Lionsgate // 2006 // 71 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Jonathan Weiss (Retired) // August 8th, 2006
If you haven't been keeping up-to-date with your comics the first question you might have is "Who the heck are these Ultimate guys?" Who indeed. In 2000, Marvel decided to shake things up a bit by re-envisioning their characters in the present day. In other words Peter Parker changed from being a nerdy kid with a microscope to a social outcast with a laptop. The concept took off to such a degree that other titles followed. First came the Ultimate X-men, and then the Ultimates, Marvel's modern re-imagining of the Avengers. Captain America, outside of a costume change, remained the most unscathed. The rest however, well, these were definitely not Stan the Man Lee's Avengers. They were darker, edgier, and weren't afraid to push the envelope -- all of which made them the perfect choice if Marvel wanted to make an impact with its first ever straight to DVD release.
It's no secret that until the success of The X-Men and Spider-man movies, Marvel has not had much luck transferring their incredibly popular characters to other mediums. In film, there were the failures that were Howard The Duck, Captain America (starring J.D. Salinger's son, Matt), and of course the Roger Corman underground giggle-fest The Fantastic Four (not that the recent Tim Story version got raves either). On TV, they did slightly better with The Incredible Hulk, but outside of geekdom, nobody would call the The Amazing Spider-man television series (starring Nicholas Hammond, Friedrich from The Sound of Music), or the Doctor Strange one-off, must-see TV movie. One would think that animation would be the exception, not the rule, but even here the end result always seemed somewhat lacking. The illustrations were uninspired, the voice casting forced, the stories truncated and bastardized and the animation itself, well, not so animated.
It would take Marvel's distinguished competition (otherwise know as DC Comics) to show the world how it truly should be done. With Batman: The Animated Series and all of its incarnations, through Superman: The Animated Series, Justice League, and Justice League Unlimited fans of all ages finally got a taste of what it was like to see their heroes brought to life. Now if only Marvel would follow suit. When Ultimate Avengers -- The Movie was announced there were palpable waves of anticipation through fandom. First, by using the Avengers from the Marvel's Ultimates line of comics, the story would probably be of interest to older fans too. Secondly, how could they miss with the incredibly successful DC/Warner Brothers formula to guide them?
During the final days of World War II, Captain America and a team of soldiers are sent on a suicide mission to stop the Nazis from deploying an ultimate weapon. Captain America infiltrates the secret base and in so doing finds something even more horrific. The Nazis aren't working alone. A secret alien race has been working with them. As the weapon is launched, Captain America jumps aboard using his trusty pointed and nearly invulnerable shield as a means to cling to the chassis. Managing to pry open a panel, the Captain throws in a grenade that promptly destroys the rocket. However victory doesn't come without a price. The Captain is flung into the air like a bug and falls heavily into the sea. As he sinks into inky oblivion his last thoughts are of his sweetheart waiting back home.
Cut to present day. In the hopes of duplicating the Super Soldier Serum that created the long lost Captain America, General Nick Fury, accompanied by a cadre of soldiers and scientists have pinpointed the Captain's last possible location -- and beyond all hope they actually find him, encased for the last 60 years in the very heart of an iceberg.
Back at headquarters, Bruce Banner, an unshaven, gaunt, and more than a little bit bitter scientist perks up at the news. He's made it his life's work to uncover the Super Soldier serum and until this incredible discovery, he hasn't made much headway. But now everything has changed. Not only have they found the original super soldier, but his body is intact and the secrets it contains have been preserved. However that's not the only thing that's been preserved. Instead of falling to his doom, the Captain was plunged into a state of suspended animation and now, fully thawed; he's back -- a man and a soldier out of time.
And he couldn't have picked a better time to do it. Seems like the Nazi-helping aliens are still around and they're still trying to either take over or destroy the Earth (we're never too sure which). Running out of time, General Fury recruits not only the Captain, but also a group of other highly talented individuals to his cause.
There's Natasha Romanoff -- The Black Widow -- who seems to be Fury's right-hand woman. She's tough, she's military (maybe even ex-KGB), and knows how to get the job done.
There's Hank Pym and his wife, Janet, otherwise known as Giant Man and the Wasp. Pym used to work for Fury but was relieved from his post. He's smart, arrogant, and can grow twenty-five stories high. Janet is loyal, fearless, and can shrink down to the size of a wasp, grow wings with which to fly, and can shoot stinger-like blasts from her hands.
There's Iron Man, Tony Stark, a billionaire playboy weapons manufacturer, who hides behind a suit of high tech armour to fight the good fight.
