Friday, January 18, 2019

Over A Decade In The Making: The "Ultimate" Avengers

Having only recently seen Avengers: Infinity War,* it seems clear that Marvel's efforts to have their big-screen Avengers reflect the attributes and characteristics (and, in certain respects, the look) of the alternate universe Mark Millar/Bryan Hitch Avengers team, the Ultimates, has finally become a reality--though I really mean that in the broader sense that Marvel Entertainment has preferred to use the Ultimate universe as an informal template for the portrayal of its film characters, while for the most part avoiding the formality and PG methods of conduct that its heroes on Earth-616 made the standard in the 20th century. There are important differences, to be sure; the film version of Captain America, for instance, is more likely to tactfully deal with those he opposes or doesn't agree with than his gung-ho Ultimates counterpart, while the Wasp and Ant-Man on film don't carry the baggage that we've seen to shocking extent in The Ultimates. In addition, Iron Man on film doesn't need a support team to launch himself into action; and the film Hulk is less twisted than the freakish, homicidal maniac in the comic who gives new meaning to the word "rampage."

*Please, don't judge! Having a decent home theater setup, it's really not a difficult decision for me to put a new film release on the back burner and catch it when it becomes available for either streaming or disc viewing. Who's with me?

Of all the Ultimates, only Thor really resembles to a T the film character who has now shaken off the last vestiges of royal bearing and become the laid back, guy's-guy, imposing figure who can be both awe-inspiring in battle and someone who can kick back with everyone else in casual conversation.

And, of course, the crowning touch to his gradual Ultimates-based makeover has finally been added:

The new axe, though with a small tree limb for a handle. Honestly, I was certain that the improvised handle from Groot was a stopgap solution that would be replaced with something more sturdy at the earliest opportunity. How many tree limbs are going to stand up to the kind of battles that Thor engages in?

Thor is also one of the last people I expected to join in with the wisecracks and the barbs and the witty back-and-forth repartee that even Dr. Strange has begun to partake in. Thanos is on his way--but wait, let's forget about the impending seriousness of the situation for a moment and instead debate which ice cream flavors we prefer. Or how about: This Asgardian appears to be alive, but how did he survive the destruction here? By the way, Peter, you're putting on a little weight, maybe you should start working out. The more subtle humor of the Wakandans is far less distracting; when it comes to screenplays, a little really does go a long way.

There was about a six- to ten-year gap between the first appearance of the Ultimates and the first Avenger-based films (i.e., Iron Man → Thor → Captain America → The Avengers, with Incredible Hulk and Iron Man 2 mixed in)--but a number of similarities which carried over from The Ultimates to cinema nevertheless link both mediums together, though Marvel has made no secret of (and has had notable success in) cherry-picking those comics elements that would be a good fit for its film ventures, both in cinema and on the small screen. For instance, the Triskelion was probably a no-brainer to adapt to the screen, at least for as long as it lasted:

When it came to SHIELD's top spy, Nick Fury, it was clear that Marvel felt the Ultimates version of the character was the way to go. And even though The Ultimates had folded by the time the movies began being produced, the series apparently still made for good reference material when it came time to give some thought to actors:

Marvel also gradually moved away from boxing its film characters into a corner in terms of their backgrounds or even cast members. With the Asgardians annihilated**, it should be interesting to see what direction the Thor films will go in; and while the revolving door of Aunt Mays makes one wonder if Marvel is still undecided as to how old they think an aunt should be, they've at least found screen magic in keeping the character of Spider-Man in an age bracket that younger audiences can get behind, apparently having taken a leaf from the long-running Ultimate Spider-Man book.

**Though the door has obviously been left open for Loki's return--and frankly, I can't see the producers making the conscious choice to cut either the character or Tom Hiddleston, considering their popularity (assuming Hiddleston wants to continue in the role).

Scenes from The Ultimates also played a part in giving both Steve Rogers and Captain America memorable sound bites in the character's first two motion pictures:

Yet the Ultimates version of the domestic abuse situation between Hank Pym and Janet Van Dyne is hopefully a line Marvel won't cross--because frankly I can't see this exchange getting past the focus groups, much less arriving in move theaters to play out in front of families:

And it's even worse than we think, as publicist Betty Ross makes clear to a shell-shocked Steve Rogers and Tony Stark:

Not exactly material for a film under the Disney umbrella, is it?


Anonymous said...

You're ahead of me, CF - I haven't seen Avengers: Infinity War at all. The last superhero film I watched was Deadpool 2.

Big Murr said...

I know a large bucket of nothing about the "Ultimates" universe, other than the inferences I've made seeing images like this. Which inspires me not one bit to fill in my education.

I thought Thor's new weapon looked pretty much like an oversized version of Beta Ray Bill's Stormbringer and never gave the possibility of any other source material a second thought. (I'm going to rank Groot's wood body as probably the high end of "tree branches". Up with the ironwood trees of Earth.)(

The entire MCU is the creators involved taking whatever they like and leaving the rest. Luckily, they've been picking mostly the right stuff. Hardly perfect, but definitely scoring a solid passing grade.

