The world needs more heroes. Luckily for fans of young, feisty, and fresh characters, the next stage of Disney’s Marvel Rising is heading to our screens this Saturday, featuring characters we first met in the Marvel Rising: Initiation series of shorts that were released earlier this year. Though the TV movie Marvel Rising: Secret Warriors is tonally and aesthetically pretty similar to what came before, Disney has made the interesting and slightly questionable choice of telling an entirely different story to the popular shorts, which were generally very well received. The Initiation storyline focused on Ghost Spider, a.k.a. Spider-Gwen, who’d been wrongly accused of the murder of her best friend. It was an engaging use of a recognizable narrative and played on questions of injustice, authority, and doing what you think is right. Secret Warriors, on the other hand, tells a completely different story–one without Ghost Spider–which feels slightly disjointed and jarring, but is still filled with awesome characters and a storyline which pushes what we’ve come to expect from “kids” television.
Throwing us straight into the action, the story joins Kamala Khan’s Ms. Marvel and Doreen Green’s Squirrel Girl as they attempt to foil a hot-dog thief and end up falling into a huge conspiracy that encompasses Inhumans, intergalactic war, the Kree, and of course Captain Marvel. In a story that might seem familiar to fans of the X-Men, we join the world of Secret Warriors during an unexplained explosion in Inhuman crime, and because of it a tense climate that’s unfriendly to those who were changed by the Terrigen Mists.
Secret Warriors doesn’t worry about explaining what or who the Inhumans are at the start, which might leave viewers who don’t know about the super-powered alien race feeling like they’ve been thrown into the deep end. For those who do know, it’ll be unsurprising that Ms. Marvel–who’s an Inhuman in the comics–quickly becomes entangled with a mysterious young alien named Victor who seemingly wants to stop a dangerous fire-powered teen named Dante. But as is so often the way of superhero stories, things aren’t what they seem, and before we know it Victor has kidnapped Kamala and transported her to a space prison. One filled with Earth children carrying the Inhuman gene, who are being trained by the Kree for an oncoming war.
If it sounds like a lot, it’s because it is. There are more than a few moments when Secret Warriors feels like you’re binge watching an entire series rather than watching a made-for-TV movie. The cast of young characters will keep you engaged though, especially with Ms. Marvel taking the lead. It’s refreshing to see a young Muslim Pakistani American woman at the forefront of a flagship animation property like this, and it’s a strong choice that voice actress Kathreen Khavari sells at every possible moment by making Kamala an intelligent, brilliantly likeable, and awesomely strong central force in the film.
The film also introduces America Chavez–a fan favorite from the comic–who’s a badass bisexual Latina heroine from another world who can fly, beat stuff up, and generally kick all kinds of butt. It’s exciting to see America here, and Cierra Ramirez does a fantastic job bringing her to life. Sadly, there’s a bittersweet moment as the movie briefly shows her two moms (which is amazing) but they’re immediately killed (the Bury Your Gays trope is tiring). Even though this is comics canon, I would’ve loved to see them either give America’s mothers a longer backstory or even just let them live.
Once the third act hits and we get to see Ms. Marvel, America, Squirrel Girl, Quake, Patriot, and new addition Dante team up with some comic book icons like Lockjaw and Carol Danvers’ Captain Marvel, you start to get the feeling you’re watching something a little bit special. However, though I understand the appeal of an epic space drama, it seemed like there was something missing, and that was the magic of the street level heroics we got to see in the original set of shorts.
It’ll be interesting to see where the franchise goes next, especially since with such a Kree and Captain Marvel heavy storyline–which strays so far from the intro series–this feels a little like an introduction for Carol and her surrounding history for the upcoming film. We’re still yet to know what happened to Ghost Spider and where we’ll go from here, though the ending establishes the group as a new team of heroes called… the Secret Warriors!
If you’ve got a young member of your family who needs a new set of heroes to follow, then we’re sure that they’ll love Marvel Rising: Secret Warriors. But older viewers who liked the more serious tone and compelling ongoing narrative of the first set of shorts might be slightly disappointed.
3 out of 5
Images: Marvel, Disney