There's Thor, a protest-loving hippy who believes he's the god of thunder. Most people think he's a complete crackpot but nobody denies that he's incredibly powerful and has the ability to control the very elements of nature.
And finally, there's Bruce Banner, the self-same scientist charged with finding the Super Soldier serum. It turns out that his interest in the Super Soldier serum has everything to do with reclaiming his reputation and very little to do with helping Fury create a new army. Seems that a while back he was radiated with gamma rays that transform him into a mindless, brutish, hulking monster whenever he gets the slightest bit edgy. Maybe that's why they always keep him on meds. Banner isn't actually an official member of the team, but he could very be its most powerful member.
Fury hopes that with the combined skills and powers now under his command they finally have what it takes to end this alien threat once and for all. But first they have to learn to work together.
Land of Goshen -- that's one heck of a synopsis, no? That's right, there's a lot going on here in the Ultimate universe, and unless you pay attention, you're going to miss something. Well, that's not entirely true. With only 70 minutes to work with a lot of story had to be crammed in, which means that a lot of back-story had to be left out. We never really find out how Banner first became the Hulk, just that he did, and he caused a lot of destruction -- to property as well as to his reputation and relationship with fellow scientist Betty. Hank Pym used to work for Fury and got fired. Unless you can fire someone for being an arrogant jerk it would be nice to know why -- especially since there's so much animosity there. Where did Natasha, the Black Widow, come from? She's obviously Russian, but we know nothing except that she respects and works for Fury. Let's not even get into the aliens and they're motivations, because other than being pure evil, there don't seem to be any. The introduction and characterization of these characters seems to be one of pure convenience -- when you need a guy in armour, he's there. When you need a world threatening alien enemy, they're right around the corner. Sure, if you've read the comic or trade paperbacks then you have everything you need to know. You even fill in the blanks yourself. But if you come in blind, blind you might stay.
Not that it's a bad story. It isn't. Captain America is handled very nicely, from his mission in World War II to his re-introduction into modern society. You also want to get to know these characters better. Thor doesn't have a lot of screen time but he definitely piques your curiosity. So does the relationship between Hank and Janet; they are definitely not Ward and June Cleaver. The Hulk too, is done well. He finally comes off as a truly monstrous and dangerous creature. Hulk just don't smash; this mother annihilates.
As far as the animation side of things goes, this is not the next Batman: The Animated Series. Not even close. It's not like they didn't try. It was really quite nice to see the name Curt Geda pop up as director. Mr. Geda has done some wonderful work namely on projects like Batman, Batman Beyond, and Superman: The Animated Series. One only hoped he would bring that same magic with him into the world of Marvel. It's not that Ultimate Avengers -- The Movie looks bad; it's just that it looks like what you'd expect to see following X-Men: Evolution on a Saturday morning. Here was a chance to reinvent the entire look of the Marvel Universe, and instead we get business as usual. Maybe they didn't want to be accused of plagiarizing a style, or copying another company's success. Totally understandable. But then come up with a style that is uniquely your own. Sure, it's easier said than done, but man, would it have been interesting if they did.
Still, a lot of it does look good. Fight scenes in particular are well choreographed, and it was very cool to see the world through Iron Man's eyes. There are, however, some obvious moments where computer rendered art is being merged with hand drawn -- mainly scenes involving transportation like Fury's helicopter and such -- and it does come off as slightly jarring. What is nice is the use of all 5.1 channels of surround. The sound engineers really did a bang up job of putting you right into the centre of the action.
Also nice are the extras. The "Avengers Assemble" featurette is very informative and gives a good introduction to the classic team. Also, it's always nice to hear a comic book legend like artist George Perez talk about his process and his passion. The "Ultimate Voice Talent Search" came out of left field but it was a really fun inclusion. At first sight you'd think you're about to see a little feature on the talent behind the characters, but instead what we have are video snippets from auditions sent in by fans. Pretty funny stuff.
It's always a thrill to see characters that you love come to life before your eyes. It's even more of a treat when they're done right. Ultimate Avengers -- The Movie is not perfect by any means but its heart is in the right place. If you're a fan of the comic, give it a shot. You may be pleasantly surprised. If, however, you only know the classic version, prepare to be baffled.
The Ultimates are free to go. Like anybody has the power to stop them.
Review content copyright © 2006 Jonathan Weiss; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
Running Time: 71 Minutes
Release Year: 2006
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* "Avengers Assemble" Featurette
* The Ultimate Voice Talent Search
* First Look at Ultimate Avengers II
* Avengers Trivia Track
* DVD-ROM Game
* Marvel Comics
* Avengers Cover Gallery
* Avengers Assemble Fan Site