Ultimate Avengers (2006)
Starring Justin Gross, David Boat, Grey DeLisle, Michael Massee, Nan McNamara, Nolan North, Fred Tatasciore, Andre Ware, Marc Worden and Princess Jehnna.
Directed by Curt Geda and Steven E. Gordon.
Ultimate Avengers, based on the Marvel comic series The Ultimates, is the first animated film produced by Marvel Comics and Lions Gate Films. It was released directly to DVD, and a sequel is slated for release (also direct-to-DVD) in July 2006.
Marvel’s “Ultimate” universe updates some of their classic superheroes (Spider-Man, The Fantastic Four, The X-Men and The Avengers), retelling their origins in a more modern day setting. Some might say the Ultimate universe is Marvel’s way of milking their old standards one more time. After all, how many times can you re-tool the story of a kid getting bit by a spider? Personally, I think the concept works pretty well, and I’ve been collecting some of the Utimate collections as they are released in multi-issue trade paperbacks.
Ultimate Avengers does a fairly decent job of following the basic story set out in The Ultimates comic book, with a few minor and a couple not-so-minor differences. On the “minor” side of things, the comic book version of Thor, the tree-hugging son of Odin, has a goatee; his animated counterpart does not. Not a big deal. The movie, on the other hand, has an alien threat, something not in the first few issues of the comic book. I admit to being a bit behind on collecting The Ultimates (I actually have more issues of The Ultimate Spider-Man), so it may well be that the aliens are introduced later.
One thing I was really hoping to see in Ultimate Avengers was an exchange between Captain America (Justin Gross) and Bruce “The Incredible Hulk” Banner (Michael Massee). In an incredibly irresponsible move, Banner allowed himself to become the Incredible Hulk, despite the fact that the Hulk is an uncontrollable menace. Captain America and the rest of the Ultimates have gone through hell to stop the Hulk’s rampage, and Cap is helping Bruce Banner out of a huge crater in the middle of the city. “We should get someone to look at that gash on your head,” Cap says. “What gash?” Banner asks, nonplussed; his forehead is unblemished. As a reply, Cap kicks Banner in the head. ((I’m paraphrasing this, as I think I’ve loaned my copy of The Ultimates to someone.))
As portrayed in Ultimate Avengers, Captain America would probably never kick Bruce Banner in the head, no matter how much Banner deserved it, and it was pretty obvious from the start that the exchange wasn’t going to happen, but I was disappointed that it didn’t, nonetheless. The battle between the Hulk and the Ultimates/Avengers was there, but the events that incited it and the manner in which it concluded were different from those in the comic book.
Differences aside, Utimate Avengers does tell the story of how the supergroup is formed (including Captain America’s final battle in World War II, which left him frozen in ice), and it establishes the alien threat that appears to be the basis for the animated franchise. It touches on some of the basic drama between the various characters (Hank and Janet Pym have a troubled relationship, Thor really wants nothing to do with the Ultimates, Bruce Banner is a tortured, self-centered genius, and almost everyone Captain America knew is dead), but isn’t as edgy as its comic book counterpart.
As far as animation goes, Ultimate Avengers was about average. Most of it is traditional cel animation, with the occasional computer-generated tweak here and there. The style is less cartoony than the current crop of DC animated series, reminding me more of some of the recent X-Men and Spider-Man animated series. The voice-acting was decent, but the Nick Fury character in the comic book is so clearly based on Samuel L. Jackson that poor Andre Ware really had to fight an uphill battle to make the character his own.
The DVD contains a history of the Avengers, clips fans submitted in response to a casting call Lions Gate did in late 2004, a couple of trailers, a DVD-ROM “What Avenger Are You?” game ((I most resemble Iron Man. This may or may not be because I chose “Robotics” as the career that most interested me. I’m sure it has nothing to do with the fact that I’m an alcoholic, billionaire playboy with a bad heart.)) and a trivia track, which is basically the Pop Up Video version of the movie. The history of the Avengers focuses heavily on the classic Avengers and Kurt Busiek’s New Avengers, but very little on The Ultimates, which is rather disappointing. I haven’t watched the entire trivia track yet, but I do know that Captain America’s first appearance was in Captain America #1, way back in 1941. Actually, I knew that without the trivia track, but those are the sorts of tidbits that pop up on the screen. ((The trivia track really needed another pass through proofreading. Watching the first twenty-five minutes or so of the movie with the trivia track turned on, I saw about a dozen spelling errors and an instance where one popup contradicted one that had appeared earlier.))
All in all, Ultimate Avengers isn’t bad. I think Cap could be a little edgier, and the non-alien storyline in the first few issues of the comic book allows the characters and their relationships with one another to take the forefront, but I don’t think a horny Hulk chasing Betty around Manhattan would quite fit the tone (or the audience) of this particular animated movie.