Spoiler Warning: This interview contains major spoilers for Ms. Marvel Season 1
After more than 15 years with the MCU, Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige has gotten quite good at keeping information compartmentalized. So when it came time for Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah to shoot the now famous moment in which Kamala Khan is seemingly revealed to be a mutant – complete with the familiar jingle from the classic X-Men cartoon – they had to do it with next to no context.
“Yeah, so when we read the scene, the script, we had a bunch of questions which were not answered,” El Arbi says. “It was just you are tasked to shoot this, and put the music on it, and that’s that. Basically, that’s the only information we got.”
In other words, series director Bilall Fallah says, they will be discovering the true consequences of Kamala Khan’s unique genetics along with everyone else.
“We only know the scene that’s now in the finale. It’s a big honor obviously to have that, and to have that iconic song there, the little piece of the soundtrack, but that’s that. We will have to discover it,” Fallah says.
It was a familiar gambit for the MCU; not as heavy-handed as Loki, maybe, which had to give over what amounted to its entire finale to introducing a major new villain, but no less conspicuous. It worked, too. The day that the Ms. Marvel finale landed on Disney Plus, social media lit up with reactions to the carefully placed musical cue and the subsequent cameo by Brie Larson, who abruptly popped into Kamala’s bedroom in a scene shot by The Marvels’ director Nia DaCosta.
“That scene is actually directed by Nia DaCosta, because she was shooting the Marvels with Brie and [Iman Vellani], obviously. Same thing, she didn’t really know that that scene needed to be for our show, and we didn’t know that that scene was going to be made, so we discovered it when we were calibrating the episodes,” Fallah says. “[Feige] didn’t give any information to Nia, and didn’t give any information to us. He just said, ‘Shoot this.’ But I assume that’s what places, and who knows where Kamala is now, somewhere in that universe.”
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Ms. Marvel’s episode count was a “luxury”
The reveals capped off Ms. Marvel Season 1, which occasionally staggered under the weight of its multiple threads, but was otherwise a stylish and energizing take on the typical Marvel origin story, undergirded by family drama and the sweep of history. Our review praised it for its “bold palette and striking visuals,” saying that it “never loses its sense of wonder.”
Its charming coming of age story held special meaning for many Indian and Pakistani viewers, who praised little moments like Kamala’s best friend Nakia losing her shoes at the local mosque, to which a passerby remarks, “The mosque shoe thief has struck again.”
Calling it “cultural representation wrapped in bubblegum and pathos,” Fanbyte’s Imran Khan wrote, “It’s not just Ms. Marvel is a more personal story with smaller stakes, it’s not just that I happen to share a name and a culture with the protagonist Kamala Khan, it’s that someone took a look at what it would mean to be a Muslim superhero in the modern age and tried to actually represent that culture well in a major TV show.”
It winds up encompassing a huge swath of the Muslim experience within the framework of a superhero origin story: not just the fear of having the FBI show up at a mosque, but more joyful events like the wedding of Kamala’s brother as well as the bloody history of the India – Pakistan partition. Ms. Marvel’s huge scope led to criticism that Marvel’s six episode structure was stifling, despite it being more than three times longer than the origin stories of yesteryear.
“Usually, we are mostly experiencing films, and movies are just two hours. In this case, we had the luxury of having six hours, and obviously, if you give us eight, we’ll do more. You give us 12, we’ll do more,” El Arbi says.
“But I think that what was cool about it is that there were obviously a lot of threads, a lot of plots that you want to put in it, but that makes sure that there’s a high level of energy, and that’s what we always try to do when we have a fast-paced kind of show where a lot of things happen. Here and there, sometimes we take our time to really go zero in more on the character, and let it breathe a little bit. But I think that overall, the show is pretty energetic, and I think that’s because we squeezed it all in those six episodes.”
As for the most difficult story thread to pack in, El Arbi says that it was “obviously” the journey to Pakistan in the show’s fourth and fifth episodes, which shifts the setting from New Jersey to Karachi with a spot of time travel for good measure.
“Somehow, that on its own is already a season, you would say. You could do six episodes of that. It was a pretty big challenge to all of a sudden stop the New Jersey storyline, we would say, go to Pakistan, and then go back. But I think the writers and the producers managed to do that very well.”
Ms. Marvel’s emotional finale and the future
In the end, though, Ms. Marvel is able to bring 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 “wonder” or “marvel” in Urdu was singled out for special praise, with Fallah calling it “one of the most powerful scenes in the whole show.”
“While it’s a very simple scene – you have of course all the big action sequences that’s really fun to do – you have this very intimate father daughter moment that reminds me so much about my relationship with my parents,” Fallah says.
Looking ahead, Kamala is set to return in The Marvels, which was set up nicely with Captain Marvel’s sudden appearance at the end of Ms. Marvel (and Kamala’s disappearance). Fallah admits that he would love to make a Ms. Marvel movie himself. “That would be super cool, and see her family and friends, because we believe that her real superpower is all her friends, and family, and her community. If we can explore more of that world, it would be a big honor.”
There’s also plenty of material to mine from the comics since at the end of the day Ms. Marvel is still an MCU show. Fallah says that “there’s much more we can do with Kamala Khan,” including exploring her powers.
“She has that big dog,” El Ardi says, referring to Lockjaw, the enormous bulldog with the power of inter-dimensional teleportation. “If there’s another season or a movie, the big dog is going to have to be a big character in it.”
Looking back on how the first season turned out, El Ardi and Fallah can be satisfied with successfully establishing Ms. Marvel as a rising heroine in the MCU while potentially turning Iman Vellani into a star. What’s more, they told a sweeping story that’s rarely been seen on American television – and in a superhero show to boot.
“It’s just such a beautiful experience that we are able to tell this story, that Marvel is creating this story, and seeing that a lot of people get inspired, a lot of Muslim women get inspired,” El Arbi says. “Hopefully, it will open a lot of doors, and hopefully more and more of these kind of stories will be told onscreen. That’s my hope, and I’m just proud that we could have done this in the Marvel universe.”
Kat Bailey is a Senior News Editor at IGN as well as co-host of Nintendo Voice Chat. Have a tip? Send her a DM at @the_katbot.