“Ultimate Avengers: The Movie” is apparently Marvel Comics’ first salvo at the direct-to-video market, having conquered theaters with one successful comic book movie after another. The plan, it seems, is to release one major DTV animated movie every year or so, using the Ultimates comic book line as source material. (For those who don’t know, the Ultimates line is Marvel Comics’ “re-imagining” of their popular characters; basically a grittier rebirth of traditional staples such as the Avengers, etc.) From everything that I’ve read, “Ultimate Avengers” the movie is very much a faithful (plot-wise) adaptation of the source material, except with much of the R-rated themes that the Ultimates line is known for excised in order to achieve the financially desirable PG-13 rating.
Opening at the tail end of World War II, “Ultimate Avengers” finds Stars and Stripes superhero Captain America jumping into action against the last German stronghold. Those rascally Germans, very much sore losers it appears, are in cahoots with devious aliens to launch a nuclear warhead at America. The good Captain narrowly averts the disaster, but at the cost of his own life, as he plunges into the ocean where he is subsequently frozen in a block of ice. Sixty odd years later, Captain America is located by SHIELD head honcho Nick Fury, who desperately needs the Captain’s blood to revitalize the supersoldier program that gave Captain America his powers in the first place. Fury’s big concern is the same alien race that tried to nuke America 60 years ago, as it appears those dastardly extra-terrestrials are still around waiting to strike.
Having now found himself in the present, Captain America , aka Steve Rogers, must deal with a new problem — getting a new team of superheroes to work together as a single unit rather than the selfish individuals they are. He has his work cut out for him, as among the flamboyant personalities are Thor, the self-styled God of Thunder (and peacenik), the Wasp and her husband Giant Man, Russian spy Black Widow (voiced by former Bond girl Olivia d’Abo), and arrogant loner Iron Man, who is secretly billionaire weapons maker and ladies man Tony Stark. Meanwhile, scientist Bruce Banner, in charge of Fury’s supersoldier program, continues to search for a cure to the monstrosity known as The Hulk that rages inside him.
Clocking in at a too breezy 70 minutes, “Ultimate Avengers” the movie doesn’t last long enough to wear out its welcome. Unfortunately this isn’t a good thing, as the movie’s cast of characters are rather intriguing (at least for long-time comic book fans like myself) and more exposure to their problems, in particular Steve Rogers’ handling of the freak show called modernity, would have given the characters depth. With what it has to work with, the film still manages decent characterization, in particular the raging chaos of Bruce Banner and his obsessive preoccupation with controlling the Hulk. Then again, I’m not sure how “deep” these people might seem to non-comic book viewers. Despite the “re-imagining” of the characters’ past, they are very much still the same people I grew up reading, so “getting” who they are was no obstacle.
Action-wise, “Ultimate Avengers” should please the kiddies. Although rated PG-13, the movie is kid-friendly enough not to bother parents too much, while at the same time offering anyone over 13 some surprisingly brutal violence. The drag out final battle between the Avengers and the Hulk at the end, which takes up nearly 10 minutes, makes the film better than it has any right to be. Directors Curt Geda and Steven Gordon have obviously tried to squeeze as much of the Ultimate comic book into their movie as possible, their efforts hampered somewhat by the rating, as well as the need to sell the movie to younger viewers. Even so, the Avengers get plenty bruised and battered. Especially Captain America , who by film’s end is limping about on crutches. Tell me you’ve seen that before on a Saturday Morning Cartoon.
For animation purists, the drawing style of “Ultimate Avengers”, besides harking back to the 1980s, may leave a lot to be desired. Like most hand-drawn animation, the film gives the impression of being hurried, the result of too little frames per shot. To compare the art of “Ultimate Avengers” to anything from Japan would be like comparing a bi-plane to a supersonic jet. While the art isn’t completely bad, the lack of sophistication is readily obvious, especially compared to your typical Japanimation. To be sure, the drawing doesn’t look as bad as your average American cartoon, but then again, for a film released to DVD, one expects a little more care and money put into the show.
If you could get over the average artwork, “Ultimate Avengers” does mark a noticeable advancement in contemporary American animation. It is, again, surprisingly mature in spots, especially the climactic free-for-all involving the Hulk’s battle with the Avengers. Unfortunately the alien plot is not very intelligent or even believable, and jettisoning the plot completely might have made for a better debut of our superhero team. After all, how believable is it that aliens capable of interstellar flight would be hiding out on Earth for 60 years, doing apparently very little in those times? Don’t these guys have homes to go to?
Curt Geda, Steven E. Gordon (director) / Greg Johnson (screenplay)
CAST: Justin Gross …. Captain America
David Boat …. Thor
Olivia d’Abo …. Black Widow
Grey DeLisle …. Janet Pym/The Wasp
Michael Massee …. Bruce Banner
Nan McNamara …. Dr. Betty Ross
Nolan North …. Giant Man
Andre Ware …. Nick Fury
Marc Worden …. Iron Man