[This is an advance review of Marvel Rising: Secret Warriors. The animated film premieres Sunday, September 30 on Disney XD.]
Earlier this summer, Disney XD delivered a series of short animated episodes titled Marvel Rising: Initiation, the intention of which was to introduce a new wave of superheroes who would take center stage in the animated feature-length film, Marvel Rising: Secret Warriors. Initiation worked just as its title suggested; it was not only the unofficial inauguration of a new team of comic book characters, but also a sign that Marvel was interested in creating a project with the express purpose of introducing lesser known, more diverse characters from its catalog to its audience.
With the introductions out of the way for the most part, Secret Warriors can get down to the business of telling its story. That story begins by following the friendship between Ms. Marvel and Squirrel Girl, and quickly expands to include several characters who’re searching for legitimacy in one form or another. As the team-oriented aspect of the series would suggest, characters such as Patriot, Quake, America Chavez, and Inferno find what they’re looking for with one another, and the help of Marvel’s hot character du jour, Captain Marvel.
Here, Carol Danvers serves as an aspirational figure for the heroes, but mainly for Kamala Khan. Positioning Danvers as such gives the movie its direction, while also serving as some early additional marketing for Brie Larson’s cinematic turn as the MCU’s most powerful hero. Overt interest in Captain Marvel is mercifully short-lived, though, as Secret Warriors has its hands full with an Inhuman event that Ms. Marvel and Squirrel Girl become inadvertently entangled in, when a young man who can control fire is confronted by a teleporting adversary who quickly earns Kamala and Squirrel Girl’s trust.
It’s a simple premise that affords Secret Warriors the chance to be as nimble as possible when it comes to introducing new characters and finding ways to bring already established ones into the fold. In that regard, much of the movie is spent in team-building mode, as S.H.I.E.L.D. agents Quake and Patriot begin as mistrusting representations of authority, while America Chavez, a temperamental, self-reliant, super powered teen from another dimension, is introduced as the extreme antithesis to the card-carrying members of a government organization. Ms. Marvel and Squirrel Girl, then, are caught somewhere in the middle, lacking the recognition needed to be seen as having any authority in this particular situation, but also not so far removed they’d be labeled as loose cannons.
The film’s 80-minute (without commercials) runtime provides ample opportunity for Secret Warriors to deliver the familiar getting-to-know-you phase of its story, which is filled with the sort of interpersonal conflict that's common to these kinds of stories until the heroes learn how to work together as a cohesive unit. To its credit, however, the time Secret Warriors sets aside time for its characters to interact on a more personal level makes them seem much more human and relatable — giant furry squirrel tails or embiggenable fists notwithstanding. And while the story may be a bit simplistic for older viewers used to the live-action adventures of the MCU, this story is still easy for them to enjoy, though it’s not necessarily crafted specifically for that audience.
Instead, Marvel Rising: Secret Warriors appeals to those who have not yet been as well represented in either the comics or Marvel’s animated programs. Putting an emphasis on Kamala Khan is the smart choice here, as she functions in much the same way as, say, Peter Parker, in that she’s a smart teen learning to deal with extraordinary abilities, a desire to do good, while also trying to maintain some semblance of a normal life. That’s made a little more difficult with her close friendship with Squirrel Girl, who seems to be far more invested in being a hero full time, but that push and pull creates an interesting dichotomy the movie gets to explore, even while it’s setting up a much more conventional story about extraterrestrial beings and spaceships and the nefarious things that usually follow the arrival of uninvited intergalactic visitors.
The movie makes a good go of telling a larger story within the confines of a feature-length runtime. There are concessions to be made, however, and they mostly have to do with Kamala’s home life and the development of America Chavez, whose introduction and origin story feel too hasty for what the character deserves. With any luck this won’t be the last fans see of these Secret Warriors, and Disney XD will have another chance to make these characters shine.
Marvel Rising: Secret Warriors airs Sunday, September 30 on Disney XD.