Ultimate Avengers: The MovieReviewed By David Cornelius
Posted 02/20/06 10:44:26
The problem with “Ultimate Avengers” is that it’s too violent for younger viewers, but not mature enough for older ones. It’s a movie trapped in between target audiences, eager to grab its PG-13 rating, not realizing that it probably shouldn’t want one.The direct-to-video cartoon is Marvel Comics’ first animated movie from its new movie branch. Following the success of its live-action theatrical features, the company realized its next best step would be to adapt the immensely popular “Ultimates” line of comics, which rebooted the origins of the company’s famous characters to fit with modern times. I have not read this series, but I do remember all the stars from my younger days. Chances are you may, too: Captain America’s here, as are Iron Man, Thor, Giant Man, The Wasp, and The Incredible Hulk. We even get Black Widow and Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., whom I do not recall ever being on the Avengers roster, but they were cool characters nonetheless and are welcome additions to this new team.
(Update: I am told by an online pal that Black Widow was in fact the leader of the team in the mid-90s. I’m not sure which is geekier, that someone felt the need to point this out to me, or that I am actually upset that I did not know this.)
The film opens promisingly enough, with a big band tune coming over the radio and Allied forces preparing for one final top secret mission following Hitler’s death. It’s 1945, and Captain America is ready to save the day, and it all seems pretty cool. But then the bullets really start flying - and soldiers really start dropping - and you realize that this is no kiddie cartoon. Which would be nice, really. After all, many an animated feature has been produced with an adult audience in mind. Or, at least, a mature teen audience.
But no sooner does the body count start rising do we discover that the Nazis are in league with shape-shifting aliens. Fine, if you’re hoping to skew your story younger. This fantasy element feels designed for the grade school set, as does the quick action, simplified plotting, and lamebrained dialogue (too many scenes wind up with at least one character snarling, “I work alone!”). Everything about this movie plays out as a generic kiddie action cartoon… except for the gunplay and other assorted violence, which seriously earns that PG-13 rating, and then some.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. The story proper finds S.H.I.E.L.D. recovering Captain America’s frozen body from the North Atlantic; they hope to revive him in order to gain the secrets of the old Super Soldier experiment, which they can then use to help fend off an impending alien invasion. Dr. Bruce Banner, meanwhile, hopes to study Cap to find a way to control his Incredible Hulkiness. Meanwhile, with the alien threat growing quickly, Nick Fury is sent out to recruit a team of superheroes that will help save the planet.
It makes for a solid origin tale, and all of the characters are granted enough screen time to showcase their powers, which will make the kids happy. But it’s also far too dopey in a kiddie cartoon sense. The script is a mess, bouncing around from plot hole to poorly set-up action sequence to dopey wisecrack with reckless abandon, the filmmakers figuring that if it’s colorful enough and loud enough, then kids will dig it.
But it’s obvious from the intensity of the action, as well as the attempted complexity of the plot and characters (in true Marvel fashion, each character comes with plenty of emotional baggage), that the writers intended this to be a movie for older fans. If this is the case, though, why not smarten up the plot? Polish up the dialogue? Spend time cleaning up the sloppy animation?
Or, to go the other route, if your plan was to make a cartoon for younger viewers, why then include so many scenes that slow down the adventure, like the one in which Captain America visits his old war buddy (who’s now married to Cap’s old gal)? The writers try to add plenty of emotional heft to the story, but it’s wasted on the young - and it’s not solid enough to touch the hearts of the older viewers who would best be served by such scenes.There are moments in “Ultimate Avengers” that really do work. But they clash with other moments that work for other reasons. And then those clash with scenes that simply don’t work at all. Comics fans are bound to become disappointed with this highly anticipated video release, a movie which tries to be a little too much for everybody, but fails to be exciting for anybody.
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