Superhero Sundays: Marvel Rising: Operation Shuri and Playing With Fire
Action and humour6
Matthew Turner | On 27, Dec 2020
Directors: Chris Rutkowski, Eric Radomski, Sol Choi
Cast: Dove Cameron, Milana Vayntrub, Sofia Wylie, Dee Bradley Baker, Kathreen Khavari, Kim Raver, Tyler Posey, Cierra Ramirez, Tara Strong
Watch Marvel Rising online in the UK: Disney+
On Sunday mornings, we like to watch cartoons. So we’re working our way through animated superhero cartoons. We call it Superhero Sundays.
Written, respectively, by Mae Catt and Danielle Wolff (whose animal surnames are a charming coincidence), Operation Shuri and Playing With Fire are the sixth and seventh entries in the Marvel Rising franchise, created to showcase some of Marvel’s newer, more teen-friendly superheroes. Accordingly, Playing With Fire is a 45-minute feature that centres on fire-powered Dante / Inferno (see what they did there), while Operation Shuri is a 23-minute short that introduces the Secret Warriors to Shuri, following her popular appearance in Black Panther.
Story-wise, there’s very little to Operation Shuri, but it’s notable for being an all-female episode. Captain Marvel (Kim Raver) shows up and asks the Secret Warriors to show Shuri (Daisy Lightfoot) around New York, as she’s on a mission to find ways to improve American life with Wakandan technology (something the script never really explores properly). To that end, she helps America Chavez (Cierra Ramirez) in her mechanic job, attends high school with Khamala Khan / Ms Marvel (Kathreen Khavari), helps out Doreen Green / Squirrel Girl (Milana Vayntrub) with a fight training mishap and goes to band practice with Gwen Stacey / Ghost Spider (Dove Cameron), before learning the value of teamwork on a rescue mission when an oil tanker catches fire.
By contrast, Playing With Fire, is much more action-packed. Fed up with being made to feel inferior by her supervillain parents Invisiblio (Gary Cole) and Shocktress (Niecy Nash), angry teen Kayla (Navia Ziraili Robinson) purloins a mysterious necklace from a museum and uses it to steal Dante / Inferno’s (Tyler Poesy) fire-based superpowers. When the Secret Warriors come after her, she steals their powers too, briefly turning her into a super-strong, shape-shifting, fire-throwing, web-slinging evil-doer who can, er, talk to squirrels.
Heroes losing their powers, or getting them stolen by supervillains is a time-honoured comics plot and Playing With Fire adds a couple of nice little touches, the implication being that Kayla can actually control Dante’s fire powers better than he can, because she doesn’t have his traumatic background holding her back. It’s also fun to see one villain with everyone’s powers, even if that only really lasts for the climactic fight scene.
Over the course of its seven instalments, the Marvel Rising series has been adept at blending strong, audience-appropriate messaging with the usual Marvel staples of action, character and humour. Playing With Fire works particularly well in that respect, as both the main plot and the subplot (in which America takes issue with Kamala for always complaining about her loving parents) revolve around parent-teenager relationships, on both the hero and the villain’s side. To that end, Kayla makes for a relatively relatable villain, although the script doesn’t quite connect Kayla’s parental issues to those of the Warriors, which feels like a lost opportunity.
The script does at least nail the emotional material when it comes to Dante’s storyline – having lost his powers, he begins to question who he is without them, even though they made his life a misery and caused a disconnect from his family. It’s also nice to see Dante getting a lot more attention as a character, since he was largely under-served in that department in the previous films.
In fact, both Operation Shuri and Playing With Fire learn the key lesson of the previous movies, in that they take steps to address the issue of over-crowding. The downside of that is that fan favourite Quake is missing from both features, as is Patriot (they’re excused as being on a SHIELD mission), but it does mean there’s more time to explore the backgrounds of both Ms Marvel and America Chavez – we even meet key members of the supporting cast from the Ms Marvel comics, including Kamala’s parents (Meera Rohit Kumbhani and Tony Mirrcandani) and school rival Zoe Zimmer (Jessica DiCicco), all three of whom will no doubt be important once the Ms Marvel live-action show arrives.
That said, it’s a shame that neither film includes Riri / Ironheart, especially when the previous film in the series was about her joining the team. It’s also disappointing that Shuri isn’t allowed to stick around for the events of Playing With Fire, as she’d clearly be a good addition to the Secret Warriors line-up.
As for the humour, both films continue in the vein of the previous instalments, combining both slightly icky visual gags (giant teleporting bulldog Lockjaw has a cold and keeps covering everyone in snot) and the occasional winner of a one-liner, notably a great comics-savvy joke from Invisiblio about how hard it is to find a supervillain name that hasn’t already been taken. The films also continue the commitment to the series’ two established running jokes, about the ridiculous flavours in their favourite vegan doughnut place and the continual search for a cool call-to-action like “Avengers assemble!”
In terms of the animation, it’s consistent with the colourful but basic style established by previous films, with occasional flourishes like leaning slightly into manga influences when Squirrel Girl is centre stage. The action sequences offer a fair amount of fun too, especially in the climax of Playing With Fire.
On a final note, although the series as a whole is very much aimed at a younger audience, there’s at least one charming throwaway moment aimed squarely at old school comics fans, when Gwen’s band-mate Mary-Jane (yes, THAT Mary-Jane) casually delivers the line, “We just hit the jackpot!” Thanks for that, Marvel Rising. At any rate, here’s hoping the series gets to continue, because it’s clear that it has an enormous amount of potential for future stories.
Marvel Rising is available on Disney+ UK, as part of a £7.99 monthly subscription or a £79.99 yearly subscription.