Lionsgate // 2008 // 78 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge Dan Mancini (Retired) // September 2nd, 2008
The children of heroes past are our only hope for the future!
Once upon a time, The Avengers were Earth's defenders. Eventually, their crusade against evil was so successful that they softened, let their guard down, built lives for themselves, and had children. Enter: the evil robot Ultron, who defeated and killed all of The Avengers -- except the immortal Thor, who returned to Asgard after the death of his father, and Tony Stark (a.k.a. Iron Man), who devoted himself to raising the team's children at a secret compound of his own design.
Thirteen years later, Ultron has nearly completed his technological conquest of the entire planet. The next generation of Avengers has reached their teen years: James Rogers, the red-haired son of Captain America and Black Widow; Torunn, the hard-headed daughter of Thor; Azari, the Black Panther's son; and Pym, the diminutive, wiseacre son of Giant-Man and Wasp. When Ultron discovers their existence, the young team opts (against Stark's wishes) for a full-frontal assault against the malicious robot. Once in Ultron's capital, they discover that another of the Avengers' children is still alive: Barton, the son of Hawkeye.
Determined as they are to defeat Ultron, the team's chances for success seem slim considering the failure of their more powerful parents to stop the robot -- that is, until they meet an elderly woman named Betty Ross, who informs them that they aren't the only super-beings to survive Ultron's conquest. One Dr. Bruce Banner, it seems, is still alive and still terrified of the beast that lives within him.
Despite its next-gen trappings, Next Avengers: Heroes of Tomorrow is really an alternate universe reimagining of the classic comic book series for the kiddie set. Each of the new heroes is the spitting image of his or her parent. Despite his shock of red hair (courtesy of the Black Widow), James proves to be the same sort of natural leader and indefatigable fighter as Captain America. Torunn is built like a mini-Thor and just as determined never to retreat, though her thee, thou, and forsooth language is an "I miss my daddy" pretense. Azari is a bundle of catlike agility with the added power to blast his opponents with pulses of electricity; the younger Hawkeye is a tough-as-nails sharpshooter; and Pym combines his father's smart-ass sense of humor and ability to grow and shrink in stature with his mother's powers to sting and fly.
The movie is equal parts energetic, well-choreographed action and the sort of cloying humor that children will find funny but will elicit shrugged shoulders and rolled eyes from adults. For every aerial battle against bad-ass robots, there's a joke about James facing the ugly rigors of puberty. For every "Hulk smash!" there's Pym's hyper-annoying wisecracking a la any number of kid brother characters from a plethora of family sitcoms over the decades (personally, I blame Danny Partridge for the longstanding trend of grating younger siblings). All of this is to say that Next Avengers: Heroes of Tomorrow is great entertainment for kids, but is less likely to wow adults. The plot is sound (if goofy in the way most alternate universe stories are a little goofy), the pace is breezy (the brief 78-minute running time is perfect for this one), and the action is tight, but the tone is pure kiddie-show cliché.
As with Marvel's four previous direct-to-DVD animated features (Doctor Strange: The Sorcerer Supreme, The Invincible Iron Man, and the Ultimate Avengers duology), the animation for Next Avengers is at the upper end of television production quality, but not nearly as smooth and fluid as what you'd expect from a big-budget theatrical feature. It's a job well done given the budgetary limitations of a feature made exclusively for home video distribution. The 1.78:1 anamorphically enhanced transfer is excellent. Colors are bold and vibrant. Detail is sharp. Jaggies and other digital flaws are few and far between.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 surround audio track won't blow your hair back, but it's plenty immersive. Dialogue and effects are well mixed so that subtle details are easy to hear. Action sequences are supported by a touch of LFE.
As for supplements, the disc contains two 10-minute featurettes. The first is a standard electronic press kit-style making-of in which director Jay Olivia (The Invincible Iron Man) and others discuss the origin and production of the show. "Kid Power: Next-Gen Marvel" is an advertisement for Marvel's kid-friendly publications from the Power Pack superhero team to the mischievous adventures of Franklin Richards, the son of Mister Fantastic and the Invisible Woman.
Better than either of those featurettes is a duo of first looks for Marvel's next animated features: Hulk versus Wolverine and Hulk versus Thor. The brief pieces -- which consist of talking-head interviews, production artwork, and some polished animation -- give little indication of the shows' plots, but both look action-packed.
Adults looking for a little animated comic book derring-do are likely to be disappointed by Next Avengers: Heroes of Tomorrow's often silly tone. The movie is ideal for superhero-loving tykes, though -- violence and adult themes have been toned down enough to earn it a PG rating, as opposed to the PG-13 slapped on Marvel's previous animated features.
Review content copyright © 2008 Dan Mancini; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
Running Time: 78 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Rated PG
* Legacy: Making of Next Avengers: Heroes of Tomorrow
* Kid Power: Next-Gen Marvel
* First Look at Hulk vs. Wolverine
* First Look at Hulk vs. Thor