Hello, my friends! 2016 has reached its end, but there’s still time for one last topic for me to bring up. As such, welcome to a special conclusion edition of…
From February 21, 2006 to May 17, 2011, Marvel released eight straight-to-video films in partnership with Lions Gate Entertainment. While picking up a few accolades during the first half of its run (“Ultimate Avengers” with a Cinema Audio Society Award for Outstanding Achievement in Sound Mixing for DVD Original Programming & “Doctor Strange: The Sorcerer Supreme” with a Golden Trailer award for, of all things, Best Anime Trailer), the series came out when superhero movies became popular again and had become a viable entertainment asset. Before the Marvel Cinematic Universe brought several of the featured heroes to the big screen, this was a viable way to get introduced to some relatively-unknown figures (like Iron Man, Doctor Strange & Thor). Now that I’ve gone through all eight films within the span of 1 1/2 years, it’s time to decide which entries left the biggest impact on me. Which films had the right combination of story, characters and memorable moments in order to help me appreciate what they had to offer? If you have your own favorite M.A.F. list, leave it in the comments section and join the debate. With that said, it’s time for me to count down my Top 5 favorite Marvel Animated Features!
5. Hulk Vs.
Kicking off my list is a film that serves as its own double-feature, as Bruce Banner’s alter-ego is the main desire from two different villains in order to accomplish their respective goals. In “Hulk vs. Thor”, Loki has Enchantress magically separate Bruce Banner from the Hulk in order to catch his half-brother off-guard and finally defeat him. In “Hulk vs. Wolverine”, Logan is ordered by Department H to stop the Hulk following the destruction of a Canadian town. However, a mysterious figure from his past has his mutant team capture them as they’re ultimately forced to fight their way out. For both films, there’s just enough of a plot in order to keep things engaging as the slug-fests serve as the main focus. Thor’s tale sees him trying to merge Bruce Banner back with the Hulk before its rampage reaches Odin, whose in his Odinsleep. It’s a ticking time-bomb plot that’s handled fairly well, but it’s defused when Loki convinces Hela to bring the Hulk to her realm in order to have both it and Bruce as a whole. It’s nice, but it’s somewhat convenient that this moment happens just as the Hulk reaches Odin. In the end, Loki is forced to pay for his actions as Hela imprisons him in her realm. Not much of a major status quo or an arc is formed or concluded in the end, but Bruce goes on the run (supposedly into our next film) while the Asgardians appreciate him a little bit more. As for Wolverine’s story, his pursuit unintentionally forces him to confront a piece of his Weapon X past. Professor Thornton has his mutant team capture our two heroes so that A.) The Hulk’s power can be used towards the Weapon X program & B.) So that Logan can be re-inserted into the program while under his control. During the escape, Wolverine (and eventually the Hulk) must fight Thorton’s team: consisting of Sabretooth, Lady Deathstrike, Omega Red & (the standout of the group) Deadpool. On a side note: Nolan North is hilarious with his role. No wonder why the voice of Uncharted’s Nathan Drake would go on to voice the character in various media (mostly video games). Either way, our heroes escape before ending the film by fighting each other again. Less we forget about the awesome talent of Steven Blum voicing ol’ James Howlett. His gruffness and swagger makes his character enjoyable to see in action and enjoy his line delivery. Overall, while light on story, the spectacle of this interesting two-in-one film is compelling enough with its pacing, its likable characters and its fluent fights which makes it entertaining enough to grab a spot onto this list.
