DVD Review: Marvel Complete Animation Collection / Director: Various / Screenplay: Various / Release Date: Out Now
A hefty collection of Marvel comics' recent animation movies, from Ultimate Avengers through to Planet Hulk, the Complete Animation Collection is a mixed bag at times - but thankfully that bag holds its share of (infinity) gems.
Unlike the DC animated movies, Marvel's cartoon features are less concerned with adapting specific story arcs and tend to be more a series of standalone or origin tales instead. More accessible to new fans than DC's Under The Red Hood or Batman/Superman: Public Enemies, they will serve as a nice stopgap in-between live action Marvel features or as further introduction to newer fans. They're also more child friendly than DC's oddly adult stories, making this one a collection for all ages – sometimes, in the case of Next Avengers, to its detriment. While Marvel are owning the multiplexes, it seems that DC have the straight to DVD animation market covered. On the basis of this collection, one could learn a lot from the other.
The Ultimate Avengers and Rise of the Black Panther whet the appetite for the Avengers movie. The first film is an adaptation of Mark Millar's Ultimates books, shorn of the more questionable material. The Hulk battle is relatively short, with the main threat being a Nazi alien menace. The sequel adds the Black Panther to the roster and has the Chitauri (sound familiar?) invading Wakanda. Both films are action packed and enjoyable but humourless; a trait which runs through the other seven films.
Bar poor Captain America, each of the Avengers gets his individual chance to shine, although it's only the Hulk who manages to do so with any success. The forgettable Thor – Tales of Asgard lacks the humour that made the live-action movie such a joy, and its adventures of a young Thor and Loki feel a little too much like Saturday morning TV. You certainly won't find Loki calling anyone a “mewling quim” here. The God of thunder and his sibling nemesis fare better in Hulk vs Thor, a surprisingly violent tale which does exactly what it says on the tin (Hulk vs Wolverine is more convoluted but funnier and even bloodier). The Hulk is practically omnipresent in this box set, with the grumpy green giant appearing in a total of five features (or six, if you count Hulk vs as two films). His head-pulverising fight with Wolverine is a box set highlight. He returns in Planet Hulk, ejected from the planet Earth and shot into space by Iron Man, Doctor Strange and (presumably, although his face is hidden in shadows and he never speaks) Mister Fantastic. It's Ben Hur with aliens and the Hulk. Ben Hulk, if you will. Hulk talk too much for our liking, although it's a lot of fun. Good as the Hulk animations are, once you've seen him beating up Thor for (semi) real on the big screen, it's hard to go back.
In the most disappointing tale, Tony Stark travels to China for The Invincible Iron Man. Here is a different Stark to the man we've become accustomed to seeing in Marvel movies – the voice acting is terrible, Stark too humourless and his beard distracting. It's actually another origin tale for Iron Man – and a completely different one to that as established in Jon Favreau's 2008 piece. It's essentially an alternate timeline in which Tony Stark doesn't have any personality and never bothers putting his suit on.
Weakest of the lot is Next Avengers, which mistakenly assumes that we should care about The Avengers' children and their antics. Like Tales Of Asgard, it belongs on children's TV. The story is boring, the characters annoying and you'll spend the whole film waiting for the real Avengers to show up to pull their brats in line.
Like an episode of House crossed with Batman Begins, Doctor Strange is a nice change of pace. The story doesn't feel particularly original, but it's still nice to see one of the more under-represented characters get his turn in the spotlight. It's the best film in the set and proves that a Doctor Strange movie could work, given the right treatment.
Each of the films has its own individual style, suited to the characters portrayed. Those starring Thor and Asgard tend to have a more ethereal feel, while the adult ones alternate between detailed (the Ultimate Avengers movies attempt to mimic Bryan Hitch's art) and stylised animé. While none of the animation is terrible, it is patchy in places and at its worst in The Invincible Iron Man.
£35 is a reasonable amount for an eight-film box set, but it still feels a little pricey considering how old some of the films are (Ultimate Avengers was first released in 2006). Die-hard fans will probably already own a few of them, and the less hardcore will be reluctant to spend so much on a collection of cartoons; especially given the more obscure characters and stories featured here. With each of the dodgier films standing out more than the last, that price tag begins to seem all the heftier. Five pounds should be knocked off the price tag for Next Avengers alone. Wait for the price to go down and then throw the Next Avengers and Invincible Iron Man DVDs away.
With the current batch of Marvel movies beginning to look increasingly definitive, it's hard to see why one should bother with the majority of this substandard set. Would that Marvel imbued it with the same care they have their live-action releases, this would truly be a collection worth owning.