One of their horrifc misfires is Thor: Ragnarok. If you thought the humour in Infinity War somewhat misplaced, you must have joined me in full body cringing at "Three Stooges and the Looney Tunes Ragnarok". The End of Asgard-from Mjolnir, to Odin, to the actual city-is pretty much lost behind rimshots, whackadoodle one-liners and zany antics.

The Infinity War humour worked okay for me. Pretty much the quips and smartassery came from characters with established mouths. Except for Thor. He doesn't have to be a stiff, but he shouldn't be a comedian. They veered close to too much, but kept it all down to acceptable levels for my money.

Comicsfan said...

Colin, I have yet to see the first one! (I have the feeling I'll survive until I get around to it.)

Murray, I was a little taken aback by Thor: Ragnarok for just the reason you mention. I hope it was worth it to the Asgardians to deploy all of their newfound wit during that crisis, considering their entire realm and its history bit the dust. I'll miss seeing that occasional reminder of Thor's background and heritage, since Asgard added a bit of grandness to the films and I enjoyed seeing many of the gods who were featured.

-3- said...

I didn't watch IW until the digital release, and that's my standard operating procedure these days.

The 'arm' of the hammer could be much stronger than it might first seem. The hammer itself was cast as two pieces and Groot's limb was already entwined around both halves as they were brought together to form a whole. If the enchantments on the hammer came together at that point as well, then the wood could well have far greater strength now than when it was attached and alive.

I don't think we have to worry about the abusive Hank/Jan relationship. They probably decided to focus on Scott Lang's tenure in the suit so they could easily sidestep the entire situation in the MCU.

Comicsfan said...

Excellent explanation on the hammer's not-so-fragile handle, -3-. If the no-prize were still in circulation, you'd snag one for sure!

Warren JB said...

Heck, CF. I only accidentally noticed that NowTV premiered Infinity War in the UK over Christmas. Otherwise I still might not have seen it yet.

I had the same kind of long wait for Ragnarok. Don't mind it as much, but then I admit I fast forward to the arena fight. So... it's watchable if you cut out the first half or so. ;)

About what they did or didn't bring over from the Ultimates to the MCU Avengers, I don't have too many strong feelings. Just a few:

The almost casual destruction of Mjolnir that necessitated the axe mildly irritated me.

Yeah, there was almost no way they could have brought Ultimates Steve Rogers to the screen, unless they were doing a straight-up adaptation of the ultimate universe. There's reimaginings, and then there's whackadoodle flip-flops.

That whole 'Hank Pym the domestic abuser' meme that the Ultimates doubled (tripled; quadrupled) down on needs to die. Pity the Ant-Man movie decided to hop directly to Scott Lang with Pym in the background, to sidestep it, but I can live with the sacrifice.

I'm still a bit dissatisfied with Sam Jackson as Nick Fury. He's alright in the role, I suppose, but he's too much of a meme himself. Too much a self-parody, especially since Snakes on a Plane. In that context, I think he's increasingly one of those actors who plays himself, rather than a character. (See also: Sean Connery; Martin Freeman)
Although, we'll see how he does in Glass. Shoot, if we're talking about films that we've delayed watching, I still need to see how he does in Unbreakable...

Comicsfan said...

I haven't dived into the Shyamalan trilogy yet, Warren, but I must admit I'm mildly intrigued by the concept of superheroes in therapy. (I don't suppose McAvoy plays Charles Xavier, but wouldn't that be delightful.)

-3- said...

Comicsfan - it's good to see someone remembering what No-Prizes were actually supposed to be: explanations for why it wasn't an error.
Devolution into error catching is what killed the No-Prize.

Warren JB said...

Not to drag the discussion off-topic, but Mr. Jackson's pretty good in Unbreakable! Slow film, but the performances make up for it. Even more so in Split (another film I only just got around to) where James MacAvoy is almost the only reason to watch it. Certainly the biggest. It makes me fairly excited to see Glass, at some point.

Is it ironic that that the only successful (in terms of satisfaction, at least) non-Marvel cinematic universe might be the... 'Shyamalanverse'? And is it a coincidence that it at least touches on the themes of superheroes and superpowers?

Unknown said...

This was exactly the point where i stopped reading Ultimates. I never got the point of this storyline. The original Hank hits Jan storyline was way over the top and it wasn't anywhere this graphic or violent. The aftermath has been to leave one of the founding Avengers sputtering and directionless for decades. I didn't care for Ragnarok, the tone shifts gave me whiplash. It strongly evoked the tone of the Ron Frenz cosmic Hercules stories, but not as focused( those would make a great Post for the Peerless Power...)

Comicsfan said...

Maybe one of these days, my friend--thanks for suggesting it!

HellRazor said...

It was actually the other way around with the "No Prize" - it started off being about finding errors, and then Marvel got tired of the nitpicking and changed it to "explaining why it is not an error". The "No Prize" evolved in a few other ways over time as well.

Shame they ditched it entirely. Its part of their history, and getting something from Marvel (even an empty envelope) was/is certainly a thrill for fans.