And You Thought It Was Safe(?)


Ultimate Avengers 2 (2006)
"Alright, I'll give. Just don't review that Albert Pyun film. That's all I ask."

"Alright, I'll give. Just don't review that Albert Pyun film. That's all I ask."

Even the simplest of superhero sequels can be its own kind of hell. Sagas about superhero teams are even easier to screw up. At worst, they end up looking like an amateur plate-spinning performance at some lame high school talent show. Ultimate Avengers 2 isn’t quite that bad…but it’s verging on territory the Fantastic Four films would explore at length to their (and our) eternal detriment. For thirty minutes Ultimate Avengers 2 held me. Then it all fell apart in the act of wrapping itself up. There’s some irony in there somewhere.

Animated direct-to-DVD superhero movies have this bad habit of taking on more water than they can reasonably carry through their truncated running time. It’s an old story but I’ll tell it again: when you have seven characters with seven back stories, seven arcs with seven conclusions, and only a hundred and nine minutes to run them all…you get a disappointing sequel. Continue reading



Iron Man 2 (2010)
Rhode Island Red

Tony, sporting the Rhode Island Red

Given that Iron Man 2‘s already a Designated Hit of the Year, nothing I can say will make the least bit of impact on the film’s bottom line. I find that rather freeing, because I don’t have to pretend the film is some amazing stand-out example of its genre. It’s not bad, but it’s still a fuzzy-headed rehash of tropes that should be familiar to anyone who’s watched a superhero sequel. The Villain Hypertrophy, the mawkish sentiment, the origin of A Sidekick, the Hero striving against his Fate, trying to shore up his Legacy against Death’s inevitable encroachment while simultaneously learning how to play well with others – it’s all here. And it’s all so mind-numbingly safe I had to slap myself with a Netflix envelope just to recall why I was here. Continue reading



Iron Man (2008)

In another unexpectedly pleasant surprise, Iron Man turned out to be perhaps the strongest of this passing summer’s superhero movies. I say “perhaps” because, while it lacks The Dark Knight‘s length and The Incredible Hulk‘s emotional sequel-baggage, Iron Man never rises to anything other than the low-tide line of my expectations. Movies are like that these days. I’m spoiled. We’ve all become spoiled by the expectation of eye-gouging special effects. I’ve believed a man could fly all my life; seeing it no longer impresses me. Much.

This movie impressed me…but not with its showy, summer-movie action scenes. No. Instead, Iron Man outflanked me, scaling the battlements of my cold, critic’s heart by reminding me why I used to drag my ass out of bed a six a.m. on a Sunday morning to watch the Iron Man cartoon that played on the Fox affiliate of my youth. Why, in other words, I liked Iron Man in the first place. {More}



Ultimate Avengers (2006)
Yeah, guy wearing a flag into battle. That's not an easy target.

Yeah, guy wearing a flag into battle. That's not an easy target.

Best to begin this with what Ultimate Avengers is not. It’s not the movie I’d hoped it would be. What is these days, right? It’s not a shot-by-shot recreation of the similarly named, and much more thematically complicated Mark Millar/Bryan Hitch comic book miniseries upon which it is based. It’s not necessarily a major milestone in American animation. (No Fritz the Cat’s here, folks, keep walking.) It is not Marvel’s answer to Paul Dini’s spectacular Justice League series, which did more with more characters, smaller budgets, and the Ever Present Eye of Cartoon Network’s Standards and Practices.

Ultimate Avengers is not a great movie at all…and it shakes and shutters on the cusp of being good. By any objective or technical measure it’s not really that, either. The reasons why become quickly apparent. But first: plot synopsis.

Ultimate Avengers opens (like so much else in the Marvel Universe) during the winningest days of World War II. Hitler is dead, his armies in retreat, Germany safely carpet-bombed back to the Middle Ages. “But what,” asks the radio announcer, “are these rumors of a secret Nazi super weapon aimed at Washington? Categorically false, says the War [nee, Defense] Department. And we believe them!” {More}