by Mel Valentin
Marvel Animation, a subsidiary of Marvel Enterprises, the parent company of Marvel Comics, has attempted to translate the popularity of Marvel’s characters from the comic book page (and the big screen) to the direct-to-DVD market over the last three years, with mixed results. Marvel Animation followed its first effort, "Ultimate Avengers," with a sequel, "Ultimate Avengers 2: Rise of the Black Panther," "The Invincible Iron Man," an effort to raise the visibility of Marvel’s then upcoming feature film, "Iron Man," and "Doctor Strange: The Sorcerer Supreme." Each film was centered on a character or characters closely related their comic book counterparts in name, appearance, and origin.Until Marvel Animation’s latest, that is: Next Avengers: Heroes of Tomorrow,set in an alternate future featuring a mix of old (literally and figuratively) characters and new ones. After Ultron, a human-hating android and longtime Avengers foe, defeats (and kills) the Avengers (e.g., Captain America/Steve Rogers, Iron Man/ Tony Stark, Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff, Giant Man/Hank Pym, Wasp/Janet van Dyne, Black Panther/T’Challa). With The Incredible Hulk/Bruce Banner (Fred Tatasciore) missing in action and Thor living permanently off-world on Asgaard), only Iron Man/Tony Stark (voiced by Tom Kane) survives the final battle.
"Finally, a Marvel Animation feature worth seeing."
Before they march off to confront Ultron for the last time, however, the Avengers entrust their children, James Rogers (Noah Crawford), the son of Steve Rogers and Natasha Romanoff, Pym (Aidan Drummond), the son of Hank Pym and Janet van Dyne, Torunn (Brenna O'Brien), Thor’s daughter (left on earth for no specified reason), and Azari (Dempsey Pappion), the son of the Black Panther and, presumably, Storm from the X-Men (they’re married in the comics, but Next Avengers’ only identifies Azari’s mother the “queen”), to Stark’s care. For the next thirteen years, he raises them as a surrogate father in an Arctic bio-dome protected by a stealth shield. An accident, however, brings the bio-dome and the children to Ultron’s attention.
Written by Christopher Yost, a writer on Young X-Men and its predecessor, New X-Men (along with several animated programs) and directed by animation veteran Jay Oliva, New Avengers: Heroes of Tomorrow may just be Marvel Animation’s best effort thus far. Marvel Animation’s previous efforts have been, at best, mediocre. Next Avengers: Heroes of Tomorrow is the first film from Marvel Animation to feature a tightly focused, well-paced script, compelling characters, a nearly unstoppable supervillain, Ultron, and, for the first time in the Marvel Animation series, better-than-average animation.
While the anime-inspired character designs (i.e., big eyes, round, featureless faces) may be (and will be) off-putting for some, especially fans of Marvel Animation’s earlier efforts or even the comic book characters, they’re well in line with having teenagers as the central characters. The character designs for the older characters, including a white-haired, goateed Tony Stark and a balding Bruce Banner (just wait until you see him transform into the Hulk) are more in line with traditional iterations of the characters.
Assuming you do buy into the “what if?” scenario and the character designs, New Avengers: Heroes of Tomorrow is remarkably dark for an animated film ostensibly aimed at a younger demographic. With its young, teenaged heroes orphaned by a super-powered android and a machine-controlled world, you wouldn’t be blamed for seeing similarities between Next Avengers and the Matrix universe. Ultron, of course, came first, but the dystopian future is definitely inspired by the Matrix. New Avengers: Heroes of Tomorrowalso switches up Ultron’s backstory (i.e., Hank Pym created him in the comic books) as a way to deepen another character’s motivation. It works.What doesn’t work, however, is the rationale for Thor’s absence when he’s needed most on Earth or the rushed climax that was probably motivated less by story concerns than budgetary limitations. Those are minor points, however, especially in comparison to Yost and Oliva’s generally respectful treatment of Marvel’s characters. If you happen to be a long-running fan of the Avengers, then you’ll be happy to know that Yost and Oliva slip in callbacks or references to characters no longer on the Avengers team (sorry, no spoilers). Even if you’re not an Avengers fan, you’ll probably still get a kick out of iterations and permutations Yost and Oliva add into the animated mix. What more could ask for from an animated direct-to-DVD film? Not much, actually, not much at all.
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originally posted: 09/03/08 00:00:00