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Featured DVD review - Marvel Animation - 6 Film Set

November 22nd, 2009

Marvel Animation - 6 Film Set - Buy from Amazon

Last month the Marvel Animation - 6 Film Set was released on DVD, and while it took a while, the screener finally arrived. The set includes the six direct-to-DVD animated films based on a variety of popular Marvel comic books starting with Ultimate Avengers - The Movie, which came out in 2006. There was quite a bit of buzz surrounding these movies when they were first announced, but did they live up to the hype? Are they worth checking out? Picking up? Is the box set the better deal, or should you stick with one or two of the individual titles?

The six films in this box set are, in alphabetical order...

Doctor Strange - The Sorcerer Supreme - Buy from Amazon
As the movie begins we see something attacking workers in the sewers, or to be more precise, we don't see something that is attacking workers in the sewers, as it is invisible. A group mystic warriors do battle with this creature, but first conceal it so none of the regular inhabitants of the city can see these events, because this would likely be too traumatic for them. (Although their method of hiding it, within a tornado, seems traumatic as well.) However, one person, Doctor Stephen Strange, can see through these spells. We shortly meet the Doctor at his job, where he is an in-demand neurosurgeon whose ego matches his talent. He doesn't deal with small cases, only those of the rich and those that can get him published in medical journals. However, when he sees a patient, a child, who is in a coma like state, he is hit by a disturbing vision, and when this vision returns while driving home, it causes him to crash his car, which leads to his hands becoming crippled. Obsessed with finding a treatment to fix his hands, he loses his job and spends his entire fortune on treatments that fail. Just as he has lost hope, he is approached by a man that tells him he knows where he can find a cure, in Tibet. But after a tough journey there, he learns what they offer is not a cure for the body, but a cure for the spirit. He is also introduced to the world of magic and it told that he must train if he is to fulfill his destiny and help battle the forces of evil led by the Dread Dormammu.

This direct-to-DVD release based on the Marvel comic has some strong points to it, but also some serious hindrances. First of all, it is an origins story, so after the initial burst of action, it takes a long time for the story to pick up again. Also, Doctor Stephen Strange is a massive prick. As a doctor, he no longer cares about the health of perspective patients, only their ability to pay his fees or increase his fame. If you are a fan of the character, you don't need to see his origin like this. On the other hand, if you are not a fan of the character, being introduced to him like this is a turn-off. We do see thought some flashbacks about his earlier family life some of the reasons why Dr. Strange is the way he is, but by the time he has his epiphany, it's a little hard to sympathize with him. On the other hand, the overall character arc is strong, while there's enough action to please most fans, and animation is stronger that a lot of direct-to-DVD releases and the voice acting is good. If this were a pilot movie for an ongoing series, it would be enough to make me want to watch more.

Extras start with a montage of cinematics from video games based on Marvel comics. ... Moving on. There is also a 14-minute featurette on the origins of Dr. Strange, both his comic book origins, and how this movie came to be. There is a 2-minute montage of concept art that can almost be described as animatics for some of the scenes. Finally, there is a look at what was the upcoming Avengers Reborn, later renamed The Next Avengers.

Hulk Vs. - Buy from Amazon
I didn't even bother watching the movie. I didn't need to since I reviewed the 2-Disc Special Edtion here. Short recap on the mini-movies. In the first, Loki, the Norse God of Mischief, invades Bruce Banner's mind and releases the Hulk from Bruce Banner separating the two. He does this in order to kill Thor and Odin as part of his plan to rule his world. However, this turns out to be a dumb plan, as without Bruce Banner calming influence on the Hulk, he's even more destructive than usual. In the second film, Wolverine is brought in by the Weapon X program to stop the Hulk who is on a rampage in the Canadian wilderness. Again, the Hulk is being used as a tool to help create the ultimate soldier, and again this turns out to be a dumb plan. After watching all six DVDs, this is still my favorite. There's plenty of action, the level of violence is a lot greater than in most comic book cartoons, and there's even enough blood that it was rated PG-13. On a side note, if Ryan Reynolds portrayal of Deadpool is like it is in this movie, I will be very happy with the upcoming spin-off. Given his short appearance in Wolverine, I'm 90% sure it will at least be close. (It will likely be less jokey.)

Extras on the DVD include an audio commentary track on each mini-movie, and previews for Wolverine and the X-Men and Thor - Tales of Asgard. Since it's the only DVD to have an audio commentary track, it is not only the best movie, but has the best set of extras.

