Ultimate Avengers: The Movie (2006) / Animation-Action

MPAA Rated: PG-13 for violence
Running Time: 72 min.

Cast (voices): Justin Gross, Andre Ware, Michael Massee, Marc Worden, Nolan North, Nan McNamara, Grey DeLisle, Olivia d'Abo, David Boat
Director: Curt Geda, Steven E. Gordon
Screenplay: Greg Johnson (based on the comic book, "The Ultimates" by Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch)
Review published February 19, 2006

Ultimate Avengers is the first of a proposed series of full-length, direct-to-video animated adventures based (somewhat loosely) on the Marvel Comics title, "The Ultimates".  "The Ultimates" is a non-continuity re-imagining of the popular, long-running title, "The Avengers", which makes many notable changes to the characters and their origins, although the core ideas of its inspiration remain the same.  Die-hard fans of the comic book will probably nitpick this adaptation for not always being faithful, but given the fact that there are so many characters to introduce, as well as two major story arcs covered, it's impressive that it works well enough as a standalone 72-minute movie.

The film starts out in the World War II era, where super-soldier Captain America saves millions by stopping a nuclear missile, only to fall into the ocean and become encased in ice.  Flash forward to the future, where the super-soldier serum is being worked on again by the government, although not quite successfully, but things are looking up when Captain America is found, thawed, and revived.  It seems that his services are needed immediately, as Nick Fury, agent of the defense organization known as S.H.I.E.L.D., has been busy trying to put together a superteam of heroes to combat the deadly threat of the alien race known as the Chitauri.  Other members, some reluctant, include Iron Man, Thor, Giant-Man, Black Widow, and Wasp.  The Hulk also makes an appearance, initially trying to help, but his mental instability proves to be a detraction from the mission that is difficult to contain.

As someone that has actually read the comics on which this movie is based, it didn't bother me that it deviates from the source material in some ways, and also doesn't delve as deeply into the characters; live-action superhero films have done the same for decades.  Putting aside frustrations that certain events are altered and certain characters (like Hawkeye) are left out altogether, Ultimate Avengers is a well-made, and even exciting animated action film that should please fans of the increasingly popular cartoons based on comic book superheroes. 

Unlike some other superhero titles, this isn't edited together from pre-existing television episodes, and there definitely is a concerted effort to provide a cinematic feel, with theatrical release-caliber scoring, quality voice acting, and fantastic sound effects.  The animation isn't really of the sort you'd want for a big screen release, but for a direct-to-video effort, it's well done. 

Although the film might play adequately to an audience that is unfamiliar with the characters, I do think that fans of "The Avengers", or of comic books in general, will probably like this release more than most.  There are many characters introduced, and knowing something about who they are and what powers they possess would definitely help in gaining a fuller understanding of just what's going on at all times.   Fans of "The Ultimates" will most likely be mixed, mostly because the film seems like a watered-down version of the comic book.  In its defense, it is still more mature than most other animated releases of a similar nature, earning itself a PG-13 rating.

Ultimate Avengers is a solid first effort for Marvel, offering excitement and the promise of more fun with future releases.  Hopefully, future releases will stand up to this level of quality, while also benefiting by being unhampered by spending half of the running length introducing the main characters.

-- Followed by Ultimate Avengers 2 (2006) and the prequel spin-off, The Invincible Iron Man (2007).

Qwipster's rating:

2006 Vince Leo