“Ultimate Avengers 2: Rise of the Panther” is the sequel to Marvel’s first line of animated direct-to-video superhero franchise, “Ultimate Avengers”, which pitted a team of superheroes led by a resurrected World War II supersoldier named Captain America against alien invaders. That same alien menace returns in “Rise of the Panther”, this time in the isolated African nation of Wakanda. Led by their own version of a supersoldier named Kleiser, who has apparently taken to liking his Nazi garb (the alien having surfaced during World War II like the good Captain), the aliens are after something underneath Wakanda that the natives are unwilling to give up, having based much of their technology, as well as defenses, from it.
After his father, the Black Panther, is killed by Kleiser, young T’Challa assumes the throne, as well as the costume. T’Challa seeks help from Captain America , who has faced Kleiser before in World War II, and indeed still fears the seemingly unkillable alien supersoldier to this day. With the alien plot revealed, SHIELD head honcho Nick Fury has no choice but to re-assemble the Avengers (minus Thor, who seems to have gone missing lately) and send them to Wakanda. Battling not just natives that fear and distrust outsiders, the Avengers must face an alien mothership that has just arrived in orbit over Earth…
As sequels go, “Rise of the Panther” makes for an excellent continuation of the “Avengers” franchise. Issues raised from the first film are followed up upon, including the Hulk’s rampage, which has made him a prisoner at SHIELD, and left his relationship with Betty irreparable. The Wasp and Giant Man are still having marital problems. And we learn that Tony Stark (aka Iron Man) has become more “iron” than “man” because of serious health issues. Unfortunately due to the film’s 72-minute length, these important personal moments are limited to a few short scenes, and really could have been expanded upon given a greater running time. The Giant Man-Wasp relationship continues to crumble throughout the movie, and even leads to the movie’s big surprise moment that nobody probably saw coming.
The animated version of the Avengers continues its deviation from Mark Millars’ “Ultimates” comic books. A major detour is the character Thor, who “Ultimate Avengers 2″ has completely embraced as the real Norse God, and not a maybe-maybe not hippie nutcase with a big hammer as he appeared to be in the comic book version. There is also some sort of relationship between Captain America and Black Widow brewing in the forefront, made all the more unwieldy due to actress Olivia d’Abo’s seriously questionable version of a Russian accent.
The action this time around is much more fierce and frequent, and I can safely say that the animation hasn’t taken a noticeable drop in quality from “Ultimate Avengers”. Of course this also means that the animation has been improved upon, and the movie still feels like it’s moving much too fast, and there isn’t any time to enjoy anything happening onscreen. At 72 minutes, the movie really could have been longer, with extra room to explore the characters and still maintain the heavy action quotient. In the Third Act, the story takes a distinctly “War of the Worlds” feel, with giant alien war machines marching across the world’s major cities enslaving humankind. And speaking of war machines, after his Iron Man armor gets trashed, Tony Stark replaces it with the grey War Machine armor, which although “handles like 10 tons of tractor”, nevertheless “has got some sweet guns”.
Continuing the trend from the original, “Rise of the Panther” doesn’t shy away from its more adult aspects. T’Challa’s father has a pretty bloody battle with the evil Keisler early in the storyline, and there are plenty of times when people are shown killed onscreen by various implements. While the movie will probably be (smartly) marketed towards a younger audience, there are definitely some moments that could be considered “adult”, or at least “mature”. Of note is the continued marital problem of The Wasp and Giant Man, which although it doesn’t rise to the level of spousal combat Mark Millar depicted in “The Ultimate”, will still be best enjoyed (if one can enjoy such things) by adults who understands the concept of “marital bliss” (or lack thereof). Likewise, the mental anguish of Bruce Banner, aka The Hulk, as he’s kept in a glass cage and forced to relive his brutal behavior as the Hulk by a particularly sadistic “therapist” overseeing his captivity.
There is no reason why “Ultimate Avengers 2: Rise of the Panther” shouldn’t keep the fledging direct-to-video franchise alive and kicking. No doubt a third installment won’t be far behind, and with some judicious editing I’m sure both “Rise of the Panther” and the original “Ultimate Avengers” could be shown on TV for the kiddies, eliciting further buying power for the fanbase. Then again, considering the mindless violence kids are already consuming on a daily basis these days from even the “safe” cartoons, maybe seeing T’Challa’s father speared like a fish by a Nazi alien supersoldier won’t be all that big of a deal.
Curt Geda, Steven E. Gordon (director) / Greg Johnson, Craig Kyle (screenplay)
CAST: Justin Gross …. Captain America
Grey DeLisle …. Wasp
Michael Massee …. Bruce Banner
Marc Worden …. Iron Man
Olivia d’Abo …. Black Widow
Nan McNamara …. Betty Ross
Nolan North …. Giant Man