Ultimate Avengers (2006)

ultimate avengers

“We’re forming a team to fend off a global threat. So what do you say?”

The Scoop: 2006 PG-13 Directed by Curt Geda and Steven E. Gordon and starring Justin Grosse, Grey DeLislie and Michael Massee

Tagline: Individually, they are super heroes. United, they are the Ultimate Avengers…

Summary Capsule: A collection of heroes are assembled by a hard-line general to combat space aliens and whatever other menaces might pop up. Angst occurs.

Kyle’s rating: Unless you really need the spousal abuse, cannabalism, overt sexuality, alcoholism, and all those other wonderful personality “quirks,” this’ll be fine

Kyle’s review: The Ultimate Avengers is a weird little film endeavor, if you ask me. It’s ostensibly based on Marvel Comics’ Avengers characters, including Captain America, the Hulk, Thor, Iron Man, and others, although by titular and surface implications it is most directly referencing Mark Millar’s comic book series The Ultimates. And Millar’s take on The Ultimates (itself part of a line of comic book that updates/reboots classic Marvel comic characters with contemporary origins) isn’t quite the stuff cartoon adaptations are made of, as it most heavily features intense violence, darkly humorous takes on sexuality and modern (American) politics, and features deeply-flawed heroes. Captain America especially differs from his classic Marvel Universe incarnation, not so much in the fine details but mostly in his Ultimate incarnation being a complete and utter *******. Just the stuff Saturday morning cartoons are made of, yeah? Not!

Actually, as the apparently soon-to-conclude Justice League Unlimited cartoon has shown (and the superb Batman and Superman animated series before it) there is a place for adult themes and heavy topics in animated form, even if the main characters are superheroes. Although the Justice League never explicitly attacked U.S. foreign policy (as the Ultimates comic does) nor featured heroes whose flaws include alcoholism, rage issues, spousal abuse, or (potential) mental disorders. For the most part, the Justice League is composed of traditional heroes with dynamic and majestic personas: any personal problem is identified and significantly improved by the end of an episode, and regardless they’re all possessed of the Right Stuff anyway, so there’s little-to-no doubt that they’re shining examples of what it means to be heroic. That’s the DC Comics universe for you.

In the Marvel universe, you can have a comic series like The Ultimates because traditionally its take on its heroes doesn’t stop when the latest fight against a supervillain ends. We get to the see the angst and consequences of the dual lives Marvel characters lead, often to the point of depicting tragic and broken humans whose only outlet for happiness is their costumed crime-fighting life. Consider the plight of Spider-Man: although I think Spider-Man 2 ran completely off-the-rails in order to render Peter Parker the most pathetic and downtrodden man in New York City, the roots for tormenting Peter are legitimately found in decades of Spider-Man comics. With great power comes great responsibility, and in the Marvel universe that great responsibility is too often akin to the world-bearing antics of Atlas.

You know, I was thinking I should apologize for all the deep background I’m throwing your way, but without it this wouldn’t be much of a review. Captain America, hero of Allied Forces in World War II, manages to stop an incredible weapon forged by Nazi and alien alliances but gets dropped into the freezing ocean depths as a reward. Over fifty years later (give or take) his body is located and revived by General Fury in order to learn the secrets of the Super Soldier Serum, which only ever worked on the good Captain. Fury needs to create a force of serum-infused super soldiers that can combat the increasingly volatile alien threat, but for the moment he’ll have to settle for a team of civilian superheroes to be lead by Captain America. Between intense environmentalist Thor and the mysterious Iron Man, as well as the sarcastic Giant-Man and his well-meaning but impulsive wife Wasp (those are all codenames, by the name), the team isn’t gelling like military man Fury would like, and the potential threat of head scientist on the serum project Bruce Banner turning back into the rampaging Hulk as he is occasionally wont to do. If they all come together as a team to fight these aliens, maybe the Earth has a chance, but even then one team member might prove to be more dangerous than even the aliens. Disaster? Maybe. Avengers assemble!

There isn’t much plot. What is there is clearly drawing upon the first volume of Millar’s Ultimates, but suffers by comparison. Ultimate Avengers super-sanitizes Millar’s plotting, but they surely could have left in a few of the wittier lines and dark action set pieces that didn’t directly pertain to or reference sex or incest or anything too crazy for kids (Millar is one crazy comics writer; no wonder he and Grant Morrison used to be close buds). I strongly recommend picking up the first two trades if you’ve got the disposable income: they’re available at your local major book stores and they’re much more adult and engaging than you probably expect comic books to be. Millar’s writing style is best described as “cynical” so as long as you’re prepared for that, you’ll be fine. Only a little of Millar’s cynicism manages to translate into the film. That’s probably for the best, because if these characters were any more angsty the children viewing the movie would be in need of therapy, too.

Anyway, this film is kind of a strange concoction. Anyone who’s a fan of Millar’s work is just going to be disappointed at how neutered it is in animated form, anyone who isn’t a fan of Millar may not have been too interested in seeing an Avengers film featuring these incarnations. And if you’re not into superheroes in general and the Avengers and/or the Ultimates specifically, why would you be interested anyway? See what I mean? Strange.

Ultimate Avengers is a nice attempt by Marvel to do an animated film using a few of its more marketable characters. It’s successful only in that it manages not to completely bore the casual viewer, although I can’t imagine too many hardcore fans being too impressed. But if you’ve got real love for superheroes, especially in animated form, this is definitely worth a rental. If you can take it, though, give Millar’s Ultimates a try. That’s much more worth your time and money.

Hulk disrespected Adventures in Babysitting. Thor reacts.

Intermission!

  • Tony Stark’s alcoholism, a classic and Ultimate facet of the character, gets at least a passing reference here (if you pay attention)
  • There is also enough here to potentially point towards a relationship between Tony Stark and the Black Widow Natasha Romanova (the classic spelling of her name; I’m going with that over the IMDb spelling) in future installments, although they presumably won’t follow how things turn out in the second volume of Millar’s The Ultimates
  • In The Ultimates, Thor has a cool beard, Tony’s Iron Man armor has a pretty different look, and a few other characters (like Hawkeye and Quiksilver and Scarlet Witch) are a part of the team

Groovy Quotes

    • Bruce Banner: [to a group of newly assigned scientists] Any questions? Any questions not about the Hulk?
    • Iron Man: Uh, sorry, folks. That’s all for today. I’m late for a tune-up.

Nick Fury: We’re forming a team to fend off a global threat. So what do you say?
Thor: This. [belches] And this. [belches]

Giant Man: (referring to Thor) Who’s the chick with the hammer?
Iron Man: Whoever she is, I’m glad she’s on our side.

If you liked this movie, try these:

  • Spider-Man
  • The Hulk
  • The Fantastic Four

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