Drawing inspiration from both the classic The Avengers mythos and the recent The Ultimates series, Marvel Entertainment and Lionsgate Home Entertainment has released the wildly entertaining Ultimate Avengers: The Movie and its follow-up, Ultimate Avengers 2: Rise of the Panther on a combo Blu-ray release. With a solid script and some of the best animation to grace these great Marvel characters, the Ultimate Avengers Collection is a great purchase for fans, even if the second installment of the Ultimate Avengers series isn’t as solid as the first.
Marvel Enterprises and Lionsgate have released a Blu-ray Disc “double feature” worthy of the most popular and powerful Super Heroes in the Marvel Universe – Ultimate Avengers: The Movie and Ultimate Avengers 2: Rise of the Panther. Having sold more than 1.5 million units combined on standard DVD since its launch in February 2006 and August 2006 respectively, these incredibly successful animated features are now available on one extras-filled Blu-ray Disc. This “Super Heroic” franchise takes Blu-ray to never-before-seen heights as it marks the first direct-to-DVD release on the Blu-ray format, the first time two full-length features have been presented on one Blu-ray Disc.
Anyone who has read The Ultimates will find a lot of familiar material here. While the first Ultimate Avengers feature is loosely based on the first twelve issues of the series, before taking a completely original spin in the second, the Ultimate Avengers Collection also finds inspiration from the mainstream characters as well. The alien threat that wasn’t revealed until the later half of the initial volume of The Ultimates is pushed to the forefront for the first movie before revisiting the alien invasion story and introducing the Black Panther in the second. As you can expect, there are a fair amount of changes between the movies and the comics, but for the most part, the changes really work, especially for a PG-13 animated feature.
Still, the two movies do form a complete story, of sort. At the core, this these movies are about Captain America. The first movie opens with him battling in World War 2 and the second film closes with him finally coming to term with being a man out of time. Still, between all of that, there’s a fair amount of good and some bad. The second feature in particular seems to rehash a lot of the same information and basically doesn’t seem to be exactly required viewing, Regardless, the introduction of Black Panther in the second feature is really well handled, and they take a cool little spin on him for the movie. Like I said, the first movie is easily the better of the two, but the second movie does bring a lot of great things to the table, including more development on characters who weren’t given a lot of screen time in the first Ultimate Avengers movie.
The two movies do somewhat act as a whole, as events given a small amount of time in the first one are given more in the second one. Simply a “deus ex machina” in the first movie, and sorta one in the second flick, too, Thor’s background is given more time here, as is the relationship between Giant Man and the Wasp. We also get a great look at Tony Stark’s vast collection of Iron Man armor as well as his faulty heart. The movie may focus a bit more on Black Panther, but Captain America’s struggles in adapting to this new world heavily reflect in the theme of the movie. We see more flashbacks to his World War II adventures, including another tussle with a villain thought dead from the first feature. Despite not really being the main character of the second movie, it still feels like Cap’s movie, to be honest. His character remains just as engaging as it was in the first Ultimate Avengers feature.
In terms of animation, both films look nice, but, well, Ultimate Avengers: The Movie looks nicer than Ultimate Avengers 2: Rise of the Panther. The opening sequences set during World War II, to Captain America waking up in a new world, and the climactic battle, the animation manages to stay on target for almost the entire first feature. There are a few jumpy or stilted moments, but they’re brief. As for the second feature? Well…it’s not as good as the first. The very fluid action scenes with Captain America features in the first movie are lacking here. The quiet scenes, however, seem to be handled much better this time around. Scenes involving alien ships seem to suffer once again. The animators, for one reason or another, are unable to really animate those ships well, making for some awkward action scenes, especially in the conclusion. More intimate battles are handled better, and even provide a little humor. There are a few moments where run cycles and walk cycles look incomplete or jumpy, and a few of the action sequences seem to be missing the odd frame or two, but overall the animation remains but not as good as the animation in the original feature.
The voice actors do justice to their respective roles. Despite being criticized as a bad casting choice, Michael Massee brings a very calm, yet creepy quality to Bruce Banner. I’m still partial to The Incredible Hulk‘s Neal McDonough myself, but Massee brings what is needed to the role, and it definitely comes out during some very tense scenes in the first movie’s climax. Special props to David Boat for just completely embracing his role as Thor. You can just tell he’s having fun with every bit of dialogue he spews out, no matter how ridiculous it comes across as. Also, Justin Gross, who plays Captain America, really excels in the second feature. Those specific mentions aside, the entire cast fills their role appropriately.
