Superhero Sundays: Marvel Rising: Secret Warriors (2018)
Matthew Turner | On 28, Jun 2020
Director: Alfred Gimeno
Cast: Dee Bradley Baker, Chloe Bennet, Kathreen Khavari, Kamil McFadden, Tyler Posey, Cierra Ramirez, Kim Raver, Booboo Stewart, Milana Vayntrub, Ming-Na Wen
Watch Marvel Rising: Secret Warriors online in the UK: Disney+ UK
On Sunday mornings, we like to watch cartoons. So we’re working our way through animated superhero cartoons. We call it Superhero Sundays.
Directed by Alfred Gimeno, Marvel Rising: Secret Warriors is the first film in the Marvel Rising franchise, which aims to showcase some of the more teen-friendly characters in the Marvel Universe. It was produced by Marvel Animation and preceded by a series of six shorts (collected on Disney+ under Marvel Rising: Initiation) that introduced its key players.
The plot centres on fledgling teen superhero Ms Marvel, aka Kamala Khan (voiced by Kathreen Khavari), who has only recently received her “stretchy” shape-shifting superpowers as a result of the Terrigen Mist, which activated latent Inhuman superpowers in various people around the globe. Together with best friend Doreen Green, aka Squirrel Girl (Milana Vayntrub), Kamala battles flame-throwing teen Dante, aka Inferno (Tyler Posey), but soon realises he’s being manipulated by an outside force.
That force turns out to be Kree warrior Hala the Accuser (Ming-Na Wen), who’s aiming to recruit Inhumans into her Kree army. In order to defeat her, Kamala and Doreen team up with America Chavez, aka Miss America (Cierra Ramirez), as well as SHIELD agents Quake / Daisy Johnson (Chloe Bennett) and Patriot / Rayshaun Lucas (Kamil McFadden). Also in the mix is Victor Kohl, aka Exile (Booboo Stewart), who claims to be helping to protect Inhumans from their own destructive powers.
The plot ties in nicely with the comics, at least in terms of Ms Marvel’s origin story and Marvel’s attempts to do for Inhumans what X-Men did for mutants (at the time, Fox still owned the rights to the X-Men, so Marvel were looking for a new super-powered teen outcast franchise). There’s even an appearance from Lockjaw (snuffling dog noises by Dee Bradley Baker), the Inhumans’ giant teleporting bulldog. Similarly, as befits a franchise aimed largely at teens, there’s a touching focus on female friendships and on finding common ground.
In terms of the characters, the film is something of a mixed bag. Ms Marvel is a close approximation of her comics counterpart and she’s by far the star here, to the point where she really deserves top billing. However, the film’s take on Squirrel Girl might annoy comics purists, as she’s quite annoying here, as opposed to the super-smart, level-headed character she is on the page. (Side note: The Ms Marvel and Squirrel Girl comics are awesome and you should check them out immediately.)
On a similar note, the film does justice to America Chavez (whose origin story is also included, albeit in a shortened version) and she’s a terrific Latin American LGBTQ+ role model here, just as she is in the comics, while Quake is a nice expansion upon her live-action appearances on Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD (the fact that SHIELD’s Chloe Bennett agreed to voice her animated version is one of several cool touches). However, the male characters – particularly Patriot and Inferno – are disappointingly dull by comparison.
The voice casting is extremely impressive. In addition to the aforementioned coup of casting Chloe Bennett, the Marvel Rising series also deserves points for its commitment to race-appropriate casting across the board, with POC actors voicing POC characters. Kathreen Khavari, Cierra Ramirez and Kamil McFadden add pleasing authenticity to their roles as Kamala, America and Rayshaun, while former 24 actress Kim Raver proves a good fit for a cameoing Captain Marvel. (As a side note, Milana Vayntrub also played the live-action version of Squirrel Girl in the ultimately unaired New Warriors pilot.)
The animation style is simplistic, but effective, with just a hint of anime influence in the character designs. The action scenes are fun, with attention paid to each character’s skill set, though certain effects, such as explosions and Inferno’s fire powers, are rather cheap-looking. Oh, and Squirrel Girl’s squirrel sidekick Tippy-Toe (squirrel noises by Dee Bradley Baker) is much better depicted in the comics than she is here. On top of that, the script achieves a good balance of gentle character humour and teen drama with some strong coming-of-age messaging about being true to yourself, the importance of friendship and understanding others. Indeed, if you’re looking for female teen role models in comics, you can’t do much better than the Secret Warriors.
Marvel Rising: Secret Warriors is available on Disney+ UK, as part of a £7.99 monthly subscription or a £79.99 yearly subscription.