Back in February, Captain America, Giant Man, Hulk, Iron Man, Thor and Wasp jumped from the pages of Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch’s Ultimate Avengers comic serial to the small screen thanks to Greg Johnson, Boyd Kirkland, Craig Kyle, Lionsgate Entertainment and the fledgling Marvel Studios.
Ultimate Avengers 1
PG-13 for action violence
Ultimate Avengers 2
PG-13 for action violence
To the delight of this true believer, this re-imagining of the classic Avengers’ first meeting rang true with the canonical version and allowed a whole new generation of true believers entrée. Granted, the story of aliens launching a plot against the Earth is the bedrock of superhero mythos, but you suspend your disbelief and just go along for the ride. If nothing else, Nick Fury redrawn in the image of Samuel L. Jackson is worth a chuckle. Although this is a G-rated Sammy J impression, the fanboy’s silver lining includes Black Widow and Wasp. To quote Beavis and Butthead: Boing-oing-oing-oing-oing!”
Act 1 centers around the origin, loss and recovery of the super-soldier once know as Captain America (a.k.a., Cap). Although Cap’s World War II costume predates blue spandex, if you can get past that discontinuity, the film does enough justice to Cap’s arc to make us forget any repressed memories of the 1991 live-action travesty. Good gets better as familiar characters begin to surface in Act 2.
The joy of Act 2 is in the quirky twists with which the authors imbue our childhood favorites and in how they interact with each other in 2006. Nick Fury and Black Widow symbolize the new friendship between American and Russian leadership. Thor surfaces as a leftist sympathizer with Daddy issues. Millar and Hitch strip Giant Man and Wasp of their scientific laurels and reduce them to crackpot theorists. Rather than constraining the Hulk, Dr. Banner seeks a way to harness the brute’s power as a mode of redemption for past rampages. Iron Man is essentially the ramblin’ gamblin’ man’s Batman with a wicked sense of humor.
In Act 3, Captain America’s old school values galvanize this dirty half-dozen against the schemes of super heavy Herr Kleiser, who’s back from the dead (again). Needless to say, hilarity ensues.
New and Improved, Ultimate Avengers 2! Now with Black Panther!
The second installment, also a DVD release, premiered on Family Day, July 2, 2006 at the Los Angeles Film Festival. The disparity between watching Ultimate 1 on my laptop and Ultimate 2 in a theatrical setting is not only a no-brainer and an indisputable argument for buying a home DLP projector, but it really speaks to the quality of the animation and Bob Richardson’s directing chops.
In this installment, we learn that Cap isn’t perfect and that he and Black Panther have a common axe to grind. As is the case with any morality play, each character has a standard personal epiphany that causes individual heroes to bond as a super team.
Again, for those who haven’t read “The Ultimates,” the books contain re-imaginations of well known characters, teams, plotlines and story arcs. While these changes create story surprises, be warned they range from tweaks that service the story to those that distract. The innocuous, Captain America’s mask omits its traditional wings and the ridiculous, a sleeveless Black Panther costume. Come on! Artistic license is all fine and dandy, but a nippled Bat-Suit was the beginning of the end for the Bat-franchise. In the same way I was grateful Batman’s nipples weren’t pierced, I suppose I should be grateful Black Panther wasn’t also wearing bicycle shorts.
So give us a good story, tweak and contemporize the characters to service that story, but as the franchise progresses, Marvel, please make sure the gimmicks pay off.
Overall, these are two very enjoyable DVDs. The content is suitable for family viewing. It’s neither Super-Friends hokey, nor is it Justice-League spicy. There’s a little something for everyone. Ultimate Avengers 1 is out. Ultimate Avengers 2 comes out on August 8, 2006. You can buy the discs through our link to Amazon.com.