5:15 pm EDT, September 27, 2018

‘Marvel Rising: Secret Warriors’ review: Save the world, take a selfie

Marvel Rising: Secret Warriors takes heroes to high school, in all the best ways. Plus, executive producer Sana Amanat shares her thoughts on the new animated series.

Following the six exhilarating short episodes of Marvel Rising: Initiation, the Marvel Rising brand expands into long form with Secret Warriors. A modern, wry, but delightfully bright-spirited new branch of the Marvel Animation tree, Marvel Rising: Secret Warriors uses fresh faces to give new life to familiar heroic ideas.

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While Gwen Stacey was the star of the Initiation shorts, it’s Kamala Khan (Kathreen Khavari) and Doreen Green (Milana Vayntrub) who take center screen in Secret Warriors. The two misfit friends find themselves in the middle of an unexpected, world-saving adventure; there’s an alien invasion, cute boys with superpowers, and a few truly epic problems. But most importantly, it’s the bond between Doreen and Kamala — by turns hilarious, cantankerous, and touching — around which the story builds its heart.

For Marvel Rising executive producer Sana Amanat, this link between the two heroes was crucial to the development of the project.

“The realization that Kamala and Doreen were the most obvious best friends was like a light bulb going off,” she says. “They’re very similar in terms of their view of the world in a lot of ways, and their sense of hopefulness and sweetness at the same time… But they also go about doing things in a slightly different way, and they really compliment each other.”

Bound by their status as outsiders both socially and among the superhero set (for the uninitiated, Kamala’s power is stretchiness and Doreen can control and talk to squirrels), Doreen and Kamala model a powerful and delightfully realistic female friendship. With humor and encouragement from Doreen’s top squirrel, Tippy, the girls deal with school, self-doubt, self-improvement, social media — and some of the less fun parts of friendship as well.

“We needed to make sure they also had some tension,” Amanat says, highlighting the kind of conflicts that arise between even the closest of friends. “As much as they look adorable in the same way and they want similar things, they both come from very different points of view, and that’s really where that tension came from. Because as much as [Kamala and Doreen are] strong, powerful, aspiring heroes, they still are young and are trying to figure things out.”

“The exploration of the arc of that friendship was incredibly important to the overall storyline, and what the message of Marvel Rising was all about,” she continues. “[It’s] about understanding yourself and being true to your convictions, but also allowing other people to make mistakes and helping them along the way, and learning from them as well.”

The power of young people — in what they aspire to, what they achieve, and what they model for others — is a critical part of the project’s ethos, and what Amanat hopes to share in Marvel Rising: Secret Warriors.

“You look at how activated the next generation is, and they’re politically active, but they’re just so aware of the world around us,” she says. “They’re so much more engaged. And I think the message is about that, is about the fact that it doesn’t matter what age you are, you can be engaged. You can do good work. You can contribute to the world at large, and still make your own clothes and have a distinct fashion statement, that you project a very unique image to the world.”

“That’s really what the inherent message of Marvel Rising is about, finding that unique power within yourself, and being proud of it,” Amanat adds. “And that’s really what we’re hoping that really any generation is going to latch onto. The teenagers today are going to do some really great things tomorrow.”

This ideal is certainly reflected in Secret Warriors, even as each of its heroes grapples with their role in a chaotic world.

And it helps that Marvel Rising: Secret Warriors boasts a diverse cast full of heroes who reflect reality just as much as they do our dreams of heroics. America Chavez (Cierra Ramirez) gets in on the action, as do S.H.I.E.L.D. agents Patriot (Kamil McFadden) and of course, Daisy Johnson (voiced by her real-world counterpart Chloe Bennet.)

“I feel very proud of the fact that we were able to do something like this,” Amanat says. “These are characters that we have believed in for a very, very long time… but I think it goes to show that the fact that we’re utilizing these characters really lines up with our belief that we tell powerful, more full-rounded stories when we’re really reflecting, as we say, the world outside your window.”

“I think that’s when we work best, and I think that’s when a Marvel story works best,” Amanat reflects. “When our audiences can see themselves in the hero that they aspire to be like.”

That’s something that Amanat can relate to herself. Her favorite scene in Secret Warriors takes place between Kamala Khan and her mother; Kamala’s mom is a woman with, let’s say, very firm ideas on what her daughter should be doing with her life, but an equally strong sense for when Kamala needs a guiding hand.

“The moments of Kamala and her mother, I think are just very relatable and sweet,” Amanat says. “We obviously didn’t have as much room to tell the full story of their relationship and the dynamics. But I think it touched upon some elements [of] the misunderstanding of mothers and daughters, and how Kamala comes to understand her mother a little bit more. And vise versa, in that sweeter moment where [Kamala’s mother] realizes [Kamala] needs to do what she feels like is right.”

A few other significant adult figures populate Marvel Rising: Secret Warriors, including Captain Marvel, who is quite as legendary in-universe as she is in the real world. Marvel fans should stay tuned for an exciting cameo from another big-name hero, who suggests that there may be a lot more in store for this scrappy team of teen warriors.

As to the specific details of Marvel Rising’s future, Amanat is mum, but promises that more news will be coming soon. For those who come to love Marvel Rising — and that should be anyone who enjoys the original comic characters, strong friendships, nifty action, and modern humor — that can’t come soon enough.

Marvel Rising: Secret Warriors airs on Sept. 30 at 10:00 p.m. on Disney XD.

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