Advance Review: MARVEL RISING - SECRET WARRIORS 'a Charming Superhero Film' (8/10)

Marvel Rising: Secret Warriors
Credit: Marvel Animation
Credit: Marvel Animation

Marvel Rising: Secret Warriors
Directed by Alfred Gimeno
Executive Produced by Sana Amanat, Dan Buckley, Marsha Griffin, Cort Lane, Jeph Loeb, Joe Quesada, Eric Radomski, Stephen Wacker
Written by Mairghread Scott
Starring Kathreen Khavari, Milana Vayntrub, Chloe Bennet, Kamil McFadden, Tyler Posey, Cierra Ramirez, Booboo Stewart, Ming-Na Wen, Kim Raver, Dee Bradley Baker
Airing on Freeform
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Marvel Rising: Secret Warriors is such a charming superhero film it’ll almost leave you mad at how frustrating it would be to take a kid who enjoys it to pick up almost any of its related comic book series. Out on Friday, September 30, simultaneously on the Disney Channel and Disney XD, Marvel Rising: Secret Warriors has a similar vibe to DC’s Super Hero Girls - kid-oriented and set in its own easily-accessible universe, and ready-made for mass consumption.

With the obvious comparison out of the way, it’s also important to make it clear that beyond that the similarities are minimal: Marvel Rising: Secret Warriors is much more firmly rooted in something close to the current comic book canon than Super Hero Girls, with writer Mairghread Scott managing to weave Marvel’s terrigen mist Inhumans plotline into a fast-paced, light-hearted story that will feel familiar to avid comic book readers without delving deeply enough to alienate audiences being introduced to these characters for the first time. The more manga/anime-style art is a perfect fit for this particular roster of young characters, and the character designs are great - America Chavez (voiced by Cierra Ramirez) looks amazing, and Patriot (Rayshaun Lucas, in this world, voiced by Kamil McFadden) has a stellar design that feels fresh and distinct from his Young Avengers counterpart. Even in their “civilian” clothes, the characters all have a very distinctive look and feel that rings true to their comics counterparts.

Credit: Marvel Animation

The world of Secret Warriors sees fan-favorites Squirrel Girl (Doreen Green, voiced with an utterly endearing gusto by Milana Vayntrub) and Ms. Marvel (Kamala Khan, whom Kathreen Khavari instills with a warmth and sincerity that perfectly captures G. Willow Wilson’s work) teaming up to fight crime in their spare time, trained by Squirrel Girl’s partner Tippy Toe. When a run-of-the-mill hot dog cart theft escalates into discovering an Inhuman on the run, SG and Double M find themselves tangled up in an out-of-this-world adventure much bigger than anything Tippy Toe has trained them for so far. Throw in the complicated relationship the world has with Inhumans - one so complicated even Kamala is initially hesitant to acknowledge her own identity - and you get a perfectly-paced action-adventure that will leave you itching for more. Scott’s screenplay, and the full cast, aim more for Ant-Man than Infinity War and squarely hit the mark. This movie is fun, first and foremost, but sneaks in emotional moments and valuable lessons about friendship, trust, and prejudice without ever being too ham-fisted (to a point).

It’s the last one that trips the film up. This is easily the most diverse superhero film Marvel has produced to date, and maybe one of the most diverse, period, both in terms of the characters themselves and the actual cast. But there are a few weird moments that seemed design to teach a lesson about prejudice against marginalized groups -- in this case, the Inhumans - that fall a bit flat, partly because the script introduces the concept but allows it to fizzle out without much impact halfway through.

Credit: Marvel Animation

It’s a recurring issue with a lot of Marvel’s other Inhumans-related media: if you want to invoke the metaphor - which Secret Warriors does, very early - then you should lean into it. There are potentially smart moments that never quite pan out, such as an emotionally taunt scene in which a character suggests Kamala is being too lenient to a fellow Inhuman. The implication is that it’s because Kamala is Inhuman herself, but that never specifically gets resolved when the incident is addressed later in the film. It doesn’t seem to be a Disney thing - again, the metaphor is pretty explicit in the movie, just not resolved particularly well, and the film also devotes a flashback to talking about America Chavez’s mothers, which would have been a big deal for me to see in any media as a kid, whether it was Marvel or Disney. Do or do not! There is a try, here, and unfortunately it falls flat in the film’s later half - the only stumbling block in an otherwise very fun film.

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