Next Avengers: Heroes of Tomorrow (2008) / Animation-Action
MPAA Rated: PG for violence and some mild language
Running time: 78 min
Cast: Noah C. Crawford, Brenna O'Brien, Aidan Drummond, Dempsey M. Pappion, Adrian Petriw, Tom Kane, Fred Tatasciore, Shawn MacDonald, Michael Adamthwaite, Ken Kramer, Nicole Oliver
Director: Jay Oliva
Screenplay: Christopher Yost
Review published October 10, 2008
Marvel's fifth animated feature sees them try to expand their universe and aim for a younger set of viewers with Next Avengers: Heroes of Tomorrow, featuring the offspring of "Earth's mightiest heroes." Decades in the future of traditional Marvel continuity, we find that the Avengers have married and had children who also have powers not unlike theirs. However, tragedy strikes as the super-team encounters their worst defeat yet in a battle with their main nemesis, the psychotic sentient robot Ultron (voiced by Tom Kane, The Powerpuff Girls). Before their demise, Tony Stark (also voiced by Kane), aka Iron Man, shuttles the children off to safety, where they grow to their teens in relative harmony, honing their skills with each other in a protected setting. James Rogers (Crawford, "My Name is Earl") is the son of Captain America and the Black Widow, Torunn (O'Brien, Beneath) the daughter of the thunder god Thor, Azari (Pappion) the son of Black Panther, and Pym (Drummond, "The Collector"), son of Giant-Man and Wasp. Together, along with an aged Stark, aged Hulk (Kane again), and the son of Hawkeye (Petriw, "Edgemont"), they seek to take revenge on their fallen parents by putting an end to Ultron's tenacious quest to bring his own form of order to the universe.
Kudos to Marvel for at least trying to give comic readers something original, as Next Avengers emerges as the first in their line of animated features not to take every character and plotline directly from their print counterparts. The original Avengers are recognizable, as is Ultron, but their children and the plot they are in is one made strictly for this movie, giving us, at the very least, something we couldn't get just from reading the comics.
There isn't a great deal of importance one ever gets from these sorts of stories set out of the existing continuity. Nearly all of the attempts to do so, and there have been so very many over the years, make almost no impact to the comic universe as a whole, merely existing as a vehicle to give creators a little bit of breathing room to do what they will with certain characters if given free reign, and, of course, to try to capitalize monetarily on the popularity of a hot brand with yet another tie-in. Next Avengers seems more like a product that has developed as the powers-that-be kick around ideas to try to draw in younger viewers than in any creative yen to get a story and characters out there that they deem to be important and relevant.
The screenplay is provided by "New X-Men" scribe Christopher Yost ("Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles", "Fantastic Four"), who uses his skill with ensemble books to provide a good deal of set-up and character motivation to keep the plot moving forward. He is also familiar with the screenplay process, having written teleplays for several animated ensemble-hero TV series like "X-Men: Evolution". From strictly a script standpoint, it has its moments of interest, particularly as it relates to the fate of the Avengers. However, unless you know the characters well, it's never really made clear what Ultron really is and what motivates him (it?) to want to dominate life in the universe. Despite new characters and setting, it doesn't really merit calling a standalone film, as it assumes knowledge on your part of who the Avengers are and their powers. If the impetus for the film is in drawing in the young set, I'd say that this facet makes it a little less new-viewer friendly.
The film sets up a conflict between these young Avengers and the old Avengers by introducing a set of secret robot versions of the original Avengers. Like so many other superhero films that try for a family-friendly appeal, the kids have to battle robots because battling other humans, even if evil, is just too violent. As predicted, since they are robots, Ultron gains easy sway over the products meant to destroy him in case the human versions fail. I find it curious that these robotic creations have to look exactly like the humans, wielding the same weapons. Giant-Man is ten times the size of the rest, leading me to wonder why they all weren't giant-sized. Also, why not give them all the same powers, and add to them? Why limit them? As you'd expect, when they finally do have a showdown, each young Avenger matches up with his father figure in battle.
Jay Oliva, director for Marvel's two previous efforts, The Invincible Iron Man and Doctor Strange, does an adequate job given limited production values. The animation at no time suggests anything more than straight-to-video quality, resembling the sort of thing you'd most likely see on television. The voice work is devoid of the star power you usually find in most animated features, but I've always felt that celebrity voices are generally only a marketing tool, so I wouldn't fault the film on that point. There's nothing really deficient in the film, but it's just so average in every department, it's difficult to claim it worth going out of one's way for to see.
I have to say that I've never really been a fan of alternate universes, as I know that whatever happens in these stories makes not even a ripple in the history of the characters and their stories. If you expect that the Avengers series are now bound to end up with most of them married to each other, having superhero offspring and mostly killed off by Ultron, don't waste your energy. It won't happen -- ever. I also am not overly fond of "young heroes" storylines, as they are usually filled with the typical cutesy moments many kids flicks are laden with, having the youngsters sport cool attire and cheeky dialogue with each other to try to seem hip and fresh. Though the characters might be original to the Marvel Universe (alternate or not), they are merely hybrids of their existing characters, and not really much of a stretch from an originality standpoint. James Rogers, son of Captain American and Black Widow, is like a young Cap with red hair, Torunn is like Thor in a young girl body, etc. They all have their own cool costumes and weapons, though it's not really apparent as to how and why they would have such things. One might envision that Tony Stark wants to get these kids ready to be saviors of the universe some day, though it's not evident in the script, and he seems mostly content to keep them out of harm's way much more so than in trying to get them battle-ready.
I could give credit to the Marvel team in trying to push forward something new, instead of merely an animated regurgitation of things already seen and popularized in the print comics, but in truth, Next Avengers is, in itself, just a retread of many other young versions of popular superheroes and non-canon explorations that make up a sizable percentage of today's comics. In fact, the biggest surprise is that it actually isn't taken from a comic, since it seems so much like one that is. Perhaps the audience to which they are targeting, pre-adolescents, might enjoy the feature, but I think a completely organic team of young heroes independent of decades-old mythos would be the bold new direction worthy of praise rather than basically taking adult superheroes and giving them the "Muppet Babies" treatment. Next Avengers is not without its decent ideas, but it isn't anything remarkable, and leaves one disappointed that a set of original characters couldn't spring forth original ideas.
©2008 Vince Leo