I was an avid comic book reader in my youth, so I’ve been following Marvel’s attempts to translate their comic books into movies and cartoons, both recently and in the distant past, with interest. For many years, even if you discount the inadequacies of pre-CGI effects for rendering super-powers, the major short-coming of Marvel’s productions was the dumbing down of key concepts, characters and plot points, as if to say, “No one but a 12-year-old would have the patience to waddle through something this involved. Make it campy and light-hearted.” Well, Marvel comic books were never light-hearted.
With the latest slew of Hollywood adaptations, most would agree that “light-hearted” problem has been overcome, at least to a great degree, and while you would have to live in a cave to be unfamiliar with productions like X-Men and Iron Man, you might be unaware of a trickling stream of direct-to-video animated features released by Lionsgate over the past couple of years.
The Ultimate Avengers and Ultimate Avengers 2 DVDs were, in my opinion, essentially unwatchable. I could appreciate that they were trying to translate convoluted story lines to video, but it didn’t really work. They bogged down hopelessly. Even worse is the inclusion of a giant guy and a little pixie-bug woman, neither of which has anything to do with the Avengers of my childhood. Maybe the characters were introduced later on, but for me it tipped way too far into the corny zone.
Likewise, the Iron Man DVD is so long and involved that I don’t think there are many people on the planet who could watch the whole thing without spacing out a good deal of it. They threw in some mature touches (like Tony Stark in a hot tub with a floozy) to remind you that it’s not a kiddy cartoon, but the endless final battle scene is a deadly excercise in tedium.
Dr Strange presented a vast improvement. Even though it was (again!) an origin story, it was suspenseful and well paced, somewhat correcting the significant shortcomings of previous Lionsgate releases.
After that came the Next Avengers. It’s a little kid superhero story set in a post-apocolyptic world. It doesn’t work on any level.
Still, I didn’t give up on these Lionsgate Marvel cartoons. There was something about them that was so almost right.
(DC comics actually has a better track record when it comes to “mature” superhero cartoons. Superman: Doomsday is great. Justice League: New Frontier is even better. Still, I was always a Marvel kid.)
And now they’ve almost got it right. The double-disk set of Hulk vs. Wolverine and Hulk vs. Thor is terrific. Each story is intricate, action-packed and meaner than mean. There are arms being ripped off. There’s stabbing. There’s more stabbing. Most of all, there’s excellent animation that takes you on a couple of faithful half-hour rides through the Marvel universe.