Captain America In Animation - A Retrospective

Part One - Part Two - Part Three - Part Four

Marvel hasn’t had much of TV presence since X-Men: Evolution and Spider-Man: The New Animated Series ended in 2003. Both were marred with network interference that worked against the characters and stories they were trying to tell and presumably, they just got sick of it and decided to concentrate on movies instead. Fortunately, they weren’t done with animation as they announced they were teaming with Lions Gates for 8 direct to DVD features and announced that the first two would be based on the red hot The Ultimates comic book series.

This divided a lot of fans, as they felt The Ultimates were nothing more than a twisted, moral less take on The Avengers. I couldn’t disagree more. Millar and Hitch brought a great, cinematic take to The Ultimates which simply stood out in a league of it’s own at a time when The Avengers were simply a rather dull team of superheroes. The story was practically made for translation to another medium and animation seemed like the wisest choice, an Ultimates movie would be very, very pricey.

With the exception of producer Boyd Kirkland who left the project early on in production, the majority of the X-Men: Evolution crew was back to work on the first DTDVD, with Greg Johnson penning the screenplay from a story by him, Boyd and Craig Kyle, with veterans Curt Geda and Steve Gordon sharing directing duties and Gordon once again designing the characters.

The story would follow The Ultimates arc “Superhuman” closely and revolves around Captain America being thawed out ice and reawakening in the modern day to lead a team of heroes against an alien invasion. Captain America is finally given the chance to shine in the lead role, at long last! This is easily the best version of Captain America we’ve ever had animated. The design is all sorts of awesome – taking it’s inspiration from both of Hitch’s designs for Ultimate Captain America, it’s sleek, it’s bad ass, it animates superbly and it doesn’t even have those silly wings. A head is looking sharp here folks!

Justin Gross was cast as Cap, and does a fine job. He still doesn’t quite have that voice that commands Gods but he’s the best they’ve done so far. As I mentioned earlier, Captain America is very hard to cast, but Gross is the closest they’ve come so far.

The film starts in 1945 as Hitler is pronounced dead and Cap and his crew head into Germany in order to stop a nuclear device being detonated by Herr Kleiser, who is actually the leader of the alien race The Chitauri who were in allegiance with the Nazi’s. Cap hops aboard the missile and manages to disarm it but falls into the Atlantic Ocean in the process. Something in the super solider formula manages to keep him alive until General Fury and Betty Ross manage to find him and thaw him out in the modern day.

He is then chosen to be the leader of “Project Avenger” and lead a team of modern heroes to fight The Chitauri whiles Bruce Banner uses his blood sample to create a whole new range of super soldiers to work for S.H.I.E.L.D. He is reunited with his best friend, the aged Bucky and the love of life Gail, who is now old enough to be a Grandmother and married to Bucky. He soon realises that he has nothing else to live for, except his country and accepts Fury’s offer to lead The Avengers. I don’t understand why they were called The Avengers in the movie or the original comics for that matter… what are they avenging?

The team is eventually recruited and friction is immediately noticeable. I really liked how they managed to make a horrendously dull character like Giant Man/Ant-Man/Yellowjacket such an interesting character just by making him an asshole. It added so much chemistry to the team you wish that one of the members of The Justice League could’ve been a bit more of a jerk in the first two seasons. Their first mission is a dismal failure as they all differentiate from the plan for different reasons but it’s clear from the off set – none of them are team players. They are all quick to blame each other for the failure and the team disbands almost as quickly as it gathered.

The Chitauri later return to attack S.H.I.E.L.D. headquarters so the team reunites (literally, half of them just show up) but it’s Bruce Banner who stops them, as he is now in control of The Hulk. He later loses it and The Avengers have to stop Two Hands before he levels their base. The Hulk fight is the unprecedented highlight of the film, and probably the best Marvel has ever animated. It was such a refreshing change seeing Hulk actually beating the crap out of everyone – some of the shots are almost cringe inducing, especially the ones of Cap bouncing down the side of the building after Hulk launches him 30 feet into the air. After years of ridiculous censorship, I admit to getting a small thrill just out of seeing Cap punch Hulk right in the face!

Overall, the film is an entertaining one, and gives us a very good look at Captain America’s origin. There are problems sure – the length is a little too on the short side, a lot of the characters get a little short changed (is there even any need for Wasp to be there?) and the villains were a little too generic for my liking, but a very good effort nonetheless. However, as good as this version of Captain America is, he’s not the film’s best character. It can’t be denied – Iron Man simply steals every single scene he is. I’ve done an Iron Man retrospective previously, head over there to here me gush on and on about how awesome this version of Shell Head is.

Back to Captain America, I’m one of the few people who actually enjoyed The Ultimate Avengers II: Rise Of The Panther more. Cap is once again the leading man, but he is forced to share the spotlight with The Black Panther. The story pretty much continues from Ultimate Avengers, only Cap realises that he has nothing left to live for in the present day and is practically on a suicide mission.

He later learns that Herr Kleiser is back and The Chitauri are planning another invasion. I thought this was the most disappointing aspect of the sequel – the same villains? And Herr Kleiser was a disappointment in himself – couldn’t we have had The Red Skull, or at least some cool Avengers villains? It all seems a bit redundant looking back – there was no need to use the same villains twice… add that to the fact they weren’t all that good to begin with (an unfortunate recurring theme in Marvel DTVs) and one can’t help but feel disappointed.

Cap goes onto to become obsessed with killing Klesier despite the fact he knows it can’t be done, he’s even replaced by The Black Widow as the team’s leader as Fury feels Cap’s obsessions with revenge is clouding his judgement. The majority of Cap’s focus in the film is him teaming up with The Black Panther in order to stop the invasion. He does get a cool scene with Iron Man in which he reveals he didn’t think he would survive his trip on the nuclear device back in 1945 and Iron Man can’t fathom why he does what he does, as shell head himself is just in it for the glory.

Despite my dislike for the villains, I actually think Ultimate Avengers II is better than the original and The Invincible Iron Man. I think all three movies have problems, but UAII is the best of the bunch in my opinion, but that’s probably just because I like sequels more than origin stories.

Cap finally manages to get his happy ending after the pounding he took in UA: The Movie and gets the girl when he and Black Widow get together. This wasn’t especially a bad romance, but it wasn’t really that memorable – I think it was solely here to give Cap a happy ending.

Cap hasn’t been seen on the small or big screen since. His recent death in the comics has produced some very good storylines (especially Fallen Son, which is the highlight of the entire Civil War storyline) and his debut on the big screen as Marvel’s next big franchise looks to be shaping up for a Summer 2009 release, with an Avengers movie presumably featuring Cap also on the horizon. As Marvel own the Wing head’s animation and movie rights themselves, he’s probably able to appear in Fantastic Four: World’s Greatest Heroes should they wish to use him, just as Hulk and Iron Man have (and will, rather). The same might be possible for The Spectacular Spider-Man but for the near future, it is looking like Cap is back to being a guest star. Let’s hope his movie does well so we finally get Cap in his own cartoon!