19 May 2011

Thor Ends the Marvel DtV Line with a Whimper

So this is how it ends for Marvel's "edgy" direct to video line of movie aimed for mature audiences, not with a bang but a whimper. Sure, I expect more Marvel animated movies to come some day, but for now the future is uncertain and with the acquisition of Marvel by Disney, this line is dead. But does anyone care? After a year plus delay, Thor: Tales of Asgard finally hit shelves to cash in on the release of the live-action Thor and I have to wonder how much of a boost the delay will even give the movie.

For a quick recap of history, Ultimate Avengers debuted back in 2006 to pretty big sales offering ratcheted up violence and action and a PG-13 rating aimed at hip teen and less hip 20 and 30 something (but possibly still living at home) audiences. Ultimate Avengers 2 and The Invincible Iron Man also performed well in spite of mediocre stories and sub par animation. Then Marvel started making crazy choices. Just when DC jumped into the game with what ended up being a superior product, Marvel decided to focus on the lesser known Doctor Strange. That was followed up with Next Avengers a PG rated movie focusing on the teen kids of the Avengers. The movie was actually okay, but it seemed clear the line had strayed from its initial promise. To their credit Marvel's next two Hulk vs and Planet Hulk were both excellent, delivering action and intensity that couldn't simply be adapted for Saturday morning cartoons. Lastly, Marvel offered up Thor: Tales of Asgard and I am left scratching my head.

I will go into detail below, but aside from the two Hulk movies, these Marvel DtVs all had a sort of TV pilot feel to them. Not that the movies were bad, just that at the end I always felt like "now that that's out of the way lets see what happens next," only there is no next. These movie have been too much setup and not enough story. Sure DC has had some origin stories but they have balanced them with epic stories at the heroes prime. The Thor movie predates an origin making it even less satisfying. Whatever. At least the Hulk movies saved this line from total mediocrity and if nothing else, Marvel drew DC into the market, so thanks for that. Here is the final ranking of the line.

#8 Doctor Strange: The Sorcerer Supreme may or may not be a faithful telling of a character that I just don't find that interesting or likable. This is a perfect example of a story that felt half told because by the time the character was introduced, organized, and ready to roll, the running time was up. I am confident a Doctor Strange 2 would have been better, but of course there will be no sequel.

#7 The Invincible Iron Man was another decent origin story that begins to feel pointless without any further stories to build upon it. The phenomenal live-action Iron Man movie released after this makes The Invincible Iron Man even more irrelevant and the flaws more evident. Oh, and the CG baddies look horrendous.

#6 Ultimate Avengers 2: The Rise of the Panther was a step down from the first Ultimate Avengers. I did like the Black Panther, but his role on the team didn't seem to justify an entire movie. My memory may also just be failing me, but this movie didn't really seem to have much point other than "stop alien invaders."

#5 Thor: Tales of Asgard doth dishonor its hero. As if they didn't learn from the teen Avengers debacle, once again we are treated with a teen hero in Thor. The movie didn't even bother for a rating which makes me think it would have ended up in the PG category as well. I just don't understand. Thor was in six of the eight Marvel movies, but he never really got his own spotlight. That is a travesty. I know this is technically a Thor movie, and there were some nice references to the rich mythology of Asgard and the Nine Realms, but one crucial element was missing. It may not seem like a big deal, but if I were to ask 10 people to name the first thing they thought of with regards to Thor, I am pretty sure 9 if not 10 of them would say something about a hammer. Well aside from a 2 second gag with a wooden mallet, there was no Mjolnir here. So basically this movie may be a good intro to Thor's world for those that know nothing of him, but its a ripoff for those who do. And its blatant contradictions from the other Thor film will do nothing but confuse new fans of the character won over by the live-action movie. Sadly, the best animated Thor movie to be found is titled Hulk Vs.

#4 Next Avengers: Heroes of Tomorrow
is a movie that sounded like a disaster, but wasn't. The story was pretty enjoyable and the Hulk's role was perhaps the movies highlight. My main problems with the movie are that the limited running time prevents the viewer from really caring about this new roster of characters. Also, the movie was annoying in that the whole point of these DtVs was to make animation more geared for teens and adults. Why then produce an (albeit good) adventure aimed at kids?

#3 Ultimate Avengers deserves credit for launching not only this line of Marvel DtVs but DCs line as well as movies for other characters like Hellboy. I really like the WWII sequence as well as the Hulk fight at the end. The middle is a bit uneven, but for the size of the cast, everyone was given a couple of memorable scenes.

#2 Planet Hulk surprised me. No I have not read the original story, but the whole idea sounded a bit hokey to me. I am still not sure I like the idea of perma-Hulk versus transforming Hulk and the movie did seem quite reminiscent of the movie Gladiator. Nevertheless, when all was said and done the talking/thinking Hulk stuff didn't bother me at all.. Besides, if they were going to do another Hulk movie, I suppose this approach was better than another monster that must be stopped story. The arena fights, especially the one with Beta Ray Bill (if they could use Wolverine in Hulk Vs, why couldn't they use Silver Surfer here?) were enjoyable, and all of the flashbacks were entertaining. In the end this movie stands on its own, the most complete movie in this whole line.

#1 Hulk Vs. not only delivered two stories for the price of one, but both were interesting, different enough from one another, and briskly paced. I probably preferred the Wolverine story to Thor, but both were enjoyable. This simple idea begs for a follow-up with a Hulk Vs 2 or even a line of Marvel Vs movies. Even though this isn't really a movie as much as two long episodes, it is proof that longer running time isn't always better.

There you have it. To recap:

#1 Hulk Vs. (Wolverine and Thor)
#2 Planet Hulk
#3 Ultimate Avengers
#4 Next Avengers
#5 Thor: Tales of Asgard
#6 Ultimate Avengers 2: Rise of the Panther
#7 The Invincible Iron Man
#8 Dr. Strange: The Sorcerer Supreme


  1. From what I remember reading, Surfer couldn't be used because, while Marvel has the TV rights to his character, Fox owns the movie and DTV rights.

    I believe Daredevil and the Fantastic Four are in a similar position.

  2. I liked all their movies so far.

    However, it really ticks me off not being able to see lesser known characters like Wasp and Ant-Man because Marvel went and sold the character rights to someone else.

    Get it? The creators want to make a DTV about Wasp and Ant-Man but can't . . . Why? Cuz they ain't got the rights for these characters. Now they have to jump through numerous hoops in order to get their DTV made.