yes, so when we read the scene and the script, we had a number of unanswered questions,” says El Arbi. “It was just your job to shoot that and put the music on it and that was it. Basically, that’s the only information we have.”
In other words, says series director Bilall Fallah, they will join everyone else in discovering the true consequences of Kamala Khan’s unique genetics.
“We only know the scene that is now in the final. Of course it’s a great honor to have that and to have this iconic song on it, that little piece of the soundtrack, but that’s it. We have to discover it,” says Fallah.
It was a familiar move for the MCU; perhaps not as clumsy as Loki, which had to sacrifice its entire finale to the introduction of a major new villain, but no less flashy. It worked too. The day the Ms. Marvel finale landed on Disney Plus, social media lit up with reactions to the carefully placed musical entry and subsequent cameo by Brie Larson, who starred in one created by The Marvels director Nia DaCosta filmed scene suddenly appeared in Kamala’s bedroom.
“This scene was actually directed by Nia DaCosta because she was shooting the Marvels with Brie and [Iman Vellani], apparently. Same, she didn’t really know that scene had to be for our show, and we didn’t know that scene was going to be filmed, so we spotted her when we were calibrating the episodes,” says Fallah. “[Feige] Nia didn’t give any information and neither did she give us any information. He just said, ‘Shoot that.’ But I suppose those are places, and who knows where Kamala is now, somewhere in this universe.”
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The revelations capped the first Ms. Marvel season, which occasionally staggered under the weight of its many threads, but otherwise was a stylish and energetic take on the quintessential Marvel origin story, underpinned by family drama and story momentum. Our review praised it for its “bold palette and eye-catching looks” and said it “never loses its sense of wonder”.
His charming coming-of-age tale held special meaning for many Indian and Pakistani viewers, who praised small moments like Kamala’s best friend Nakia, who lost her shoes at the local mosque, to which a passer-by remarked, “The shoe thief of the Mosque has struck again.”
Calling it “cultural representation cloaked in gum and pathos,” Fanbyte’s Imran Khan wrote, “It’s not just that Ms. Marvel is a more personal story with smaller stakes, it’s not just that I just happened to have a name and a… Sharing culture with the protagonist Kamala Khan, someone looked at what it would mean to be a modern-day Muslim superhero and tried to actually represent that culture well in a major TV show.”
In the end, it encompasses much of the Muslim experience within the framework of a superhero origin story: not just the fear of the FBI showing up at a mosque, but also happier events like Kamala’s brother’s wedding and the bloody history of the India-Pakistan partition. Ms. Marvel’s enormous scope led to criticism that Marvel’s six-episode structure was stifling despite being more than three times longer than yesterday’s origin stories.
“Usually we mostly experience movies, and movies only last two hours. In this case we had the luxury of six hours and of course we’ll do more if you pay attention to us. They give us 12, we make more,” says El Arbi.
“But I think the cool thing about that was there was obviously a lot of threads, a lot of plots that you wanted to put into it, but that makes sure there’s a high level of energy, and that’s what we always try to do when we have one.” fast-paced type of show where a lot of things happen. We sometimes take time here and there to really get into the character and let it breathe a little. But I think the show as a whole is pretty energetic, and I think that’s because we squeezed everything into those six episodes.”
As for the hardest story arc, El Arbi says it was “obviously” the trip to Pakistan in the series’ fourth and fifth episodes that shifts the setting from New Jersey to Karachi, with some time travel for good measure.
“Somehow that alone is already a season, you would say. You could do six episodes of that. It was quite a challenge to suddenly stop the history of New Jersey, we would say go to Pakistan and then back. But I think the writers and the producers did a very good job on that.”
Ms. Marvel’s emotional finale and the future
In the end, however, Ms. Marvel manages to pull it all together with an exciting, emotional finale in which Kamala finds both her name and her costume thanks to her family. The scene in which Kamala’s father, Yusuf, points out that her name means “miracle” or “miracle” in Urdu received particular praise, with Fallah calling it “one of the most powerful scenes in the whole show.”
“Even though it’s a very simple scene – there’s all the big action sequences, of course, which are really fun – there’s this very intimate father-daughter moment that reminds me so much of my relationship with my parents,” says Fallah.
Looking ahead, Kamala will return in The Marvels, which was well prepared with Captain Marvel’s sudden appearance at the end of Ms. Marvel (and Kamala’s disappearance). Fallah admits he’d love to direct a Ms. Marvel movie himself. “That would be super cool and to see her family and friends because we believe her real superpower is all of her friends and family and her community. If we can explore more of this world, it would be a great honor.”
There’s also a lot of material from the comics, as at the end of the day Ms. Marvel is still an MCU show. Fallah says that “there’s a lot more we can do with Kamala Khan,” including researching her powers.
“She has this big dog,” says El Ardi, referring to Lockjaw, the giant bulldog with the power of interdimensional teleportation. “If there’s another season or a movie, the big dog has to play a big part in it.”
Looking back on Season 1, El Ardi and Fallah can be content with successfully establishing Ms. Marvel as a rising hero in the MCU and potentially making Iman Vellani a star. In addition, they told a a gripping story seldom seen on American television – and on top of that in a superhero show.
“It’s just such a beautiful experience that we can tell this story, that Marvel is creating this story and to see a lot of people being inspired, a lot of Muslim women being inspired,” says El Arbi. “Hopefully it will open a lot of doors and hopefully more and more stories like this will be told on screen. That’s my hope and I’m just proud that we could have done that in the Marvel Universe.”
Kat Bailey is Senior News Editor at IGN and co-host of Nintendo Voice Chat. Do you have a tip? DM her to @the_katbot.