by Mel Valentin
Billed as the first animated feature from Marvel's animation studio, "Ultimate Avengers: The Movie" doesn't live up to the hype or the expectations created by the marketing blitz that included television ads, DVD trailers, posters, and free screenings at recent comic book conventions. "Ultimate Avengers: The Movie" is nothing more (or less) than a familiar origin story (e.g., how a group of superheroes end up together as a team). It’s basically all set up with minimal payoff (the real payoff will presumably come in subsequent entries in the series). What, you were expecting something on the level of the animated [i]Justice League[/i] series on the Cartoon Network? Nope, not quite.Ultimate Avengers: The Movie is based on the “Ultimates,” a concurrent, continuity-free reboot of the Avengers that's part of Marvel Comics' relatively new imprint, Ultimate Marvel, which began in 2000 with Ultimate Spider-Man. The Ultimate X-Men, the Avengers (known simply as the “Ultimates”), and later, Ultimate Fantastic Four, all followed. Not surprisingly, the Ultimate Marvel imprint has proven popular among new and old comic book fans (and provided Marvel with a new, lucrative revenue stream). A fifth, as yet undisclosed title, is planned as an ongoing series for the immediate future (other characters from the Marvel Universe have received the Ultimate treatment, but only in mini-series format).
"More like 'Mediocre Avengers.' Sorry, couldn't resist."
First up, Ultimate Avengers introduces Steve Rogers, a/k/a Captain America (voiced Justin Gross), the first and only successful Allied super-soldier, via a prologue set in the closing days of World War II. Captain America is sent to derail a top-secret Nazi weapon. He succeeds, but is left for dead in the North Atlantic. Sixty years later, Dr. Betty Ross (Nan McNamara) and Nick Fury (Andre Ware), the head of Strategic Hazard Intervention, Espionage and Logistics Directorate (S.H.I.E.L.D.), the government agency tasked with dealing with metahuman threats (e.g., superheroes out of control or supervillains with superpowers), retrieve Captain America’s frozen body from an iceberg. With Captain America's frozen body in tow, Ross and Fury head back to their state-of-the-art research facility. There, Dr. Bruce Banner (Michael Massee) hopes to use Captain America's body to develop a new super-soldier serum.
Not so fast. Captain America isn't dead, just in suspended animation. He wakes up, a stranger in a strange land. Everything has changed, and everyone he knew has either grown old or died. An old enemy resurfaces. Fury taps Captain America to lead an all-superhero team (meaning the super-soldier program will have to wait). Fury also taps Hank Pym, a/k/a Giant Man (Nolan North), Pym's wife, Janet, a/k/a Wasp (Grey DeLisle), Thor (David Boat), a mead-drinking environmentalist (and eco-terrorist) who thinks he's son of Odin (his superpowered hammer helps), Tony Stark a/k/a Iron Man (Marc Worden), a billionaire military contractor, and Black Widow (Olivia d'Abo), a highly trained Russian assassin (are there any other kind?). Bruce Banner's alter ego, The Hulk (Fred Tatasciore) also makes an appearance, but not in the way General Fury or Captain America want.
Most of Ultimate Avengers' running time is spent on introducing the major (and minor) characters, establishing their personalities, relationships, and conflicts, while setting up an overarching threat that forces them to work together as a team. There's not much going on here thematically, just the characters learning to work together, putting aside their differences to overcome internal discord and external threats. While most of the characters are given minimal screen time (Thor and Iron Man especially), the screenplay slows the action down just enough to develop Betty and Bruce's ongoing conflict. Bruce wants to control the Hulk, use him for good, and restart his relationship with Betty. Betty thinks otherwise.
Animation wise, Ultimate Avengers falls just below Justice League of America (JLA), Bruce Timm's television adaptation of DC Comics' popular superhero team which ran on the Cartoon Network from 2001-2004 (a "sequel" series of sorts, Justice League: Unlimited is about to end its relatively brief run this year). The character designs for the Ultimate Avengers are simple and straightforward, lacking the level of detail or texture found in the comic book. The action scenes are also comparable with the JLA television series. The action scenes are efficiently and competently handled, but generally unimpressive, due to the limited production budget.While modest in ambition and in execution, "Ultimate Avengers: The Movie" isn't a half-bad start to the planned series of straight-to-DVD features (and possibly a weekly series). Now that the characters have been introduced and the team assembled, fans of the comic book will be justifiably amped up for, at minimum, a deeper, more engaging storyline (not to mention one or two, or even several, supervillains from the Ultimate Marvel Universe. In the meantime, the core demographic of boys 6-11 and men 18-54 (boys/young adults between the ages of 12 and 17 are apparently out of luck) will have to make due with the comic book series and the straight-to-DVD animated feature.
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originally posted: 03/07/06 02:57:11