The Invincible Iron Man - Buy from Amazon
The movie starts in China with Stark Enterprises excavating a temple dedicated to Mandarin, who was a ruthless leader in ancient times. Many in the area still fear the wrath of the Mandarin and the member of the Jade Dragon have gone so far as to use violence to stop the temple from rising again. The violence gets so bad that James Rhodes is kidnapped by this group to prevent the excavation from continuing, and when Tony Stark goes to China to rescue him, he too is kidnapped and seriously injured in the process. However, while captive, Tony Stark and James Rhodes are able to build Tony a suit of army he uses to free himself and Rhodes. But it turns out the crazy superstitions about the Mandarin are true and when the temple rises, four elementals are freed. Now they search the globe for the five rings that when reunited will return the Mandarin to life and allow him to rule the world. Only Tony Stark and his Iron Man armors can save the world now.

This movie shares many of the same problems as Doctor Strange - The Sorcerer Supreme. In fact, it shares all three of them: it is an origins story, it has a lot of slow spots in it, and the main character is a jerk. Additionally, they messed with the origins of Iron Man. Before he gets to China and is captured, he already has a room full of Iron Man suits, one for every conceivable job. Additionally, while the Jade Dragons are fighting for the side of good, their methods, and their attitudes are such that they come across as the bad guys, even after they are proven right. While the real bad guys, the elementals, have no personalities whatsoever. Easily the weakest of the six movies here.

Extras start with a 3-minute alternate opening that give more background information on the Mandarin. There is also a 12-minute featurette on the origins of Iron Man, both for this movie and in the comic book. There's also a gallery of Iron Man suits from over the years that includes when they first appeared in the comics, what they were designed for, etc. There is another gallery of concept art. And finally, a look at the 'upcoming' Doctor Strange DVD.

The Next Avengers - Heroes of Tomorrow - Buy from Amazon
The film takes place more than a decade after the events of the regular Avengers timeline. As we are shown at the beginning, the Avengers were able to bring peace to the world and eventually settle down get married and raise families. However, one of their most feared enemies, Ultron, returned and was able to defeat all of the Avengers one by one. Almost all of them, anyway. Tony Stark, a.k.a. Iron Man, survived and was left in charge of raising the kids in a secret base away from Ultron's grasp. There's James, son of Captain America and The Black Widow; Pym, son of The Wasp and Giant Man; Torunn, daughter of Thor; and Azari, son of the Black Panther. He knows he must train them for when the day comes when they will have to face Ultron, but that day comes too soon after Vision returns damaged and the kids accidentally reveal their location and Tony is kidnapped. Now it is up to these four, along with the help of Francis Barton, the son of Hawkeye, to rescue Tony and find a way to stop the seemingly indestructible Ultron.

First of all, as it is likely obvious given the ages of the protagonists, this movie is aimed at kids and not adults, as the other five movies are. (In fact, it is the only one of the six given a PG rating.) That said, I enjoyed this one more than most of the rest for a number of reasons. Firstly, it's not an origins story. The writers assume that you know who the Avengers are and what their powers were, so you can figure out what their kids should be like. The personalities of the kids are varied enough that they don't seem like they are merely younger versions of their parents, but you do see some of the similarities there. There is also more opportunity for humor, which is something missing from most of the rest of the show. For instance, Torunn is the daughter of Thor and tries hard to act like an Asgardian God, or at least what she thinks an Asgardian God should act like. In reality, she acts like a more typical modern teenage girl who says, 'thou' a lot, which is something the other characters comment on. The action is as strong as the other movies, although it is not as violent and a lot less bloody. (This is partially due to the fact that all of the bad guys are Robots, which makes Ultron the perfect foe for this target audience.)

Extras include two featurettes, the first on the making of the show, and the second on Marvel's efforts to appeal to kids over the years, which includes several of the youngest super heroes that appeared in Marvel Comics. There are also two previews for the Hulk vs. mini-movies.

Ultimate Avengers - The Movie - Buy from Amazon
This movie tells the story of the formation of the Avengers, starting with its first member, Captain America, who was the first, and only, successful test subject of the "Super-Soldier Serum". A hero of World War II, he fought the Nazi and their alien allies, the Chitauri, but is killed and his body is lost at sea. Decades later, S.H.I.E.L.D. hopes to revive the Super-Soldier program to help defeat another Chitauri attack, but new trails have proven unsuccessful leading to an expedition to recover Captain America's body to see if they can test his blood. However, upon recovering him, they get more than they hoped for as he revives once unfrozen. Captain America is chosen to lead a group of super heroes into battle against these alien invaders, but this proves more difficult than anticipated, as not only does he have to deal with all the changes in the world, but his prospective teammates are not exactly to easiest people to work with. Iron Man and Giant Man both have massive egos to deal with, Thor doesn't exactly consider mere mortals worthy compared to him so him teaming with them is unlikely, the Wasp has to deal with her husband ego and his jealousies, while Bruce Banner has secrets that could tear apart the team both figuratively and literally. Only the Black Widow seems confident is Captain America's ability to lead the Avengers, but will that be enough to pull the group together and stop the Chitauri?

