Ultimate Avengers Bob Richardson

Marvel Comics launches its own internal film division with this straight-to-DVD animated feature, based on the re-launched Avengers comic The Ultimates; in a typical Marvel restart, it tells origin stories of the Avengers, including the World War II disappearance and subsequent thaw (this time in a post-9/11 world) of Steve Rogers, aka Captain America. From there, the Avengers team (Thor, Giant Man, Wasp, Iron Man and the Hulk) gets assembled to combat an alien invasion and save earth. Remaining true to the story beats of Mark Millar's comic — notably without the controversial domestic abuse subplot involving Giant Man (Hank Pym) and his wife, Janet (the Wasp)— Ultimate Avengers is hampered primarily by mediocre voice talent (TV actor and regular animated voiceover artist Olivia D'Abo is the best known) and by terrible, cheap animation. At a running time of only 71 minutes, the film clicks along at a quick pace, to its credit, and the DVD actually provides some interesting featurettes, particularly "Avengers Assemble!," which chronicles the comic book's evolution from its early ‘60s origins. "The Ultimate Voice Talent Search," where the company opened auditions to its geeky fan base (none were chosen), is an opportunity to mock the homemade costume attired hopefuls; that fan base is sure to enjoy a pop-up style "trivia track" that can accompany the feature. Those hoping for a better result in animation terms will have trouble deciphering the potential of Ultimate Avengers II from the pencil sketches offered in a "sneak peak," but for serious comic nerds, it's the prospect of a live-action Avengers movie (due no earlier than 2008) that has them really excited. Plus: DVD-Rom game. (Maple)