4. Doctor Strange: The Sorcerer Supreme
Nine years prior to making his Marvel Cinematic Universe debut, our favorite charmer graced the animated small screen with this outing. The film follows a surgeon named Dr. Stephen Strange who refuses to tend to a child due to the lingering guilt of not being able to save his sister from a brain illness. After a car accident cripples his hands and prematurely ends his surgical career, he finds a higher purpose when he travels to Tibet and is mentored by a mystical figure named the Ancient One and his assistant Wong. Eventually, he discovers a connection with the hospitalized child as an age-old being named Dormammu is looking to escape from its mystical imprisonment and unleash its wrath upon the world. If there’s anything that this film accomplishes, it introduces us to Doctor Strange, the Sanctum Sanctorum, the Eye of Agamotto and some notable characters that the live-action film would use. The Marvel Cinematic Universe version would take those elements and bring them to a much-more confident plane with its introduction, but this animated film helps in giving a general audience a basic taste. In terms of his character arc, Stephen doesn’t act like a complete jerk in the beginning. Sure, he starts off as apathetic towards certain patients, but it feels like he begins there so that we have just enough sympathy for him in order to see him overcome his own personal “wall”. He starts off in his own mildly self-serving world before his experiences throughout the film helps him become more of a caring person, especially in the eyes of Dr. Gina Atwater who comes to appreciate his growth. During his time in Tibet, Stephen learns to let go of his tragic past and learns of a new & magically higher purpose as he joins the fight against Dormammu whose escape plan ties back to the hospitalized child that Strange initially dismissed. Due to a child’s imagination, the otherworldly being sends a large amount of them into comas in order to make its escape possible. Dormammu’s breakout is able to happen due to the deception from Mordo, who treated the fight against the evil being like a war. Thus, he’s denied the chance to inherit the title of Sorcerer Supreme from the Ancient One since he craves the massive potential that comes with it. As such, he turns on his mages and sides with Dormammu in order to earn that power. There’s plenty of spells used by our main characters and by the Ancient One’s fellow mages, which are varied enough to show versatility, but there’s some sword combat involved. This is mainly with Wong and Mordo, even the Ancient One spins his staff in order to fend off the Wing Marks before conjuring one final spell to eradicate them. If there were some magical enhancements to those weapons that suited them in certain ways, that would be fine. However, they’re somewhat out-of-place in what’s supposed to be a story filled with magic and supernatural elements. Even though it’s an overall basic film, it’s still entertaining enough to be enjoyed and I highly recommend watching this before checking out the Sorcerer Supreme’s MCU debut, since it educated me on a lot of the main characters and concepts. Either way, this was a solid enough entry for this list.
3. Thor: Tales Of Asgard
For the series’ final entry, it goes out by weaving an adventure of a certain Asgardian years before he became the familiar Thunder God that we know and love. After finding that his boastful pride made him lax in his training and that showings against the famed warrior group called the Einherjar were secretly faked since they’re purposely letting him win in order to prove to the public that their prince is strong, Thor enlists his brother Loki on a venture in order to prove his manhood by finding a fabled blade called the Sword of Surtur. After secretly stowing away on a boat helmed by the Warriors Three, Thor and Loki ultimately enlist them on their artifact quest. However, the journey sees them traveling into a hostile enemy realm and risks them unintentionally igniting a war. With our main characters, it handles their development into the famous figures that they’ll ultimately become. Thor has been sheltered for his whole life and sees Elderstahl (the sword’s other name) as his best opportunity to prove his manhood. After he and his group were spotted by the Frost Giants, this ignites a war between Asgard and Jötunheim. From there, he sees the destructive power that the blade causes and realizes that he must clean up his own mess, no matter what the cost may be. With Loki, he’s a reliable sibling whose wisdom and developing magic helps his brother out at key points of their quest. Ultimately though, the seeds to his gradual duplicity towards becoming a villain are planted about halfway through the journey. It starts with him gradually sympathizing with Thor when he accidentally incinerates a pair of gigantic sentries before someone inside their own family betrays them. After tearfully roasting the traitor to oblivion, his descent towards becoming Thor’s eternal enemy would officially begin. Also, it will take him several years to find out that he’s actually from the opposing realm of Jötunheim. Fortunately, there are plenty of clues and hints that point towards the revelation that he’ll discover later on. While the Warriors Three are entertaining, they mainly serve as our comic relief. Fortunately, they feel wholesome due to their camaraderie and trustworthy unionship as friends. Lady Sif also has a character arc of sorts where unlike Thor, she’s been given the opportunity to prove her combat skills as she’s been secretly enlisted into the Valkyries. However, this is in a time before their leader Brunhilde became an Asgardian ally since she enstills a hatred towards men onto her women warriors. Due to the trouble that comes their way, Sif helps Thor escape and is dismissed from the Valkyries for her kind actions. In the end, she gets to join the Einherjar and help it rebuild itself due to the events of the film. Despite his limited number of scenes, Odin also has a character arc where he learns to trust his sons with their actions. In the middle of all of this, we have the traitorous house elf Algrim. Starting off as a loyal servant to Odin and his sons, his own gradual duplicity takes shape as we continue to learn about his tragic backstory. Because the Frost Giants killed his own people, he takes the Sword of Surtur and uses it against Odin since he refused to help Algrim strike back against Jötunheim due to the pointless losses of life that it would lead to. After crossing his own point of no return, he fights Thor before Loki sends him to an infernal death. Unlike the previous two entries, the story is very engaging and well-built. It paces itself at a smooth clip and has some exciting moments to compliment it, whether through fight scenes or character development. The animation is also some of the best that this series has to offer, since there’s hardly anything that I would consider out-of-place. It also has a nice ranging color palette, effortlessly setting the right mood and tone for its settings and scenes. Overall, this is a worthy addition to Thor’s mythos and was a well-made note for the series to go out on.
