Superhero Sundays: Marvel Rising: Initiation + Chasing Ghosts
Action and humour6
Matthew Turner | On 25, Oct 2020
Director: Alfred Gimeno
Cast: Dove Cameron, Dee Bradley Baker, Chloe Bennet, Kathreen Khavari, Kamil McFadden, Tyler Posey, Cierra Ramirez, Booboo Stewart, Milana Vayntrub, Tara Strong, Amanda C. Miller, Steven Weber
Watch Marvel Rising online in the UK: Disney+
On Sundays, we like to watch cartoons. So we’re working our way through animated superhero cartoons on Disney Plus. We call it Superhero Sundays.
Directed by Alfred Gimeno, Marvel Rising: Initiation is a series of six shorts (each one less than four minutes) centring on the character of Ghost Spider. The shorts also introduce some of Marvel’s newer, more teen-friendly characters that would go on to appear in the franchise’s first feature, Marvel Rising: Secret Warriors, reviewed in an earlier column. Ghost Spider’s story was subsequently continued and concluded in Marvel Rising: Chasing Ghosts, the third entry in the franchise.
Initiations wastes no time in busting out the superhero action, with Ghost Spider (Dove Cameron) evading some cops, who believe she is responsible for the death of a teenager. Frustrated by her escape, Captain George Stacy (Steven Weber) recruits SHIELD agents Daisy Johnson aka Quake (Chloe Bennett) and Rayshaun Lucas aka Patriot (Kamil McFadden) to bring Ghost Spider in, labelling her “one of the most cunning, elusive villains to ever plague this city”, before a comedy cut reveals her to be his own daughter, high school student Gwen Stacy (more or less the same iteration of the character that appeared in Into the Spider-Verse).
Throughout the shorts, Ghost Spider battles Patriot and superhero best friends Ms Marvel (Kathreen Khavari) and Squirrel Girl (Milana Vayntrub) before being captured by Quake, though she’s ultimately let go in order to pursue the real killer, Sheath (Amanda C. Miller), in the hopes of clearing her name.
Chasing Ghosts picks up the story and sees Ghost Spider teaming up with the newly formed Secret Warriors in order to take down both Sheath and Exile (Booboo Stewart), who was one of the main villains in the Secret Warriors movie.
Happily, the Marvel Rising version of Ghost Spider stays close to the version in the comics, right down to the inclusion of her band The Mary Janes, alongside bandmates Mary Jane Watson, Gloria Grant and Betty Brant (all familiar characters from the “real” Spider-Man universe). However, the introduction of “Kevin” is new, presumably to simplify things a bit, since in the comics the friend that dies is Peter Parker, after he’s become The Lizard.
The Marvel Rising series has a nice line in both humour and action. There’s a good example of that here, with Squirrel Girl theorising that “anime style fighting” will be a good way to defeat Ghost Spider. It turns out that anime style (with a colourful assist from the animation) involves shouting out your fight move before deploying it, so “Slingshot! Flying Squirrel!” wins the day. (“Squirrel Fu” and a team fight move called “the million fisted hurricane” also get a look in later).
As with Secret Warriors, the animation style is relatively simplistic, but pleasingly colourful. It also retains just a hint of anime influence in the character designs, especially in the band scenes – it’s mostly notable in the cheesy grins.
The voice work is excellent, with the film gaining points across the board for its race-appropriate casting choices. It’s also nice to see that Chloe Bennett continues to voice Daisy Johnson, the character she plays in the live-action Agents of SHIELD series.
Intriguingly, Chasing Ghosts appears to have learned a couple of lessons from the previous two entries in the franchise. For one thing, Squirrel Girl is considerably less annoying, and feels slightly more like her comics counterpart. Similarly, the previously rather dull Patriot gets much more character development this time round. Chasing Ghosts also retains the franchise’s commitment to relatable messaging for teenagers, with the focus here being on listening, trust and trying your best.
The most interesting about Chasing Ghost is the surprising hints of darkness. Kevin, for example, is introduced as a likeable character (with ice powers, no less), but he’s killed off (offscreen, admittedly, though you see the body) and stays dead. Similarly, Sheath’s powers (light knives that drain life force) are extremely dark, though the filmmakers get round that slightly by not showing Gwen’s face when she briefly has her life force drained.
Admittedly, the film has a few flaws. There are a couple of gags that don’t work (the “accidental tail wax” gag isn’t worth either the continuity nightmare it creates or the visual of Tippy-Toe’s bare tail stump) and a few annoying niggles, such as the fact that Patriot has no problem riding a flying shield but is apparently unable to balance on a skateboard. It’s also a shame that America Chavez and Inferno are both relatively sidelined this time round, but that’s one of the downsides of super-group storytelling, especially in 22-minute outings.
Marvel Rising is available on Disney+ UK, as part of a £7.99 monthly subscription or a £79.99 yearly subscription.