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B-list superheroes make ‘Avengers’ nostalgic, flawed

Observer Scene | Friday, February 24, 2006

The storyline of “Ultimate Avengers: The Movie,” is standard comic book fare – a plot revolving around Nazi-sympathizing extraterrestrials bent on global domination. In response, General Nick Fury, leader of S.H.I.E.L.D. – an acronymic military organization designed to save the world – decides to activate a team of superheroes to save the day.

It would appear that the good general’s philosophy on choosing superhero leadership is akin to selecting Cap’n Crunch as a quality breakfast cereal – “you and the Cap’n make it happen!” But in this case, there can be no doubt that picking Captain America to lead any superhero squad is always a wise decision.

Fortunately, after serving his country valiantly in World War II, Captain America was conveniently frozen in time in a huge slab of underwater ice. After being rediscovered, the Captain is popped in the microwave and unfrozen from stasis, allowing him to save America and act as a symbol for a whole new generation.

The Captain’s patriotic get-up practically bleeds Americana. In fact, his red-white-and-blue wardrobe appears to have been fashioned by FOX News ‘ graphics designer. Fortunately, Captain America has at least managed to shed the tufts of bald eagle feathers that adorned his temples in the comics. But he still looks ready for a cameo appearance during the opening montage of the Colbert Report.

The main problem with the Avengers is that the team is made up of B-list Marvel superheroes, which could explain the film being animated rather than shot as live-action, or perhaps more tellingly, its straight-to-DVD release.

The members of the Avengers range from failed live-action movie characters (the Incredible Hulk) to the criminally underappreciated (Iron Man), to the just plain bizarre (Thor). Believing himself to be the Norse god of thunder, Thor speaks softly but carries an absolutely massive hammer, conveniently allowing him to play whack-a-mole on bad guys with impunity. Watching Thor in action practically begs for a soundtrack by MC Hammer – evildoers simply “can ‘t touch this” when it’s “hammer time.”

The rest of the squad is rounded out by various flotsam and jetsam from the Marvel world, including Giant Man (exactly what it sounds like), the Wasp and the Black Widow. Unlike some of Stan Lee’s more successful brainchildren, such as Spider-Man or the X-Men, the common thread here is that all of these superheroes are chronic underachievers in terms of fan reaction.

The Marvel animation team has done a splendid job here, as the characters are all very well rendered. Overall, the film has a very polished aesthetic. Unfortunately, the film also features dialogue clunkier than Iron Man ‘s tin suit and the general interaction between its characters is pained at best. Like Captain America battling aliens, the film does its best when it stays on the move. When it stops between action scenes to attempt an appeal to emotion, it falls flat on its face.

The plot of the movie is also chock-full of obscure references that only the most ardent of comic-book fans will appreciate, such as a cameo appearance by Bucky (Captain America ‘s sidekick of antiquity) and a reference to Giant Man’s previous status as Ant-Man. In addition, the film’s penchant for the bizarre – for example, when we are first introduced to Thor, he is moonlighting as an environmental activist trying to “save the whales” – renders the entire experience somewhat an exercise in one ‘s ability to suspend disbelief, even for a superhero movie.

Despite its flaws, “Ultimate Avengers: The Movie” is still a fun, if mindless, watch. The film may not move anyone to don spandex and become a caped crusader, but it may be enough to make college students wax nostalgic about childhood Saturday mornings spent glued to their television screens.