|Ultimate Avengers - The Movie|
|Written by Mel Odom|
|Tuesday, 21 February 2006|
“The Avengers” began life as a comic book in 1963 in the able hands of comics legends Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. The original team consisted of Thor, Iron Man, Ant-Man, Wasp and the Hulk, five of the biggest stars of Marvel’s relaunch of costumed heroes. At that point, Lee wanted to slip a book into the publishing schedule that was guaranteed to be a hit, and what better way than to pump up the sales by including everyone’s favorite heroes? Only three issues, later in # 4, Lee and Kirby brought back Captain America, who became the flagship superhero for the line for years, and still remains so today.
The comic book universes of the two giants, DC and Marvel, change constantly. At this time, both publishers are tinkering with their lines, creating brand-new worlds for their heroes to adventure in. Fans anxiously wait to see what will be added and what will be subtracted.
Changing of the old guard is a standard in comics as well. Experimentation is the lifeblood of new ideas, takes, and characters. Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch launched “The Ultimates,” with the same Avengers that were in the original cast, but with an innovative and darkly skewed twenty-first century twist. Ant-Man has just become Giant-Man and his marriage to the Wasp is on the rocks. Iron Man really is a playboy who puts on the armor more for thrills than to save people. Thor may or may not be an actual Norse god. And the Hulk is a rampaging monster that destroyed a lot of downtown Manhattan and killed dozens of people.
Now, with the success of the “Ultimates” line, which also includes the Fantastic 4, Spider-Man, the X-Men and several other revamped heroes in continuing series and mini-series, Marvel has decided to produce four direct-to-DVD animated movies. The first two are about the Ultimates, borrowing heavily from the storylines created by Millar and Hitch. The next two will be about Iron Man and Dr. Strange, so Marvel fans and superhero enthusiasts will have a lot to look forward to.
The first “Ultimate Avengers” movie involves an alien threat against the Earth that stretches back to World War II. Chapter 1 focuses on Captain America in 1945 as he leads his men on a desperate mission in the North Atlantic. The disc opens up with a big- band sound that pours lusciously from the surround sound system, then hones in on the sound of throbbing plane engines as the American commandos swoop in for the kill. Machine gun fire and mortar rockets explode in a cornucopia of battle noises, and the surround sound system puts the viewer in the center of the action. The barrage of blasts peal from the left speaker, then the right, emulating the movement on the screen. A rush of patriotic music ushers Captain America into the fray. Machine gun bullets hammer the airplane he pilots from the right speaker, then the subwoofer lights up as he crashes through the front doors of the outpost. His men rally and follow him inside. In short order, he’s fighting hand-to-hand with a Nazi commandant who’s obviously not of this world. High-tech robot creatures help finish up a missile that’s launched. But Captain America has fought his way aboard it and manages to damage the guidance systems, destroying it. Captain America drops into the freezing North Atlantic Ocean and disappears from sight. His final letter to his sweetheart, Gail, leads us into the opening credits.
Chapter 2 opens up on action as well. This time a submarine trolls through the freezing waters, but its sixty years later. Nick Fury, the one-eyed director of the super-secret SHIELD agency, pushes his crew on their mystery mission. The speaking parts all stream from the correct left or right speakers as Fury gets responses. Within a few minutes, we discover that Fury is there after Captain America’s body. They find the hero frozen in the ice.
The VTOL (vertical take-off and landing) aircraft blast through the speakers in Chapter 3. Dr. Bruce Banner is quickly introduced and viewers learn that SHIELD has been working to duplicate the super-soldier serum that turned puny Steve Rogers into the incredible warrior known as Captain America. The Hulk is mentioned, foreshadowing events to follow (the movie is really well thought out and executed!). Captain America comes out of hibernation (no doubt helped by the super-soldier serum coursing through his veins) and fights free of the lab where he’s being studied. The amazing acrobatic display depicted by the animation just couldn’t get any better, reminding us that this is not a Saturday morning cartoon. Running footsteps pursue Captain America as he flees, switching from the center speakers to the left speaker to emulate the action. Then Captain America has to deal with the fact that he’s no longer living in the world he remembers. Nick Fury talks him down, taking control of the situation and promising help.
Chapter 4 shifts to a space station in geosynchronous orbit around the Earth. As Nick Fury walks through the command center, military music issues from the surround sound system. Even as the satellite tracking system comes online, an alien spacecraft streaks into space and blasts it, shoving down into the gravitational well. The crashing and screams echo from the surround sound system. Fury is instructed to activate Project Avenger and go into the recruitment phase for superhumans.
Personality clashes deepen in Chapter 5, spinning out subplot threads that aren’t usually in kids’ cartoons. Bruce and Betty are definitely at odds with one another, and Bruce is still very much in love with her. But she hates the Hulk, Bruce’s alter ego. When the door opens on the right, the noise comes through the right speaker, again showing how much care has gone into the production of the movie. Tony Stark and the Black Widow are also introduced in a moment worthy of a James Bond film. As the Widow guides Stark to a more “private” place, Fury’s voice comes from the right speaker. He’s seated at Stark’s desk. Fury wants Iron Man and figures that Stark made the hero’s suit of armor. Fury has to follow Stark outside and the sweep of the helicopter rotors fills the surround sound system.
Captain America and Dr. Banner talk at the beginning of Chapter 6 and we see how each of the men is driven. Captain America wants to know what he can do for the world and what his place is in it, and Banner wants to know what the world can do for him and wants to become its hero. Captain America looks at the picture of Gail that Banner gives him. Fury goes to meet Hank Pym (Giant-Man) and Janet Pym (the Wasp) and recruits them. Hank is arrogant and cocky, all about himself. When the Wasp is small, her voice is tiny in the surround sound system.
At the opening of Chapter 7, Iron Man jets to the rescue and the sound lights up the subwoofer. Helicopters cruise in and the sound pummels us. Later, when Fury tries to run Iron Man to ground, his boots rip up the asphalt and grind through the subwoofer.
The recruitment continues and the stakes escalate as Captain America tries to figure out how he fits into the present-day world. As always in the comics, he comes across as a man out of time. All of the characters are well rounded in this first effort from Marvel’s DVD launch. Bruce Banner’s paranoia and megalomania, Tony Stark’s mix of playboy and savior, Hank and Janet’s marital woes, and Thor’s laid-back approach to godhood comes across true to the vision Millar and Hitch envisioned in their comics.
The additional materials on the disc are interesting. The “Avengers Assemble” featurette delivers a lot of information to viewers not conversant with the Avengers’ world, but there’s enough of it (as well as comic book covers that are sure to rekindle memories of youth for those who grew up reading the book) to render the piece a must-watch for even the most erudite comics reader. The voice talent search is a hoot. However, the trivia track and the “What Avenger Are You?” game are too simple for the dedicated Avenger fan.
“Ultimate Avengers” is a definite keeper for any comics fan or any younger viewer who loves imagining he has superpowers. More than being a treat for the comics buff, though, “Ultimate Avengers” delivers on a true movie experience, backing the incredible action with realistic characters. The fight with the Hulk in the final two chapters of the movie is awesome. Families wanting something with a bit of a bite for family viewing night will all have a blast with this film if they enjoy superheroes. Definitely more intense than “Sky High,” “Ultimate Avengers” holds its own with “Spider-Man,” “Spider-Man 2” and “Fantastic Four” for sheer watchability.