Like in my original DVD review for Ultimate Avengers: The Movie, I feel I need to make note of something. As the company logos for Marvel and Loinsgate roll out for Ultimate Avengers: The Movie, we hear an old-time radio newscast play, leading into this great shot of an airplane over the ocean, the soldiers inside ready for battle. That touch, with the old radio playing, just immediately sold me on the movie, and thankfully I was not let down in the remaining 70 minutes of the first Ultimate Avengers feature. It’s just a very classy way to open the movie.
Now, in terms of quality, Ultimate Avengers Collection is definitely worth adding to your Blu-ray library and comes Highly Recommended. Granted, these aren’t perfect movies, particularly with the second film being the weaker of the two, but Marvel fans should really check these movies out. For those looking for a direct translation of the The Ultimates series, look elsewhere. These movies bring both the The Ultimates universe and the mainstream “616” universe together and the end result is pretty excellent, especially in how they deal with Captain America’s storyline. Separately, they’re both good movies, though Ultimate Avengers 2: Rise of the Panther doesn’t really work all that well as a second vehicle, especially with the almost constant references to the first film. The first movie is definitely a solid stand-alone, but both also work really well together. Ultimate Avengers Collection is a great combo Blu-ray release and should definitely be part of anyone’s growing Blu-ray library.
The packaging for this Blu-ray is the standard blue-tinted clamshell with artwork viewable from the inside of the case. Lionsgate has given Ultimate Avengers Collection a sturdy case and some additional reflective foil on the cover art to add an extra a little extra shine to the rather standard packaging.
As we dig into the release itself, it is a bit of a mixed bag. First up, we’ll tackle the audio and video transfer for the release. As one can expect, the video transfer is solid, but shakey. Now, the DVD transfer for Lionsgate’s early Marvel Animated Features were a little underwhelming, with some compression issues. Here, for the most part, both movies look good. However, even though these are high-definition releases, the video still does suffer from a few faults in the transfer. Again, it’s nothing too distracting, and may not even be noticeable to some viewers, but the transfer does have a few aliasing problems and, occasionally, the coloring looks a bit off. Still, it’s a vibrant and bright transfer that does look great, despite the odd problem. As one can expect, the audio is just great, full and bombastic from start to finish. The “World War II” sequence, in particular sounds amazing.
As for the extras, Lionsgate has ported over the extras from both the standard DVD release of Ultimate Avengers: The Movie and Ultimate Avengers 2: Rise of the Panther. They’re repackaged differently than their DVD presentations, naturally, as they’re all collected together. First are the two main documentaries from the standard DVDs, “Avengers Assemble” and “The Ultimates,” which takes a look at the franchise, the characters, the comic books, and the creative teams behind them. Definitely interesting stuff and, when viewed together, they present a complete picture of the history of these amazing characters.
The rest of the material, as we know from the standard DVDs, is mostly small potatoes. We have a slightly amusing gag reel, a look the audition videos for the voice-over contest Marvel held for the first Ultimate Avengers feature, a pop-up trivia track, a trailer for The Invincible Iron Man and a preview look at Doctor Strange. All in all, a pretty standard collection of extras, but they do compliment the main feature nicely.
Ultimate Avengers Collection is a well put together Blu-ray that comes Highly Recommended, especially considering this was released during the format war between Blu-ray and HD-DVD where piles of Blu-rays were just chucked onto the market without any afterthought. It has a solid, if slightly imperfect, high-definition transfer of both films, and a heaping collection of bonus features ported over from the standard DVD releases of Ultimate Avengers: The Movie and Ultimate Avengers 2: Rise of the Panther. If you’re currently in the process of upgrading your library, or looking to add a few Marvel-themed releases to it, you can’t go wrong with this release. It has two fun movies, a nice collection of extras, and it both looks and sounds great on Blu-ray. These movies have never looked better! Granted, the second feature in this collection is weaker than the first, but, overall, it’s still a solid release. With the release of Next Avengers: Heroes of Tomorrow and The Invincible Iron Man on Blu-ray earlier this week, adding Ultimate Avengers Collection is a no-brainer.
Ultimate Avengers Collection is now available on Blu-ray. Ultimate Avengers: The Movie and Ultimate Avengers 2: Rise of the Panther are also currently available separately on standard DVD.