Marvel Enterprises/Lionsgate (Direct to DVD), Lionsgate Home Video (August 8, 2006), single disc, 73 mins plus supplements, 1.77:1 anamorphic widescreen, Dolby Digital 5.1, Rated PG-13, Retail: $19.98
Earth’s mightiest heroes meet the champion of mysterious Wakanda as they face off once again with alien invaders. Picking up where Ultimate Avengers: The Movie left off, this sequel tries to out-do the first one in terms of spectacle, but can it live up to the surprisingly strong original?
The Sweatbox Review:
The movie begins in the reclusive African nation of Wakanda, where a young man named T’Challa is being publicly welcomed home by his father, the king. The king soon has to leave, however, in order to become the Black Panther— masked protector of Wakanda. There is a threat in the jungle, a threat named Kleiser. Unfortunately, Kleiser is an alien super-baddie, and is too powerful for the warrior king. The Black Panther loses the battle and his life. Similar to The Phantom, the legacy of the Black Panther is handed down to the son, and T’Challa becomes the new Black Panther.
Meanwhile, in the United States, we catch up with the Avengers. Captain America is showing a dangerous desire to go on missions alone, seeming almost suicidal in his recklessness. Bruce Banner, who became the Hulk and almost killed his teammates in the last movie, is held captive by S.H.I.E.L.D. and is interrogated by a smarmy former colleague. Hank Pym’s experimental attempts to grow bigger as Giant Man almost kill him. His wife Janet’s concern for him is interpreted as non-support. Tony Stark a.k.a. Iron Man is climbing mountains with business partners. Thor is away having visions of the Avengers dying. The whole team, minus the absent Thor and jailed Banner, is called together after Black Panther contacts Cap with information about Kleiser being alive.
Kleiser, you see, is the alien shape shifter that Captain America thought he had killed at the end of World War II. This creature continues to represent a threat to world security. This makes it both a personal mission for Cap, as well as an important mission for the Avengers. Against Black Panther’s wishes, the team travels to Wakanda in search of Kleiser. At about this time, the movie begins jumping around a little too much. Cap, already having had flashbacks and a dream sequence earlier, now flashes back to WWII again. T’Challa flashes back to his childhood. And of course Thor is somewhere else having visions. All this tripping around makes the movie disjointed and breaks up its flow.
Nevertheless, Cap manages to meet Black Panther again. T’Challa reluctantly shows Cap some of Wakanda’s secrets, since they tie into what Kleiser wants with the obscure nation. The other Avengers who were left behind in the jungle end up fighting spear-wielding Wakanda troops and somehow lose, thereby being forced to leave the country (with Cap) in pathetic fashion. Then they are back again, due to Cap taking off on his own and capturing an alien in the jungle. At the same time back in New York, the captive Banner and his former girlfriend Betty Ross investigate a potential weakness of the aliens’ ship technology. T’Challa is stripped of his monarchy due to his working with Captain America. Then flash to Thor arriving at the S.H.I.E.L.D. base. Then back to the Avengers’ jet. Then suddenly everyone’s back at S.H.I.E.L.D. HQ. Then, as the Earth is enveloped by an alien energy field and aliens attack dozens of major cities, the Avengers head back to Wakanda, with Iron Man in his War Machine armor…
By this time, I was definitely getting the impression that too much was being crammed into this short movie. The characters are all over the place, there are plenty of story threads being explored, and other “beats” are tossed in with little regard for having the script make sense or seek dramatic integrity. By the time it is all done, two Avengers have died, Thor decides to bring ONE of them back to life(!), another character apparently perishes but shows up later anyway, a supporting cast member suddenly appears half-way around the world from where she started, and I’m getting as headache! And then there’s that last-second kiss! Where did THAT come from? Good grief. The whole exercise just comes off as too rushed and overstuffed.
This is the second in a line of direct-to-DVD animated films based on Marvel Comics properties. No time was wasted in providing a follow-up to the first one, as Ultimate Avengers: The Movie had reached store shelves just six months before its follow-up. These two movies, along with upcoming treatments of Iron Man and Dr. Strange, were all approved together, with production of all four overlapping somewhat. Somewhere along the way, though, it looks like the scripts for the two Avengers movies got all mixed together. While I found the first one to be a surprisingly fun romp, the second one feels like a disorganized retread. Other than the addition of one new character, this movie covers the same heroes fighting the same threat, with the same smattering of angst from the thawed-out Captain America and all the same bickering between the supposed heroes. In the first film, such banter felt like characterization; in this one, it feels like repetition.
