“Ms. Marvel,” which just concluded its limited series run on Disney+, is a Marvel Studios series like no other. Centered on Kamala Khan (Iman Vellani), a Captain Marvel fan girl and self-described “brown girl from Jersey City,” the series might have eventually involved superpowers, time travel and ancient grudges, but at its heart was the story of a teenage girl learning to love herself and her occasionally overbearing family.
Intimately scaled but still full of adventure, “Ms. Marvel” is one of the most daring things Marvel Studios has done in a while, both in terms of its cultural specificity and in its visual aesthetic, which often pushed into a kind of live-action “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” design language.
A lot of that foundational work in terms of the tone and look of “Ms. Marvel” was developed by directors and executive producers Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah. (The directing team, who previously partnered for “Bad Boys for Life” and episodes of “Snowfall,” directed the first two and final episodes of the limited series.)
We asked El Arbi and Fallah about what it was like helming the first two episodes of “Ms. Marvel” and coming back to close out the series, what ideas they had that were too crazy for Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige and how “Ms. Marvel” informed their next project, a “Batgirl” feature for Warner Bros. and DC.
Spoilers for “Ms. Marvel’s” finale follow.
You established the tone and the look of the show with the first couple of episodes; what was it like coming back in and finishing the first season?
Adil El Arbi: It was cool to try to have the same kind of flavor and energy, and obviously our version of an animation sequence in the finale. That’s how we came up with that “Home Alone” idea to have the discussion of the plan, we had lot of fun with that. But it was also a big challenge because we had to try to make a satisfying finale, but also an emotionally fulfilling finale.
If they called you about Season 2, which you be there in a heartbeat?
Bilall Fallah: Even faster than a heartbeat.
In terms of the look of “Ms. Marvel,” was there anything that you pitched that was maybe too crazy for Kevin Feige to sign off on?
El Arbi: Oh yeah. I mean, if you let us do it, there will be animation through the whole show every couple of minutes or so – every five seconds. We would have more text messages, the whole time, since it was a real fun thing to try to figure out: OK, what kind of text message and what can we do with the environments? And that would be that style, that vibe. That is what we try to do. But Marvel really focuses on the story and all that, of course, which we understand. But if we got the chance to do a movie or a TV show, we would go loco on that aspect.
You hear a lot about actors and how they feel when they put their Marvel costumes on. What was it like seeing Iman in her suit for the first time?
Fallah: Epic epicness, bigger than life. It’s a moment of goosebumps. You see her and you’re like: Wow, this is a new superhero. She’s brand new. This is the first time we have this origin story; creating a new superhero is maybe one of the most beautiful things you can do. And seeing her in that costume – in the story, it’s made by her mother and has authentic traditional elements, but at the same time, [it has] that MCU style.
The other amazing thing is that you get to introduce one of the first X-Men into the Marvel Universe. What was that like? How hard was it keeping that a secret?
El Arbi: Well, to begin with, it was the last thing we read. So that was a best-kept secret. Nobody knew about it until we read the last version of the script and all of a sudden it was like, damn. And then we would ask producers about it and we would not get any answers. Then Kevin Feige said: Just shoot this, put the little music on, and that’s it. We can only hope that we be part of the future of “Ms. Marvel” because it would be super nice to have some “X-Men” flavor in there.
It was his idea to put the little twinkle of the animated show theme in there?
El Arbi: That’s how our introduction of Marvel was, as kids. It’s the “X-Men” animated show, and also the “Spider-Man” show. But yeah, it was cool.
The other big reveal was Brie Larson showing up in the credits scene. Was that something that you shot?
Fallah: Well, we didn’t shoot that scene. Nia DaCosta was doing “The Marvels.” She was instructed to shoot that scene, but she didn’t know that it would be a post-credits scene of our show. And we didn’t know that it existed until we were doing the color grading, and then all of a sudden, after the credits, you see that scene. It’s like, “Ah!” After the scene with the “X-Men” thing, and then this, it was like, boom, boom – double exploding heads.
Did you have much contact with DaCosta?
El Arbi: Yeah. We talked to her a little bit just to [discuss] what’s going to happen with the powers and how the story evolves. But Kevin Feige, he is very good at dividing and conquering. She would not, during the shoot, know anything about the series. And we wouldn’t know anything about the movie unless it was very, very necessary. But we’re looking forward to the new adventure of Ms. Marvel.
People have really responded to “Ms. Marvel” in a big way. How did that make you feel?
El Arbi: It’s a big honor. That combination on one hand to see that there’s so many Muslim people, Muslim girls, women – they have somebody now that they can recognize themselves in, and it means so much to them. And at the same time, people that are not Muslims, that just love the show – which is always the intention to try to tell that universal story. That is, I think the biggest achievement. That you don’t have to be a Pakistani girl from Jersey to watch the show, love the show, care about the character. That is what was really very comforting to see.
You guys are finished or finishing “Batgirl” – did the experience on “Ms. Marvel” inform your take on “Batgirl,” or vice versa?
Fallah: Yeah. In the same way this is, “Batgirl” is an origin story. And seeing that journey of Kamala Khan really helped us, trying to develop this story. But of course, it’s so, so different because Kamala Khan is a teenager in a colorful world, and Batgirl is older and she has a job and she’s in the dark Gotham City. So, it’s O.G. “Batman,” Tim Burton–flavored, all that stuff. It’s a different world, but it’s similar in the sense that they have to take responsibility and become a superhero.
What was a more epic day on set: seeing Iman in her costume for the first time or having Michael Keaton show up on the “Batgirl” set in the 1989 Batman costume?
Bilall Fallah: Man. What a question.
El Arbi: Well, Iman it was a big honor because it’s part of a star that is born. You’re part of a new superhero and all that. So, that’s great. But obviously, when you’re there with Keaton and the Batmobile, which was also the Batmobile from 1989 – even Keaton was filming it with his phone. That one, yeah, we were just exploding in our minds.
Bilall Fallah: For me, my inner five-year-old Bilall came out of me. So that’s a difference.
“Ms. Marvel” is streaming on Disney+ now.