Judge Mike Rubino wishes Nick Fury would give him a call...just once.
"Individually, they are super heroes. United, they are the Ultimate Avengers…"
This summer may see the first big-screen adaptation of Marvel's mightiest supergroup, but it's not their first feature-length movie together. The Ultimate Avengers Movie Collection packages three previous, successful direct-to-DVD animated Avengers movies that offer their fair share of heroic dysfunction.
Facts of the Case
Ultimate Avengers opens with Captain America fighting Nazi aliens in 1945. He manages to blow up a Nazi spaceship, but also falls into the ocean, sentenced to suspended animation inside a block of ice. 60-some years in the future, S.H.I.E.L.D., a government espionage organization led by General Nick Fury, finds Cap and thaws him out. Turns out those Nazi aliens are back, and Fury needs a group of Earth's mightiest heroes to stop them. He calls on the help of Iron Man, Thor, Giant Man, Wasp, Black Widow, and Dr. Bruce Banner (a.k.a. the Hulk). Together, they are The Avengers and they have to put aside their differences in order to save New York…and the world.
Ultimate Avengers II starts off in the jungles of Africa. An advanced tribal civilization (you know, the kind with spears AND computers) is under the threat of more aliens. The tribe's leader, the Black Panther, goes to S.H.I.E.L.D. for help. The Avengers, who are as rag-tag and angsty as ever, travel to Africa to save the Black Panther's people…and the world.
Next Avengers: Heroes of Tomorrow takes place in the distant future, long after the deaths of the Avengers. Their children are being raised, and trained, in a bio-dome by an aging Tony Stark. Now in their teens, the Next Avengers finally start to question the history of their parents and their deaths at the hands of the villainous Ultron. When James Rogers, Captain America's kid, discovers a bunch of Iron Avenger robots, he accidentally alerts Ultron to their whereabouts. Now the kids have to learn to work together to save themselves…and the world.
Before Marvel Studios became a Hollywood powerhouse, they struck a deal with Lionsgate to release a series of direct-to-DVD animated features. The result was admirable, fairly faithful adaptations with mixed levels of success.
The first film out of the gate was Ultimate Avengers, an origin story based on the "Ultimate Marvel" line of reboots. With Captain America (Justin Gross) frozen in ice because of aliens, Tony Stark (Marc Worden) denying that he's Iron Man, and Thor (David Boat) being an active Greenpeace protester, the new Avengers are different enough to get noticed while retaining what made them great—namely, their heroic disfunction. Much of the movie is spent following General Nick Fury (Andre Ware) as he assembles Earth's mightiest heroes. It doesn't have the complex mythology of Marvel's live-action film canon and, for the sake of the scant 71-minute runtime, Fury gets the job done just in time to the gang to save the world.
Ultimate Avengers is shaky in tone and pacing; it's clear that Marvel Animation was still figuring out this whole feature film thing while trying to tell an adequate origin story. Caught somewhere between kids cartoon and a mature action spectacle, Ultimate Avengers plays it too safe most of the time. After the film's impressive World War II opening, it downshifts into chatty scenes about fake science and threats. The epic ending fight sequence, which features a crazed Hulk (Fred Tatasciore) makes up for all the chat, but also further highlights how much the middle dragged. It doesn't have much of the humor of, say, Joss Whedon's The Avengers—but that's a little unfair.
Ultimate Avengers II: Rise of the Panther fairs better. Since assembly is no longer required, Marvel reconnects with our heroes some time later. They've had time to grow both as characters and as a team. Hank Pym (Nolan North), a.k.a. Giant Man, is suffering from some health problems caused by his suit. Captain America is going on suicide missions just to keep from thinking about how sad and out of place he is. It's got a little bit more angst to it, and the tone feels decidedly more adult.
The plot, about the Avengers traveling to a hidden country in Africa to fight aliens alongside the Black Panther (Jeffery Sams), is brisk and fun. It's nice to get them out the gray and shiny halls of S.H.I.E.L.D. and that generic New York future-city they inhabit. The action, animated fairly well, is brutal and often pretty intense. Watching Giant Man stomp around the jungle covered with arrows, the Hulk tearing apart aliens limb by limb, and Iron Man flying around like a robo-bat out of Hell is what I've come to expect from an Avengers cartoon.
Surprisingly, it's the "bonus" movie that I found the most interesting. Next Avengers: Heroes of Tomorrow is a new franchise that takes place far in the future. The Avengers, as we know them, are dead, and their children are stuck learning how to harness their inherited skills. Sure there are unwelcome doses of teenage angst and pubescence, but the film also presents a mystery that we want to unravel. Vision, that robot ghost of Avengers' past, shows up broken and dying. He's sets in to motion a secret plan to save the kids from Ultron.
Next Avengers isn't in any way connected to the first two movies, but is instead aimed directly at kids. The animation style is fluid and anime-inspired; the plot is twisty and full of globe-trotting; and the references to the old guard of heroes gives the whole thing a nice continuity with the rest of the Marvel Universe. It's a creatively refreshing take on traditional "kid version" of a superhero team.
Ultimate Avengers Movie Collection packages all three of these standard def films on to two DVDs. They are, of course, straight reproductions of the original releases. The video and audio are great across the board, and the special features (which includes a history of The Avengers) are all in tact. It's not worth double-dipping if you already picked up these Marvel Animation releases, but it's nice to have them all in one place.
Ultimate Avengers Movie Collection is a collection of some decent feature-length adventures. I can't say it's great for kids, because the first two PG-13-rated movies are decidedly trying to be for adults. They just happen to be not as good as the kids movie in the pack: Next Avengers.
Ultimately, fans that haven't seen these before should check them out—especially if you dig the "Ultimate" reboots from Marvel. Just beware that this is a double dip of mighty proportions.
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