Features Film Reviews TV

Marvel Rising: Secret Warriors Tackles Diversity With Panache

Superhero teams are always great fun, bringing together a diverse cast of remarkable characters. The Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy proved this formula worked. Continuing this trend is Marvel Rising: Secret Warriors, a Disney Channel TV movie. Secret Warriors should feel like an extended TV pilot, but has a relatively profound story about unity and inner strength. Though only eighty minutes long, it takes the time to flesh out its characters. In a way, the film feels like a deliberate counterpart to Teen Titans with a familiar premise.

This film is actually the second installment of the Marvel Rising franchise, the first being the loosely connected “Initiation”, a six-part miniseries, starring Gwen Stacy (Dove Cameron). As the Ghost Spider (aka Spider-Gwen), she is dealing with a personal loss and her own demons. Her best friend Kevin, a newly-empowered Inhuman, was murdered by a mysterious duo of assailants. Unfortunately, Gwen is somehow accused of Kevin’s murder, and is on the run from her own dad and S.H.I.E.L.D., whilst chasing the culprits. Dove Cameron delivers a fine performance as Gwen, and performs the movie’s theme song. Aside from a couple of minor plot threads, however, the miniseries has little impact on Secret Warriors. Ghost Spider isn’t even in the movie, despite what posters teased. She meets Kamala Khan, Squirrel Girl, Patriot, and Quake during her miniseries, but her absence is notable for the movie.

Onwards to the main event, Secret Warriors tells a simple, yet, sweet story of unity versus division. Kamala Khan (Kathleen Khavari), a Pakistani-American superheroine, aims to make her mark on the world as Miss Marvel. She idolises Captain Marvel (Kim Raver), striving to be just like her. Kamala faces a lot of personal obstacles as she struggles with her own sense of identity as a superhero, a Muslim, and an Inhuman. Her best friend Squirrel Girl is more self-confident and enthusiastic, but is quicker to incriminate the accused than Kamala.

The duo, wishing to grow popular, decide to catch Dante Pertuz (Tyler Posey), a pyrokinetic Inhuman on the run. He is pursued by Victor Kohl (Booboo Stewart), another Inhuman working for Hala the Accuser (Ming-Na Wen), who wants to recruit the new generation of Inhumans to serve the Kree Empire. Or, in other words, they either submit or die. Victor is committed to this regime, driven by a sense of needing purpose. His fanatical belief in Inhuman superiority, puts him at odds with Kamala’s more open-mindedness.

The pursuit of Dante draws the attention of S.H.I.E.L.D. agents Daisy Johnson (Chloe Bennet, reprising her role from Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.), and Captain America’s protégé Patriot (Kamil McFadden). America Chavez (Cierra Ramirez), a tough Latin American LGBTQ superhero, tries to avoid the conflict, but has a personal grudge towards the Kree and Inhumans. The team don’t come together until the third act, their personal conflicts and ideals causing them much drama. That sounds familiar. But, when a Kree warship appears above Earth’s atmosphere, the superheroes come together to save captured Inhuman children and defeat Hala and Victor.

The themes of diversity and social persecution are woven elegantly throughout the film and the cast. Kamala, in particular, struggles to find an identity as both an Inhuman and as a Muslim, with an overbearing but lovable mother. She dislikes Inhumans being persecuted, but will not immediately victimise them if they are doing wrong. Squirrel Girl knows no one takes her seriously, but is perfectly comfortable with that thanks to her optimism. Daisy is kept on a tight leash by S.H.I.E.L.D., while Patriot is belittled for being black, and constantly reminded to be “grateful” to Captain America. That’s some deep-seated social jabs there. Representation is key to the movie, with the Inhumans, like the X-Men, are used to symbolise social prejudice.

The MCU has clear influence over the film. Chloe Bennet reprised her role as Daisy, while Milana Vayntrub makes a memorable debut as Squirrel Girl. Vayntrub will be playing the role in the New Warriors TV series, whenever that starts up. The Inhumans play a large part, likely as a last hurrah before the X-Men roll into town. Daisy, Kamala, and Lockjaw are the most notable Inhumans at the moment, since Black Bolt and co. got shafted in their own series. Captain Marvel is the only A-lister to appear, and by no means because she has a movie coming out next year…

Though the film has a limited budget and feels like watching a TV pilot, Secret Warriors explores some important themes similar to Black Panther. The characters are diverse and complex, celebrating what makes them different, but also what brings them together in times of strife.

Did Venom suck? Do you want to watch a better movie before Spider-Verse comes out? Watch this film! If you have already, what were your thoughts on it? Leave a comment below or on our Twitter  or Facebook feed.

About the author

Mark Russell

Leave a Reply