Ultimate Avengers 2: Rise of the Panther
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Ultimate Avengers 2: Rise of the Panther

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People like me that have a few decades behind grew up in the golden age of comic books. There were two main Ďuniversesí, one from DC with Superman and Batman, the other from Marvel with such luminaries as Spider-Man and Captain America. Both camps saw that the readers wanted more than a single super hero so they created groups. In the DC world it was the Legion of Super Heroes and in the Marvel comics it was the Avengers. Personally, I always preferred the Avengers. It was a more eclectic mix of heroes complete with the foibles and failings of regular human beings. That was what really drew me to the Marvel comic super heroes, they may have had incredible abilities but they had the same emotional problems we all have. The second installment of the Ultimate Avengerís series, ĎUltimate Avengers 2: Rise of the Pantherí takes this concept of the humanized super hero a step further than any other animated comic based film I have ever seen.

The story opens in the mysterious African country of Wakanda. The crown prince and heir apparent, T'Challa has just returned to his home land after some years aboard. No sooner than he is welcomed back home by his father, King T'Chaka, then he learns that his country is under siege by an alien race, the Chitauri, led by Herr Kleiser, a shape shifting and virtually immortal Nazi. TíChaka defends his people the best he can. He is in the long line of kings that could become the Black Panther endowed with super human strength, agility, and perception. As TíChalla watches from the brush Kleiser kills his father leaving the young man the responsibility of assuming the mantle of the Black Panther. This small nation is of interest because it is the source of the rare meteoric metal, vibranium which is able to absorb sounds and was much sought after for the military potential of the element. Meanwhile back in the States Steve Rogers, better known as Captain America (voiced by Justin Gross) is becoming increasingly despondent. Rogers feels that he is out of place in the modern world. After being revived from decades of suspended animation almost everyone he knew is either dead or fifty years older. He throws himself into near suicide missions for S.H.I.E.L.D., a covert, high tech intelligence agency led by General Nick Fury (voiced by Andre Ware). The Black Panther seeks out Captain America to enlist him in the fight to save his country. In some ways this is very attractive to Rogers since Kleiser has been his sworn enemy since World War II. Fury wants to save the valuable vibranium and orders the Avengers to go to Wakanda. While this would normally be enough for an animated feature in the Marvel world there has to be more in the way of personal conflict. Henry Pym, Giant Man (voiced by Nolan North) is able to grow many times his normal size giving him incredible strength. He is working on breaking the sity foot boundary always wanting to push further and further. This is the cause of great concern for Pymís wife, Janet (voiced by Grey DeLisle) who is not only the diminutive member of the Avengers, the Wasp, but also Pymís research partner. She is afraid that Pymís obsession will lead to a stroke or perhaps even death. Doctor Bruce Banner (voiced by Michael Massee) is currently being kept in a S.H.I.E.L.D. safe house behind super strong plastic just in case he reverts back to his alter ego, the Hulk. Banner is now held by a former rival that wants to obtain the secrets of the Hulk and humiliate Banner. Also involved in the plan to save Wakanda are Doctor Betty Ross (Nan McNamara), Bannerís former love interest and noted scientist in her own right. Also joining the Avengers are joined by Natasha Romanova, the Black Widow (voiced by Olivia d'Abo), a former KGB operative and Tony Stark (voiced by Marc Worden), the billionaire genius that fights as Iron Man. Last there is Thor (voiced by David Boat), whose uru war hammer, Mjolnir, brings destruction to almost anything it encounters.

This is not your typical animated flick made from a comic book; it is as close to a real film as possible. At times I almost forgot that I was watching animation. First of all the quality of the animation is very good. While it is not on the level of a Pixar release it is realistic and flows naturally. The movements of the characters and action are smooth with no glitches at all. The biggest departure from other animation is the depth of the characters. They are not the typical two dimensional heroes that most such films provide. There are back stories here that flesh out the characters and make them identifiable to the audience. The story has a true emotional arc that pulls in even those in the audience that didnít grow up with these characters. For example love is not the straight forward thing found in many comics. Janet and Pym love each other but Janet has to contend with her husbandís all consuming need to go beyond what is safe. He literally has to be the big man. Betty loves Banner but she canít be with him as long as he has the potential to turn into the uncontrollable Hulk. Stark may have billions and be able to devise the technologically advanced gadgets used by Iron Man but he has not real relationships. He hides this behind his constant flirting with women he knows would barely give him the time of day.

Lionís Gate gave this film the same treatment in its release to DVD as it would any other film in their vaults. The technical specifications are better than most comic book animations out there. The video is in a clear, robust 1.78:1 widescreen. The Dolby 5.1 audio will shake your living room and put you in the middle of the action. There are even novel extras to let you enjoy the disc after you have watched the film There is an ĎUltimatesí featurette that goes into the make up of the Ultimate Avengers. Next there is a gag reel that almost makes you think the characters are human. There are first looks at Iron Man and Doctor Strange, two Marvel heroes slated for live action films. Last there is a DVD ROM game that helps you determine which Avenger you are most like. This is a dream come true for people like me that grew up reading the comics but it holds together even for non comic oriented viewers.

Posted 8/2/06

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