Maybe I was just surprised by how much I liked the animation on the first Ultimate Avengers movie, but I found the animation in this one to be lacking. It is fine, but seemed to lack the dynamism of previous movie. Whereas I thought the first movie clearly surpassed the level of Saturday morning animation, this second picture often only meets it. Oh, there is a lot more shading (nicely aided by computer coloring techniques), but overall the effort seemed utilitarian. In the first movie, characters “JUMPED and KICKED”, but here they just “jump and kick”.
The first one surpassed my expectations, but this one failed to meet them. If it were twice as long, the amount of story material might have seemed right. As presented, though, it fulfills the worst expectation of the phrase “direct to video sequel”.
Is This Thing Loaded?
Three previews come on automatically once the disc is loaded, and these are also available from the Special Features menus under Trailer Gallery. These include a preview for the original Ultimate Avengers: The Movie (1:55), once for the Marvel Ultimate Alliance videogame (1:49), and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles DVDs (0:42).
Moving on to what we fans really care about, there is a terrific The Ultimates Featurette (23:45), which charts the history of the “Ultimate” version of the Avengers comic book. Writer Mark Millar and artist Bryan Hitch discuss the creation and development of the comic, with additional comments from Marvel editorial staff, Marvel movie guru Avi Arad, and the creators behind the animated version of the team. This featurette would have fit in much better on the first movie’s DVD, rather than the featurette put there that focused on the original Avengers comic book series (as much as I enjoyed that as well). This new featurette provides a clear focus on the subject at hand— the newer versions of the characters, and it makes for a fun and informative bonus for comic fans. I enjoyed the comments on the controversies too, like the decision to make Nick Fury black, and a notorious comment from Captain America about France. The end of this featurette does reveal a little bit about the sequel film, including the fact that Hitch provided designs for some of the movie’s new characters. Somewhat suspect are the movies’ creators discussion of why they went with hand-drawn animation instead of CGI, where they show a bias for hand-drawn animation, since they say it allows for “more expression”. Say it with me, folks— it’s the talent, not the medium, which counts! (Of course, time and budget may also be factors!)
The Ultimate Gag Reel (3:45) was juvenile and silly, but darn it if it wasn’t pretty fun too! Scenes from the two Ultimate Avengers films are re-dubbed to humorous effect, including homages to Superman The Movie and The Empire Strikes Back, not to mention a few fart and burp gags. It all comes off a bit better than it sounds.
Then we get previews of the next two movies in the Lionsgate-Marvel deal. First Look At Iron Man (2:41) gives a good peek at what that movie will look like, mixed with creator interviews. First Look At Dr. Strange (2:03) has a little less animation to show off, but does whet one’s appetite. Both movies appear to strive to tell character stories, not just super-battles. I was not sure if I was going to want to pick these up, but I admit that these previews got me curious.
DVD-ROM: If you play the disc in your PC’s DVD drive, it automatically starts What Avenger Are You?. The viewer is asked a series of questions about his or her self, and the game selects your closest Avenger analog. I never would have checked this out if I was not reviewing the disc, but I did enjoy the one stab I took. (I was The Vision, believe it or not.) Those that have the DVD for the first movie will recognize this as a repeated feature.
This puppy comes in a standard keepcase, with no insert. Early copies come shrink-wrapped in an embossed slipcover identical to the keepcase cover. It is possible that the slipcover may be dropped later on.
Ink And Paint:
The 16:9 anamorphic image is generally pleasing and stable. Naturally, the image is fully clean, given that the DVD release marks the first time the movie has been seen. There is no significant hint of shimmer in the picture, and no halos. Colors are as bright and shiny as they were meant to be.
5.1 Dolby Digital is available in either Spanish or English. Being an Anglophone, I naturally was listening to the English track, and found it to be quite impressive. The multitude of explosions and other sound effects gives the disc plenty of opportunity to shine. Absolutely full use is made of the entire sound field, and even the bass is impressive. The sound is alternately crisp, thundering, and enveloping. If you want a noisy animated movie to shake your home and wake the neighbors, this may be the disc for you. Seriously, this disc rivals the best theatrical film presentations.
No subtitles are offered.
The movie itself does not inspire an eager recommendation, but I did enjoy the main featurette. The other bonuses are filler, but those simply looking for an action-packed romp with superior video and audio can still get a kick out of the movie itself, and the low price at discount stores can make this a reasonable purchase if you are so inclined.
Animated Classic or Back To The Drawing Board?