It would be hard to be a comics fan and not be aware of Marvel's Ultimate line, a series of semi-revisionist reworkings of their workhorse titles for the twenty-first century. This, of course, begat a new version of the team title The Avengers, called, thriftily enough, The Ultimates. These have been well-received by fans, as much for their artwork as their storytelling, slanted toward an older audience, thanks to writer Mark Millar and artist Bryan Hitch.
Small wonder, then, that one finds oneself confronted by something called Ultimate Avengers: The Movie. The good news is that the animation, although apparently done by the same house that produced the popular X-Men and Spider-Man syndicated TV cartoons, is definitely a cut above such fare; the bad news is, this isn't quiteThe Ultimates.
The movie is a fair approximation of the first five issues of the series, with the alien menace that figured prominently in the last half of the first volume coming rather more to the foreground (and, it has to be admitted, giving a slightly better reason for Bruce Banner to become the Hulk than the comic provided).
A lot of the grittier aspects of the comic have gone by the wayside for younger viewers; Tony Stark's drinking is only obliquely referenced, and whether the Giant Man – Wasp relationship takes the incredibly dark turn it took in the comic will have to wait for the inevitable sequel; there is still a fair amount of death and an amazing amount of violence on display, though, so it can't be said that the story has been totally tamed. Dumbed down, possibly, but not tamed.
It's no Incredibles, but it is a step in the right direction for Marvel Animation. The sequel is scheduled for release in August of this year, with (be still my heart) Iron Man and Dr. Strange features promised.
Digital clarity does the animation justice; the sound, though bombastic, isn't something to be trotted out for demos. I admit myself nonplussed by the current trend of placing Amaray disc cases inside embossed cardboard sleeves that ape the cover art on the hardier case within – I find them more of an nuisance than a value-added feature. One more thing to get separated from the disc, and add to the clutter in my AV area which needs no help in that direction.
Avengers Trivia Track is an option that inserts factoids into the picture during the movie. These are large and easy to read, appearing in squares or ovals to mimic comic captions or word balloons. Most of these are going to be old news to comics fans, and some truly astounding typos managed to sneak past QA.
Avengers Assemble is a nice 23 minute featurette about the history of the book, supported by interviews with various editors, artists and writers associated with it over the years. Featured prominently are fan favorites George Perez and Kurt Busiek. Mark Millar also puts in an appearance, but amazingly, the source material for this movie is not addressed; I, for one, would have liked a little discussion on the changes The Ultimates wrought on the Marvel Universe, and the changes that were, in turn, made on the book when turned into a movie - although that trivia track assures me that the animators tried to stay as "faithful as possible".
First Look at Ultimate Avengers 2 is presented through storyboards and interviews. In just two minutes we find that the sequel will indeed go far afield from the comic, bringing in T'Challa - the Black Panther - while still retaining the Chitauri alien menace.
With The Ultimate Voice Talent Search, we find that Marvel made sample scripts available online, allowing "aspiring actors and actresses" a chance to audition for the movie. My more cynical side notes that professional voice talent was used in the final product, and this was likely the intention all along; not that this stops them from presenting some of the submitted performances for their, um, entertainment value.
There are also two trailers for the movie, as well as for Elektra and the Battle Dice game. The menu promises a Which Avenger Are You? DVD-ROM game, which has successfully eluded each and every DVD program I have thrown at it, so I guess I am neither Tony Stark nor The Vision. Oh, wait, the game couldn't hide from Windows Explorer, and it turns out I am the Vision, after all. Watch out for that rapidly changing montage of Marvel characters on the right, though, if you're prone to seizures.
Dr. Freex, 3/22/2005