Avengers, Ultimately

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Movie Title: Ultimate Avengers
Producer: Bob Richardson
Writer: Greg Johnson
Director: Curt Geda and Steven E. Gordon
Price: $15.99
Release Date:  02/22/06

Something about this movie seemed real familiar…

For anyone who has seen anything about this movie and is wondering why Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch aren’t in the writing credits you can rest assured, because almost immediately in the credits are the words “Based on Marvel Comics’ “The Ultimates” by Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch.” (Almost makes me sad this wasn’t in theaters to hear the response of the audience to that.) And the way this story goes it’s a good thing they were there. Anyone who is familiar with their book, The Ultimates, will immediately recognize everything in this movie. Sadly though, that knowledge will be necessary for real enjoyment.

The opening segment of this movie is almost exactly copied from Ultimates #1. Now, someone had argued with me before the release of the film that it would only contain the first storyline of the comic book series. I argued back that there was no way it could be only that arc, it was in no way long enough to sustain a full length movie, 5 issues (remember, issue six is in no way usable as it contains mature themes) and the only fight is with the Hulk. Anyone who would have bet me should pay up. In just the opening segment, no more than 5 minutes long, we get all of Ultimates #1 and they even include some of the story elements from the second arc, because the Chitauri are there as Captain America realizes the real threat of World War 2 was something far worse than Hitler.

The rest of the tale does a nice job of melding the two arcs together simultaneously. In the present day, Nick Fury is gathering a team of superheroes, to be led by the recently recovered Captain America to battle the oncoming Chitauri invasion (why it takes the aliens 60 years to attack is beyond me). To this team he has already included his second in command The Black Widow, has gotten eager commitments from scientists Giant Man and The Wasp, and made pitches to both industrialist Tony Stark for Iron Man as well as Thor. Meanwhile, Bruce Banner and Betty Ross are working round the clock to develop a working Super Soldier Serum for more Captain Americas. All of the basic characterizations are there, but therein lays the real problem, that it’s very basic.

What made Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch’s Ultimates so great, was its depth. All types of themes were present: a government sponsored super team, the team as cultural icons, military espionage and intrigue, and all of them were placed squarely in the real world. The movie contains none of this. Even worse, the character moments that are here are enough to make one cringe. A scene between Cap and Banner is totally empty. Tony Stark is woefully underdeveloped and anyone who hasn’t read the book will scratch their heads at Thor’s arrival at the end. That said there was a nice (slightly) unexpected romance on the team that was a good twist and the voice actors handle themselves admirably. But if you never read the book, you probably won’t really understand anything of who these characters are. Good thing then that the movie does make good on another aspect of the book that made it so much fun… Action.

The action scenes in this movie absolutely rock. From the opening scene of Cap in World War 2 to the final battle with the Chitauri, the action scenes are a lot of fun to watch. The characters are shown with their proper sense of power, the action is fluid; and while not especially hi-tech, the animation is nice enough to not be too noticeable. Shame that you still have to wade through the rest of the film to get to them though.

It’s probably more than obvious from this review that I am a big fan of The Ultimates. I own the single issues, the hardcover, and even have a copy of the Digital Comic Books Ultimates DVD signed by Mark Millar (and when he saw it to sign it was almost like the first time he saw a long lost child). And while it is nice to see an animated version of the story, aside from the action scenes I can’t think of one reason to watch this over the other one and/or read the stories. One would think that a project like this would require some real crossover appeal, but the only appeal would be for Houston Cougar or Detroit Lion fans wondering whatever happened to famed QB prospect Andre Ware (he voices Nick Fury).

This movie is not for children (too much violence and death). With its poor characterization it will not impress critical eyes. Pretty much the only audience it has are the completists like me (sigh).

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