2. Ultimate Avengers 2: Rise Of The Panther
Nearing the top of my list is a sophomore outing that served as the lone sequel of the entire series. After Earth’s Mightiest Heroes defeated an alien race called the Chitauri and brought their initial invasion to an end, those foreign visitors attempt to invade a secluded African city called Wakanda under the leadership of Herr Kleiser, a fellow Chitauri alien/former Nazi who was originally defeated in World War II by Captain America. Now, Cap and company must team up with Wakanda’s newest king T’Challa who takes up the mantle of Black Panther as they set out to bring a permanent end to the alien menace once and for all. Serving as the sequel to “Ultimate Avengers”, this film takes everything that was set up the first time around and ramps it up to a more thrilling display. While the first film saw Captain America acclimating himself to a role in modern-day leadership, he now finds himself dealing with his past. His struggle against Herr Kleiser sees him trying to finally put his prior history behind him and move on with his life. Black Widow mainly helps him out with that, since she voices her concern for him in the beginning and is given Field Leader status in order to keep Cap’s head in the game. In the end, this headstrong and tough lady helps Steve completely move on with the two of them committing to a relationship with each other. Just like the first film, Giant Man is cocky and arrogant while Wasp, his wife, does her best to keep his ego in check. After Cap disobeys Black Widow and returns to Wakanda in order to stop a Chitauri alien from advancing towards the hidden city, Hank puts his foot in his mouth by telling his teammates to leave Steve behind. This serves as the final straw for Janet as she tells him that she’s no longer sticking up for him due to his self-centered nature. After she’s sent into a coma due to a Chitauri alien’s sneak attack alongside a disguised Herr Kleiser (unintentionally due to Cap), Giant Man vows to set things right to her. As he fights the Chitauri alongside the Avengers and Black Panther in Wakanda, Wasp regains consciousness and joins Betty Ross with a device that will help out their cause. He teams up with Iron Man (who’s using his War Machine armor) and shrinks down in order to ride along towards the mothership. From there, he sacrifices himself so that Tony can overload the spacecraft’s core. Due to the extensive damage from the attack, Hank ultimately succumbs to his injuries and dies by his wife’s side. In the end, he overcomes his selfish and self-serving nature by proving his worth towards Janet and his teammates, even if that means losing his life. Finally, there’s the Hulk. Due to his self-destructive actions in the last film, Bruce Banner is imprisoned throughout the majority of the film and is constantly pestered by a bitter workmate named Dr. Oiler. By looking over the footage from the first film’s climax, he discovers that Gamma Radiation is what weakens the Chitauri’s vibranium armor. This leads to Betty acquiring his Gamma Generator for this film’s climatic battle. In the end, he escapes by transforming into the Hulk and fending off the few Chitauri aliens that were attacking Avengers HQ during the worldwide invasion and is ultimately forced to go on the run due to his past actions. In terms of Iron Man, Nick Fury and Thor (whom gets a bit more to do this time around), there’s not much to say about these men since they’re settled in their own roles. Last up, let’s look at our main character: T’Challa. Just like Cap, Herr Kleiser has caused some grief for him since he killed his father. Not only that, but Kleiser is also responsible for his kingdom’s law of forbidding all outsiders. Throughout the film, T’Challa requires help from the Avengers as he overcomes his nation’s long-standing mandate and finally earns complete respect from the entirety of his people. The action is thrilling, the comedy get a fair amount of chuckles, the character development is mostly well-handled and the story feels more engaging this time around. Overall, this film made everything that worked the first time around and transformed it into a much more confident movie that delivers a satisfying tale.
