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Movie Review: Ultimate Avengers (2006)

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.

Evil is on the run!

While looking through the third box of comic books last night, I hit a veritable treasure trove. I found about two or three dozen issues of The Mighty Avengers, a hefty pile of The New Mutants and probably a dozen and a half issues of What If…? ((I loved What If…? The series required that the reader have a pretty good knowledge of the history of the Marvel universe. Uatu, the all-seeing Watcher who made his home on Earth’s moon would focus on a key event (or, in some cases, a seemingly trivial event) in the Marvel universe and show us how different things would be if that event had played out differently. What if Spider-Man had never married Mary Jane? What if Susan and Reed Richards’ second child had lived? What if Rick Jones had become the Hulk? One of my favorite issues is “What if Spider-Man’s clone had lived?” Why? Because it turns out that Spider-Man’s clone never died. In fact, the Spider-Man that many of us followed for years and years is the clone! Not every spiderfan is happy about his development, by the way.

At any rate, I remember explaining the concept of What If…? to my brother, Keven, many years ago. “Yeah,” he said, “and what if superheroes were real?” I guess he thought the idea of alternate histories for a fictional universe was kind of silly. And it is. It really is. But it’s entertaining, too.))

I even found an issue of Crystar, The Crystal Warrior as well as an issue of the DC equivalent, Amethyst, Princess of Gemworld. Good grief.

But the real jackpot was a near-complete collection of Rom, Spaceknight. The series ran for seventy-five issues (plus four annuals) between 1979 and 1985. I’m guessing it’s 80-90% complete (including three of the four annuals. Some issues in the collection may have belonged to my brother, David, but the bulk of them were given (or perhaps sold, the details are somewhat fuzzy) to me by Mike Butcher. ((Mike Butcher was my aunt Susie’s boyfriend. When my younger siblings and I went with my mother to visit my dad (working in lower Michigan at the time) one summer, we also visited Susie and Mike. I was pleasantly surprised to find that Mike was an avid comic collector. I don’t remember exactly how it happened, but I (or maybe it was Adam and I) wound up with a hefty chunk of Mike’s collection, including not only Rom, Spaceknight, but the first twenty-five issues of The Savage She-Hulk. Mike, unfortunately, is no longer with us. He suffered a fatal heart attack several years ago, while attending church. I didn’t know him all that well, and only met him on a few occasions, but I always thought he was a cool guy.)) For the most part, they’re in decent shape, but ten-plus years of sitting in a box in the attic have taken their toll. Even sitting in a box specifically designed for them, comics degrade over time. If they’re not bagged and boarded (and these aren’t, though I’m thinking about correcting that), gravity works its evil magic and the bottom of the comics start to curl.

Condition aside, this is an amazing find. I knew the series was there, but I had no idea how close to complete it was. It might even be possible to fill in the gaps without putting too much hurt on my wallet. Maybe. I have no idea what the comic book market looks like these days. Apart from the occasional issue of Captain America or Ultimate Spider-Man, I’m pretty much out of that particular loop.

Rom Spaceknight #1
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What’s the big deal about Rom? Well, he sacrificed his humanity to save the planet Galador from the Dire Wraiths. After defeating the Wraiths on Galador, Rom—who was the first Galadorian to volunteer to become a spaceknight—followed them through the galaxy for 200 years, eventually arriving on Earth. Using his Neutralizer, Rom banished Dire Wraiths (who had disguised themselves as humans) to Limbo. Unfortunately, whenever Rom banished a Wraith to Limbo, it appeared that he was killing a human being. This didn’t sit well with the populace of Earth, and Rom was treated as a murderer and pursued by the U.S. Army.

Marvel did something incredible with Rom. They took a Parker Brothers toy and created a fantastic, compelling story. Rom wants little more than to regain the humanity he sacrificed to save his people, but he cannot rest until the threat of the Dire Wraiths is eliminated. Deep within the awesome armor of the spaceknight is a man who longs to be a man once more. The Rom, Spaceknight comic book far surpassed the toy upon which it was based, becoming a story that explored the depths of what it truly means to be human.

Plus, that Neutralizer kicked ass.