Disney // 2010 // 161 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Chief Justice Michael Stailey // May 15th, 2011
I gave up on Marvel animated adaptations way back in the early days of X-Men: The Animated Series. Sure, I tuned into the occasional revamp (The Spectacular Spider-man) or direct-to-DVD adventure (Doctor Strange: The Sorcerer Supreme), but compared with what Warner Bros. Animation was doing with the Distinguished Competition, even the most promising tales fell short. So imagine my surprise when The Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes turned out to be one hell of step in the right direction.
Taking the foundation of Stan Lee and Roy Thomas' earliest stories and laying them on top of a 21st century Marvel cinematic universe might seem like quiet the challenge, but veteran storyman Chris Yost and producer Josh Fine make it look easy. Forty-seven years worth of history, relationships, the character flaws are on display; with significantly more reverence than we've seen from recent series like Iron Man: Armored Adventures, Wolverine and the X-Men, and The Spectacular Spider-man. Yes, certain changes have been made (as is inevitably the case), but they aren't enough to take even the most hard core Avengers readers out of the flow of these animated adventures.
In typical Walt Disney Home Video style, the first season 26 episodes are broken up into four single volume releases. This never fails to irritate me, but there's little we can do to change their marketing strategies. Volume One Heroes Assemble! showcases the series first seven episodes, which does an unusually effective job of building the team and setting up the overarching premise for the series. Each core member receives a single episode introduction, which culminates in a two-part battle royale with NYC's resident Marvel villains.
* "Iron Man is Born!"
Dropping us right into an animated version Jon Favreau's Iron Man / Iron Man 2 world; Tony, Pepper, and Rhodey face an onslaught by the villainous supergroup HYDRA, who happen to be utilizing an overwhelming amount of Stark weapons technology to wipe out the United Nations world leaders summit. Now I have to admit, this episode did nothing for me. Veteran voice-over man Eric Loomis is doing a dead-on impersonation of Robert Downey Jr, the dialogue is stiff, and the story is something we've seen a thousand times over. Plus, HYDRA's amphibious attack vehicles look like they were lifted from Brainiac's vehicle cache circa The Super Powers Team (1985).
* "Thor the Mighty"
The Odinson's love for Midgard puts him on the frontlines of the Stark/HYDRA battle, taking down The Wrecking Crew and being smitten by local EMT Jane Foster. Not only do we get classic Thor in NYC, but an Asgardian battle against Loki and the Frost Giants alongside Baldar, Sif, and the Warrior Three. It's a somewhat condensed version of Kenneth Branagh's live-action movie, but here there is little love loss between Loki and Thor, and a familiar face is found to be pulling the strings.
* "Hulk versus The World"
Again, building off Louis Leterrier's theatrical reboot, Bruce Banner is on the run from Thunderbolt Ross and his Hulkbusters. Stopping in Vegas to meet (and hopefully help) longtime adversary Crusher Creel, the two square off as their gamma-powered alter egos Hulk and the Absorbing Man, only to be taken down by SHIELD agents Natasha Romanov (code name: Black Widow) and Clint Barton (code name: Hawkeye). This episode also serves to introduce us to The Cube, the first of four SHIELD super-prisons, and Doctor Leonard Sampson, both of which will play larger roles throughout the series.
* "Meet Captain America"
Now this series has my complete attention! Framed by the introduction of Avengers' classic adversary Kang the Conqueror, we get a genius look into 1940s Captain America, his work with The Howling Commandos (including a very familiar face), his longtime partner Bucky Barnes, and an all out brawl with The Red Skull. For as brilliant an episode as this is, the removal of any reference to Hitler and the Third Reich irritates me. In this particular universe, HYDRA supplants the Nazi regime as the malevolent force attempting to overtake the world, and the Skull its chief architect. Instead of leveraging the occult to gain the upper hand in warfare, HYDRA has managed to tap into the Bifrost bridge, using its portal to the Nine Realms to extract all manner of evil beings to do their bidding.
* "The Man in the Ant Hill"
Deep in the heart of Africa, Dr. Hank Pym is brought in by SHIELD to unlock the mystery of the unusual element Vibranium. Ambushed by Ulysses Klaw and his band of mercenaries, Hank is forced to use his Ant Man/Giant Man technology (Pym Particles) to quell the unrest. Returning to NYC, we're introduced his business partner/pseudo-love interest, Janet Van Dyne. An encounter with super bad dude The Whizzer sends Jan into action as The Wasp, introduces us to another of SHIELD's mega-prisons (The Big House), and thrusts Hank and Jan into the superhero biz. Meanwhile, back in Wakanda, King T'Chaka and his throne are usurped by the Man-Ape, forcing his son T'Challa to seek the help of NYC's heroes to regain his throne.
* "The Breakout, Parts 1 and 2"
You've met the players, you know their stories, now see them unite to try and stop the world's first cadre of super villains, as they band together to stop the security meltdown of all four SHIELD holding facilities and defeat Graviton, the most powerful enemy they've faced to date. Betrayals are revealed, ulterior motives come to light, personalities clash, and a superhero team is born. It's a smorgasbord of cameos and foreshadowing that sets up the remainder of the season.
Presented in 1.78 anamorphic standard definition widescreen, the visual presentation is flawless. The animation by Film Roman and Marvel is top notch, creating a distinctly angular look for this world, punctuated by vibrant colors and an impressive use of traditional and CG elements. The Dolby 5.1 surround track rocks your sound system with a healthy dose of action and adventure. Composer Guy Michelmore's score is growing on me, but the hideous title song -- a bastard child of Nickelback and Blink 182 -- makes me cringe every time I hear it. In fact, I've taken to fast forwarding through the opening credits to avoid it, stopping only at the final title card to see which characters are in this episode; a nod to the old school Marvel Comics convention of displaying character faces in the corner of the cover art. Classic.
Don't expect much in the way of bonus features. A single 7 min featurette finds co-creators Josh and Chris discussing the series development process and their own particular passions for these characters. Again, I reinforce the fact that this show is not a cheap sellout by Marvel to capitalize on their theatrical films. This is a sincere love letter to fans who have followed the Avengers stories throughout the years. Depending on how long the show runs, we can only hope to see some of the genius work of writers likes Brian Michael Bendis get the animated treatment it so richly deserves.
Verily I say unto thee, Not Guilty!
Review content copyright © 2011 Michael Stailey; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 161 Minutes
Release Year: 2010
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Official Site