1. Planet Hulk
Capping off the list, we have the series’ penultimate film that was absolutely fun to both watch and do research on. After being cast out into space by his fellow heroes, the Hulk lands on a planet called Sakaar where he ends up imprisoned. He must team up with a group of other enslaved beings in order to survive a series of gladiatorial matches before eventually working towards taking down the royal tyrant known as the Red King. Adapted from the 2006 Greg Pak-penned storyline of the same name, this sees the Hulk placed in an unfamiliar situation. His earthbound heroes (the Illuminati to be exact) have exiled him due to his destructive might and upon arriving at Sakaar, he’s weakened enough in order to be made a slave (due to the energy-draining properties of a wormhole that he went through) for entertaining combat. He must work with individuals who aren’t distrusting of him in the slightest and in the end, he’s earned his place in a society where he’s celebrated rather than hunted down. Seeing this story unfold is a breath of fresh air for those who casually know about the Hulk, since a lot of his Earth-related tales either see him being hunted by Gen. Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross and his army or someone trying to use his power for their own self-serving means. With this story, you’re uncertain where it’s going to go. Plus, his fellow Warbound Gladiators have enough character depth, development and personality to work off each other and come alive. Also, there’s the Hulk’s deciding X-Fator in Caiera. She starts off as the Red King’s personal bodyguard after she was saved by him and his Death’s Head guards from the Spike invasion. However, she eventually turns on him when she learns that he was the one who wiped out her people with the Spikes to begin with in order to acquire her since she possesses the “Oldstrong” ability, allowing her to survive most harmful attacks. After the Red King’s defeat, she joins the Hulk as the two of them become Sakaar’s new king and queen, giving him a relationship that he’s been denied of while on Earth. Speaking of which, the ending we get here (in my opinion) is much more preferable than what came in the source material. Originally, the spaceship that brought the Hulk to Sakaar gets a compromised warp core as it explodes, kills Caiera and ruptures the planet. In that ending, our Jolly Green Giant gathers his Warbound and begins his trek to Earth in order to kick off a storyline called “World War Hulk”. I like the film’s self-contained ending since the Hulk has been through so much turmoil, violence and destruction in his life. He’s the kind of hero that deserves a happy ending of some kind. Finally, the Red King is a fairly-interesting villain. He garners the respect of his people and is mainly cool & calm about his total control. In the end, the Spikes that he used to lord his power end up serving as his ultimate downfall. Finally, I read the entire source material (Prelude and all) in order to get a good feel for my review. Learning about the differences including the overall plot, omitted characters and changed moments was an enjoyable time while typing up my thoughts on the piece. In the end, Planet Hulk came together as an exciting tale with likable characters, fluent animation, solid actions scenes and a satisfying conclusion. Its various elements converged at just the right time and became the cohesive whole that helped me claim this title as my favorite entry in the entire series.
In conclusion, the Marvel Animated Features was an entertaining series to get through. The partnership with Lions Gate Entertainment proved how powerful Marvel’s various properties can be on the animated front. Since its conclusion, several TV shows popped up to entertain the animated crowd: “The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes”, “Avengers Assemble”, “Hulk & The Agents Of S.M.A.S.H.”, “Ultimate Spider-Man” and even an animated “Guardians Of The Galaxy” series. In the end, this film series was absolutely worth the time and effort to make. It can be a nice introduction to the young adult audience since it also brings some key concepts about their mythos and shows off their talents to the audience. It may have only lasted for slightly more than five years, but it is quite a marvelous ride.
All fictional characters mentioned are owned by Marvel Comics.