Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Want angst with your action? Marvel Comics didn't necessarily invent the notion of superheroes with everyday hang-ups, but it did perfect it. That tradition remains alive in Ultimate Avengers: The Movie. The first of a new series of animated direct-to-DVD features, Ultimate Avengers adapts the comic-book series The Ultimates, Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch's revisionist take on The Avengers. Like the series, the film doesn't so much darken Marvel's classic heroes as draw out their most questionable elements. Captain America is barely able to cope with modern times, Iron Man is well on his way to becoming a lush, and Bruce Banner is a social misfit who's probably about as well-balanced as the Hulk. When they aren't fighting aliens, they can barely keep themselves together.

Assembled by a team previously responsible for the well-liked X-Men: Evolution series, Ultimate Avengers: The Movie makes a play for the audience created by Bruce Timm's Batman: The Animated Series (and its equally terrific successors): viewers who look for sophisticated animation and adult-friendly stories along with the requisite punching and laser beams. It's a tall order, and Ultimate Avengers does a decent-enough job on all fronts, but an excellent job on none of them. In a rushed 71 minutes, it simplifies the Ultimates storyline and thins out the characters. The film plays like a promising pilot, and it might have worked better in series form, where the characters would have more room to grow. There's a sequel on the way; hopefully it won't hit the "to be continued" mark with as much unfinished business.


Key features: Making-of docs, but sadly no explanation as to how Olivia d'Abo's apparently Bela Lugosi-inspired take on Black Widow made the final cut.

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