by Marc Kandel
....Christ but that list will go on if I let it. Despite the inconsistent fence sitting between adult and child camps, audiences will have a pleasant time watching Marvel characters kick ass and there’s some decent special features (**save one that I have a real problem with**), its worth the 12+ bucks you’ll shell out at your local retailer; even better as a rental.Trying to please everyone seldom does, and the movie focuses mostly on adult sensibilities rendering it a bit much for children. Unfortunately, this doesn’t stop Ultimate Avengers from trying to pull in the child demographic as well, so we have a superhero cartoon with people getting shot, blown up, ripped apart, and crushed, filled in with dialogue, plot and characterization ranging from smart, witty and mature to the worst in Saturday morning simplistic blather and flat out hokey one-liners.
"More satisfying than live-action cousins Daredevil, Elektra, Punisher…"
Ultimate Avengers introduces, or rather re-introduces us to the cream of the crop heroes of the Marvel Universe, Captain America, Iron Man, and Thor. Of course you may already be familiar with a certain fellow named Hulk, but more on this later. Rounding out this team are some tertiary characters that are fan favorites, Giant Man, Wasp, Black Widow and General Nick Fury, all of whom may be even less familiar to the average viewer who can barely wrap their heads around more recognizable characters like Spider-Man or Wolverine. The powers that be at Marvel, recognizing this, have smartly packaged all of these folks in a neatly encapsulated origin and adventure story designed to entertain fans, kids, adults, old-schoolers and newbies alike, avoiding asking the audience to wade through 50 years of history and continuity for a 72 minute cartoon.
The plot: An alien threat that has been present since World War II rears its head in modern times, forcing a government agency to hastily assemble a team of super-powered individuals to combat this menace, led by a WWII era super soldier who is conveniently unthawed just in time for the fireworks. Complications occur when the lead scientist at the agency, one Dr. Bruce Banner, gets angry.
The radically different kid/adult perspectives work against each other and we have an unbalanced film as a result. For example, our opening scene sports people dying horribly a la “Saving Private Ryan” on a WWII battlefield which suddenly grinds to a halt as a guy in a bright costume runs up amid a synthesized trumpet flourish that would make the Care Bears wince, and spouts in his very best Dudley Doright impression, “Okay soldiers, lets take this dump!” It’s definitely a confused project to say the least. But more often than not, it hits the right notes and comes down on the adult end of things overall.
Animation wise, some folks will find themselves flashing back to the old GI Joe episodes of yore; the style is very similar, and nicely done. I would have liked it a bit darker and shadowy, particularly in the WWII flashbacks, but that’s a minor nitpick that didn’t diminish my enjoyment.
The voice acting ranges from sterling work to blah, and much of the latter can be blamed on script rather than speech. Standouts are Michael Massee as an exhausted, strained Bruce Banner, desperation leaking out in every syllable coupled with a wry wit (I prefer this version to Eric Bana’s live performance and I think you will too), Olivia D’Abo as a suitably sultry, haunted Black Widow, Grey DeLisle as the sexpot Wasp, Marc Worden as the fiercely intelligent yet charming Iron Man, and Nolan North as the bitter, resentful Henry Pym, aka Giant Man.
Less effective are Andre Ware as Nick Fury, who is a bit soft for what should be a manipulative, pragmatic, behind the scenes commander with a frighteningly strategic line of thinking, David Boat as a forgettable, overly hokey Thor (who admittedly gets the shaft in terms of screen time, so I’ll give this guy some leeway here), and Nan McNamara as an rather soapish Betty Ross.
The toughest call to make was on the lynchpin of the film, Captain America, voiced by Justin Gross. An uneven performance, there are moments where it absolutely works, and moments where Gross misses the point of a good hearted man who has been turned into a killing machine, then thrown out of his time into a world he doesn’t understand. Part of what makes “Ultimate” Captain America so refreshing in the books is his ability to be a corn-fed all American inspiration one moment and a brutal, efficient down and dirty brute the next- Ultimate Avengers’ Captain is much more restrained and polite, and as a result certain strengths are not played to making him a less compelling, effective character- a major mistake for a story that makes it a point to emphasize grit and realism. But again it should be noted that the voice actors are working with confused material, so vocal performance is somewhat hard to extricate from content.
So basically, for a Marvel product, its good, but other animated offerings such as the high quality Justice League Unlimited series won’t be losing any sleep at night. Why? Because despite 30-minute segments on a late night spot on cartoon network, Justice League manages the flash, sensibility and tact to keep both adults and kids interested, but it also recognizes itself for what it is, and instead of ignoring some of the sillier elements, it embraces them wholeheartedly and makes it work by acknowledging how ridiculous a person in a superhero outfit can look, or how absurd comic book situations can be- then they get right back to kicking ass with commitment. Marvel has never quite understood this when it comes to their cartoon fare. Ultimate Avengers shows that Marvel is ascending the learning curve, however, and that’s never a bad thing, but it’s been a slow climb.
** As for my beef with the DVD extras, there is a special feature included I find particularly contemptuous to fans of Marvel. You know the fans, the guys who spend money on the company product, enabling the company to stay in business?
It came to my attention some time ago that Marvel’s website was holding a contest for people to actually have a chance to voice their favorite characters in this film. My alarm bells rang when I saw that submissions were to be by videotape, which no professional voiceover casting would ever allow, as the visual image of the person is both irrelevant and distracting to the point, which is to find the right voice for the right character, to say nothing of sound quality issues.
Anyway, to me, having done my share of voiceovers, it sounded like a marketing tool to generate interest, which I wouldn’t mind so much. The producers of “Batman Forever” did the same thing, holding open auditions for Robin, and going with an established name in the end as if that wasn’t the plan from the beginning; it got their movie in the papers a couple more times, and drummed up the requisite buzz. Fine. But this particular scenario stunk of a setup, American Idol style. I dissuaded a few people from submitting with my suspicions, stating for the record that none would be taken seriously, and sure enough, the DVD sports a special feature where the most hopeless of the hopeless are now dangled before the world for everyone to have a good chuckle.
Of course, there is some text prior to the montage where we find that no submissions ended up being selected as performers. Surprise, surprise. I turned it off after the first two badly lit, awkward fanboys stumbled through their lines, one even sporting Captain America face paint, the poor bastard. They never had a chance. By design, these submissions were never meant to be taken seriously on any professional level. The end result did not amuse me. It wasn’t funny. It was sad, it was hateful, and it was a shitty thing for a company to do to the people who love these characters and the world they inhabit, to say nothing of the business they give their unflagging support.
I’m sure there was enough fine print letting these folks know by participating Marvel could use the footage as they wished, but was it right, leading them to believe they had a chance in hell, not realizing they were simply a cheap punch-line that helped drive interest? Bad enough these “Kings for a Day” have to cower in their basements from the folks out there who have no respect for their hobby- worse when the jeers come from those who fuel it- how disturbing.
Congratulations Marvel folks, you have managed to shit in the mouths of the very people putting food in yours. What a slimy disingenuous act by a company built by the idea of heroes who want to help people. I enjoyed the movie for the most part, but this I found shamefully deceitful. Agree with me or don’t, but I just wanted to get that off my chest and say my piece on it.**Ultimate Avengers will entertain die-hards and keep casual fan interest. Maybe there’s not enough juice for the big screen here, but hell, Fantastic Four managed to coast through the big screen on even less substantial, vaporous fumes, didn’t it?
link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=14048&reviewer=358
originally posted: 03/03/06 13:22:33