Next Avengers (US - DVD R1)
Gabe genuinely hopes that the sixth times the charm for Marvel Animated...
Ultron was created to help the Avengers, but he and his forces ended up crushing them. They’re children were gathered and hidden by the surviving Tony Stark, who trains them for their eventual showdown with Ultron. One day the mini Avengers accidentally activate Starks ‘Iron Avenger’ robots, and alert Ultron to their whereabouts. Following the destruction of their home, and the taking of their ‘father’, Azari, Pym, James and Torunn must find a way to fight back.
So far none of these Marvel Animated features have been any good. Frankly, they’ve been downright bad on most levels—the animation is weird and cheap, the stories are dumbed down version of better comic book stories, and the characters (despite PG-13 ratings) are weak and flat in an unfortunately ‘80s Saturday morning fashion. The only good news for Marvel on the animation front is that lately DC Animated films have been nearly as weak. Both franchises look terrible compared to the heyday of the Bruce Timm Batman, Superman, and Justice League.
Next Avengers is probably the most even and watchable of all five of the Marvel Animated Lionsgate releases. The animation still suffers low frame rates and obvious corner cutting, but stylistically the characters are more interesting, the movement and perspective is more consistent, and the acting a little more emotive. The character designs aren’t the bland, Gargoyles-esque monstrosities of the previous releases, but they also aren’t as overtly stylized as Teen Titans (which I personally think is a bad thing, as I actually like Teen Titans). The best difference between this and the other Marvel Animated releases, from an animation standpoint, is that the artists have dropped the flimsy, computer produced cell-shading (the soft edges stuff that’s grey no matter what colour they’re supposed to be shading), and replaced them with more standard, hard edged cell-shading.
Despite being written with a younger fan-base in mind, the story isn’t really any more dumbed down than the PG-13 films, in fact, it features some intriguingly dark and abstract aspects, and the story does take place post-apocalypse, after all. The kid voice actors are all actually quite good—better then the adult actors of the past films—and most of the dialogue is natural. The problem is with the characters and the predictability of the plot. I could guess every step of the film based on the description on the back of the box, and the characters found on the cover art. Azari and Pym are the most lightly developed of the five major leads, but they remain the most interesting because the only characteristic built into the other three is excruciating angst.
Ultron’s robot city features an intriguing look that is pleasantly under explained, but the sort of non-sequitur design mostly just affords the writers a chance to slow the plot when it threatens to run its course in a time shorter then feature length. In fact, the editing is a big problem on all levels. The reaction and transition shots are almost always obviously elongated. Minus a couple of unnecessary plot sidetracks this really could’ve been a decent one hour short, but as is it feels like a struggle for an extra twenty minutes.
This is a generally very clean DVD transfer. The solid colour schemes, an improvement over the less consistent earlier Marvel Animated releases, are bright, and generally free of compression noise. Reds are particularly clean and solid, which is an impressive achievement for an animated feature on standard DVD. Hard edges feature thin, white edge enhancement, especial black outlines, but this is less obvious than other animated series and feature releases. Also on the plus side is a lack of interlacing, which is a much more obvious problem when plaguing animation. I imagine the Blu-ray release is flawless, but this DVD version is more than satisfactory considering the limits of the format.
Lionsgate really does go all out in the sound department with these small budget animated features. This disc features an aggressive, if not particularly loud Dolby Digital EX soundtrack. My personal favourite addition to the track is Ultron’s robot voice, which reverberates from the centre channel, through the stereo channels, and ends in the rear channels. The rest of the dialogue stays nicely centred, and is never drowned out by all the action and music. The rear channels feature many effective directional effects, but mostly deal in background noises, and spreading front channel effects, like Ultron’s voice or electronic pulses. The score is a little derivative, but it isn’t a direct rip-off like that of The Invincible Iron Man, and it does add to the production values effectively.
‘Legacy: The Making of Next Avengers’ is an eleven minute basic look at the designs, writing, and ideas behind the film. It’s very similar to the ‘First Look’ that accompanied the Doctor Strange disc, only with finished animation included. Overall it’s a decent look at the production without too much silly hype. ‘Kid Power: Next Gen Marvel’ is a nine and a half minute look at the more kid friendly titles available from Marvel Comics. Basically it’s an ad, but it’s nice to see that comic books are still created with young readers in mind, without aiming to talk down to them.
The rather brief extras finish out with brief ‘First Looks’ at Hulk vs. Wolverine and Hulk vs. Thor. Both films appear to be pretty thin on plot, but each uses unique and intriguing character designs, and what appears to be the most fluid action animation in the studio’s history.
Strike five for Marvel’s animation line, but a slight improvement over the last entry. It’s nice to see them trying new things, if only they’d put a little more thought into the writing. I’m sure most fans will dislike Next Avengers simply because it’s aimed at a younger audience, but being forced to avoid messy ‘adult’ themes may be a blessing in disguise. Despite everything, I still hold out hope for the next two films.
Review by Gabriel Powers
Some material may not be suitable for children
Release Date: 2nd September 2008
Disc Type: Single side, single layer
Audio: Dolby Digital EX English
Subtitles: English, Spanish
Extras: ‘Legacy: The Making of Next Avengers’, 'Kid Power', Hulk VS. Wolverine First Look, Hulk VS. Thor First Look, Trailers
Easter Egg: No
Director: Jay Oliva
Cast: Ken Kramer, Tom Kane, Nicole Oliver, Dempsey Pappion, Aidan Drummond
Length: 78 minutes
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