There are so many streaming options available these days, and so many conflicting recommendations, that it’s hard to see through all the crap you could be watching. Each Friday, The Verge’s Cut the Crap column simplifies the choice by sorting through the overwhelming multitude of movies and TV shows on subscription services, and recommending a single perfect thing to watch this weekend.
What to watch
Marvel Rising: Secret Warriors, a 2018 Disney XD animated film, featuring the origin story of a new Marvel super-team. Actor / comedian Milana Vayntrub voices Doreen Green, aka “Squirrel Girl,” an ebullient young woman with a furry prehensile tail and the ability to talk to squirrels. Kathreen Khavari plays Doreen’s best friend Kamala Khan, aka “Ms. Marvel,” one of a group of previously ordinary humans who developed “Inhuman” superpowers after being exposed to “Terrigen mist.” Throughout the course of Secret Warriors, Squirrel Girl and Ms. Marvel have a falling out, divided by a clandestine clash between three factions: the newly created Inhumans, a cadre of recruiters for the militaristic alien race known as the Kree, and agents from S.H.I.E.L.D. Along the way, Doreen and Kamala join forces with other fledgling heroes, including a flamethrower codenamed “Inferno,” the super-strong alien “Miss America,” and a former Captain America sidekick, “Patriot.”
Why watch now?
Because Captain Marvel opens everywhere this weekend.
The latest addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe is set in the 1990s, and stars Brie Larson as a super-powered, galaxy-hopping warrior, fighting alongside the Kree in their eternal war against the shape-shifting Skrulls. Suffering from a mysterious memory loss, the hero crash-lands on Earth, where she’s intercepted by S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Nick Fury (played by Samuel L. Jackson with the aid of some digital “de-aging”). Soon, she learns she’s actually an Earth pilot named Carol Danvers, who’s been missing and presumed dead for years after suffering the kind of freaky cosmic accident common to Marveldom.
The Marvel Comics characters Carol Danvers and Captain Marvel haven’t always been one and the same. The original Captain Marvel, introduced in 1967, was a Kree agent named Mar-Vell, who defied his own people during a mission to Earth, and spent much of the next decade defending his newly adopted planet from extreme alien threats. Danvers was a minor character in those original Captain Marvel stories, but later, she survived an explosion that fused her genetic material with Mar-Vell’s, giving her his powers: flight, energy bolts, and a heightened awareness of danger. She adopted the name “Ms. Marvel,” and began her own comic book adventures in 1977.
Multiple Marvel heroes have adopted the name “Captain Marvel” or “Ms. Marvel” since then — including a black woman named Monica Rambeau, Carol’s best friend in the new movie. In recent years, Carol Danvers has been the main Captain Marvel in the various Marvel comics and cartoons, while the new Ms. Marvel is Kamala Khan, an American Muslim teenager who idolizes Danvers. As seen in Secret Warriors, Khan’s Inhuman powers are very different from her hero’s: she has the ability to stretch her arms and legs, and to alter her physical appearance.
Danvers appears in Secret Warriors, too. Though the movie is mainly about Squirrel Girl and Ms. Marvel’s attempt to prove themselves — and to prevent a destructive war — Captain Marvel becomes a major player partway through the story. She fights alongside these young women who adore her, and she quickly develops an appreciation for their wit and moxie. It’s a heartwarming example of sisterly mentorship.
Who it’s for
Younger fans of superhero comics — and fans of comics about young superheroes.
Marvel Rising: Secret Warriors is a product of the Disney animation combine, and is squarely targeted at kids in the middle school to junior high age range. Like a lot of contemporary TV cartoons, Secret Warriors has a visual design and a frenetic pace similar to Japanese anime. Like a lot of Disney Channel originals, the movie occasionally breaks for montages scored to upbeat pop music.
But there’s plenty here for older viewers to enjoy. In addition to serving as a launching point for future Marvel Rising specials and series, Secret Warriors connects to other Marvel properties aimed more at adults. Vayntrub also plays a live-action Squirrel Girl in the sitcom New Warriors, which was supposed to debut on Freeform last year, but is currently in search of a new outlet. And Chloe Bennet provides the voice for the Inhuman S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Daisy “Quake” Johnson — the same character she plays on ABC’s Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. In other words, Marvel TV and movie completists shouldn’t skip Secret Warriors just because it’s more for youngsters.
Besides, this movie’s just a lot of fun. The story has some good twists and a strong theme — both having to do with Squirrel Girl and Ms. Marvel’s differences of opinion over what a “hero” is, and whether there’s any room for ambiguity. Both women are incredibly likable and appealingly youthful, with their obsession with the superhero social media app “Hero Watch,” and their genuine delight over what their powers let them do.
Where to see it
DisneyNow. The free, ad-supported service (available in app form on most streaming devices, or via the web) offers a collection of Disney Channel, Disney XD, and Disney Junior shows, plus some original content. Much of what’s on DisneyNow requires a pre-existing cable, satellite, or internet TV subscription, but Marvel Rising: Secret Warriors is available to anyone.