As with Doctor Strange - The Sorcerer Supreme and The Invincible Iron Man, this film suffers from the fact that it is an origins story, but not only is it an origins story, it is an origins story for a team. This means we are introduced to several characters, so the writers had to balance time spent introducing the characters and time spent on the plot / action. This is a tough task, one that was only moderately successful. Additionally, like the two movies discussed above, too many of the characters were too unsympathetic. Tony Stark should be portrayed as a charming playboy whose biggest weakness is his tendency to not take things seriously. Here, he's portrayed as an egotist who doesn't play well with others. Unfortunately, in this movie he's almost exactly the same as the Hank Pym (Giant Man) so there's two egotists instead of one. For that matter, Bruce Banner is treated as an overly demanding boss, while his relationship with Betty Ross was not much more interesting than the marriage between Hank and Janet (The Wasp). There are fewer slow spots in this movie than in either Doctor Strange - The Sorcerer Supreme or The Invincible Iron Man, but it still feels like only a moderately successful beginning to a story, not a self-contained movie.

Extras start with a trivia track that doesn't have enough trivia to be worth it. There are two featurettes, the first a history of The Avengers and the second on the search for the right voice actors for the film, which included a lot of fans of the comic book who were given the opportunity to send in tapes. There is a DVD-ROM personality quiz and finally a look at the sequel.

Ultimate Avengers 2 - Rise of the Black Panther - Buy from Amazon
After the defeat of the Chitauri in the first movie, we learn that this was only a minor setback for the alien invaders and Herr Kleiser is focusing their attention on a small African nation of Wakanda. The Avengers are sent into help; however, Wakanda is very xenophobic and distrust all outsiders. They are not even happy that their prince was sent outside the country to be educated and elders think he might have been corrupted by the outside world. So when the Avengers come, they are treated like they are as much of an enemy as the Chitauri are, and even after the king is killed, they are unwilling to accept help. Will Captain America be able to convince the new king, T' Challa, a.k.a. the Black Panther, to accept their help? Will it be too late? Will the Chitauri finally succeed in their plans to take over the Earth?

I was really hoping that most of the issues with the first film would be corrected here, but there's almost a de-evolution of the team at the beginning of the movie. After struggling to gel as a team in the first movie, things have somehow gotten worse at the beginning of this movie. Thor is no longer an active member being recalled by his father to Asgard and told not to meddle in the affairs of mortals. Janet and Hank's marriage is disintegrating because of the latter's out of control ego. Even Captain America no longer feels like a real leader and is on a self-destructive spiral. This movie would be a lot better if the Chitauri would treated as the main obstacle of the Avengers instead of each other. That said, the film does improve in a few important ways, including have a plot that feels worthy of the Avengers and the threat posed by the Chitauri is much greater this time around. If you liked the first movie, you'll likely like this one as well. I was just hoping for a greater improvement because it didn't need to spend so much time introducing the characters and getting them to act as a team.

Extras include a 24-minute look at the new Ultimate Avengers comic book line and how it differs from the classic Avengers from the 1960s and how it influenced these two movies. There are also 3-minutes of pseudo-outtakes, as well as previews for Iron Man and Doctor Strange.

The last thing about the box set we need to discuss is the price. Compared to the individual releases, this is like buying three and getting the other three nearly free. This is a great deal if you are interested in all of the movies, unless you are more interested in the Blu-ray edition, in which case there is no Box Set to grab. Not sure why this is; perhaps they didn't sell very well in High Definition.

That said, are all six movies worth picking up? Maybe. It depends on how hardcore a fan you are of Marvel Comics. Personally, I think Hulk Vs. and The Next Avengers - Heroes of Tomorrow are clearly worth picking up. The two Avenger movies are solid rentals leaning toward the purchase level, while Doctor Strange - The Sorcerer Supreme is a rental / weak purchase and The Invincible Iron Man is strictly a rental. Add it up and if you don't have any of the movies, then the Marvel Animation - 6 Film Set is a good deal. If you have the best two, then I would suggest just renting the rest.

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Filed under: Doctor Strange, The Invincible Iron Man, Hulk VS., Ultimate Avengers 2: Rise of the Panther, Ultimate Avengers - The Movie, The Next Avengers: Heroes of Tomorrow