aka Ultimate Avengers: The Movie
Supervising Director/Producer – Bob Richardson, Directors – Curt Geda & Steven E. Gordon, Screenplay – Greg Johnson, Screen Story – Greg Johnson, Boyd Kirkland & Craig Kyle, Based on the Marvel Comic Series The Ultimates by Bryan Hitch & Mark Millar, Music – Guy Michelmore, Music Supervisor – David Ari Leon, Animation – DongWoo Animation Co. (Director – Tae-Ho Han), Visual Effects – EFX Animation and Design (Supervisors – Tom Elleman & Matt Mary). Production Company – Lions Gate Family Entertainment/Marvel Characters. Inc./MLG Productions 1, Inc.
Justin Gross (Captain America/Steve Rogers), Andrew Ware (General Nick Fury), Michael Massee (Bruce Banner), Marc Worden (Iron Man/Tony Stark), Olivia d’Abo (Natalia Romanoff/Black Widow), Greg DeLisle (Wasp/Janet Pym), Nolan North (Giant Man/Hank Pym), Nan McNamara (Professor Betty Ross), Dave Boat (Thor), Fred Tatasciore (The Incredible Hulk), James K. Ward (Herr Kleiser)
In 1945, during the midst of World War II. The US Army sends their enhanced super-soldier Steve Rogers alias Captain America into action to bring down a Nazi-occupied castle in Norway. In the midst of the fight, Captain America encounters aliens posing as the Nazis. He is caught on the back of a missile they launch as it crashes into the ocean. In the present day, Captain America’s body is recovered frozen inside an iceberg by a S.H.I.E.L.D. submarine under the command of General Nick Fury. Back at S.H.I.E.L.D. headquarters in New York, Bruce Banner examines Rogers’ body, seeking to replicate the super-soldier experiments, only for Rogers to revive. Fury asks Rogers to lead a team of superheroes. They also recruit the unorthodox scientist Hank Pym who can enlarge himself as Giant Man; Pym’s wife Janet who has the ability shrink herself to insect size and become The Wasp; a reluctant Iron Man; Fury’s assistant Natalia Romanoff, alias the super-assassin Black Widow; and later the Norse god Thor. Fury reveals that they have been assembled to take on the Chitauri, an alien race that have been massacring Earth military forces in their indestructible vibranium ships. As the team go into action against the Chitauri, Banner believes he can use a distillation taken from Captain America’s blood to tame the Incredible Hulk inside himself. As this goes wrong, the team then have to deal with additional threat of a rampaging Hulk.
In the 00s, Marvel Comics have enjoyed massive popularity on the big screen with live-action adaptations of Blade (1998), X-Men (2000), Spider-Man (2002), Daredevil (2003), Hulk (2003), The Punisher (2004), Fantastic Four (2005), Ghost Rider (2007), Iron Man (2008), Captain America: The First Avenger (2011), Thor (2011), The Avengers (2012), Guardians of the Galaxy (2014), Ant-Man (2015), Deadpool (2016), Doctor Strange (2016), Black Panther (2018), Venom (2018), Captain Marvel (2019), as well as sequels to most of these.
Marvel has taken an increasing hands-on co-producing involvement in many of these and then created Marvel Animation, a subsidiary that has created a series of dvd-released animated films based on Marvel properties in conjunction with Lion’s Gate Films. Ultimate Avengers was the first of these and was followed by Doctor Strange (2007), The Invincible Iron Man (2007), Hulk Vs (2009), Planet Hulk (2010) and Thor: Tales of Asgard (2011) with others announced.
The Avengers was a title that Stan Lee created back in 1963 where he clearly drew from the success of DC’s Justice League of America in creating a team-up of all the superheroes that Marvel had under their roof at the time. The Avengers has enjoyed great popularity in the years since then. Ultimate Avengers is based on the thirteen-part comic-book mini-series The Ultimates (2002-4), which was written by comic-book artist Mark Millar whose creations have also fueled other films such as Wanted (2008), Kick-Ass (2010), Kingsman: The Secret Service (2015) and Superman: Red Son (2020).
The Ultimates was part of what is termed the Ultimate Marvel universe, a new move that began in Marvel in 2000 where most of their popular characters were modernised and cast in an alternate universe where they were divorced of their more complicated back stories and their adventures interwoven in terms of continuity – many of the mutant characters that occur throughout the Marvel Universe are now tied to the super-soldier experiments that are portrayed here, for example. These Ultimate Marvel reworkings have gained enormous popularity. The Ultimates was a Marvel Ultimate reimagining of The Avengers.
Marvel’s rival DC Comics have had great success in the animated arena beginning in the 1990s with the tv series adaptations of Batman (1992-4), Superman (1996-2000) and Justice League (2001-6), as well as numerous film spinoffs from these. (Marvel had created various animated series during the 1990s as well, although these did not enjoy as high a profile or acclaim as the DC series). This success is not missed by Marvel Animation who here employ some of the team behind the DC animated efforts, including Curt Geda who had directed episodes of both the animated Batman and Superman and the films Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker (2000), Batman: Mystery of the Batwoman (2003), Superman: Brainiac Attacks (2006) and Turok: Son of Stone (2008), as well as Boyd Kirkland who directed 21 episodes of Batman and the film Batman and Mr Freeze: SubZero (1998). Most of the others involved as writers and directors here are veterans of the various Marvel animated tv series of the 1990s.
The combined talents produce a modestly impressive film. The opening scenes, which offer a condensed Captain America origin story, are excellent – with Captain America flying across the midst of a battlefield to crash a plane into the Nazi stronghold, he fighting Nazis hand-to-hand and slicing them open to reveal tentacle creatures inside, the fight around the outside of the rocket as it is launched and then crashes into the ocean. The film draws the various cityscapes, vehicles and battles with great visual scope. There are some excellent action sequences – notably one with Iron Man bringing an airliner down to a safe landing and fleeing through the skies of Manhattan, and especially the team’s venture into the military complex. The film however saves its best for the exhilarating climactic battle first up against the Chitauri ships and then to defeat the rampaging Incredible Hulk.
The story does nothing particularly radical with the incarnations of the various characters but winds them together with a modest complexity. There are however some subtle differences that become apparent in comparison to the various DC animated films. Ultimate Avengers offers up an incarnation of the familiar superheroes and a series of show-stopping battles, which it does more than capably, but ultimately that is all it does. Crucially, it never digs any deeper into the psychological motivations of the characters or the complexities of the pairings. The other disappointment is that the Chitauri threat amounts to nothing more than a generic and faceless menace against which the team is arrayed. Nevertheless, the film does a modestly impressive job with what it has on hand.
While the animated DC films usually cast familiar name actors in the various voice roles, the voice line-up here has been deliberately cast with unknowns. Most do capable jobs, the sole exception being Michael Massee’s voicing of Bruce Banner, which comes out sounding like a middle-aged version of a whiny adolescent.
Ultimate Avengers II (2006) was a sequel from the same production personnel and voice cast as here. Next Avengers: Heroes of Tomorrow (2008) was a further Avengers film made under the same banner, featuring the children of The Avengers. The Avengers had earlier appeared in the short-lived animated series Avengers (1999-2000), which cast the characters in a futuristic setting. The subsequent live-action feature film The Avengers (2012) had a surprising number of similarities to the plot for this film.