Ultimate Avengers 2: Rise of the Panther
When last we'd checked in with the AvengersMarvel's answer to DC's Justice League, this team features many of Marvel's biggest superheroes working together to protect the world and avenge its evils. it was to watch their, honestly, rather lackluster first animated outing, Ultimate Avengers. That film, based on the comic book series of the same, name, was beholden enough to the original story that when the next version of the story came out, The Avengers in the Marvel Cinematic UniverseWhen it first began in 2008 with a little film called Iron Man no one suspected the empire that would follow. Superhero movies in the past, especially those not featuring either Batman or Superman, were usually terrible. And yet, Iron Man would lead to a long series of successful films, launching the most successful cinema brand in history: the Marvel Cinematic Universe., it became the de facto version of the story. It's a better tale in every way while still using the basic bones of the comics for the broad outline of its plot. Thankfully, for this second movie, we have a story that hasn't been directly adapted into the MCU, meaning we can actually judge this movie on its own merits and not against some other movie that did it better.
Or, you'd think that would be the case except even here the MCU still has this animated adventure beat. Instead of giving us a new tale about the Avengers fighting some other threat (maybe Thanos or Galactus or Dr. Doom, any one of a number of mega-villains Marvel has in their stable), the villains from the first film are back, giving us a bit of a retread of story. The one new element introduced in the film is Black PantherCreated by Lee and Kirby, Black Pather first appeared in the pages of Fantasic Four before going on to feature in his own books. Among his long run in comics and many skills and abilities, he's credited as being the first comic character of African decent. and, even here, the MCU films treated this character so much better it's like night and day. So, once again, we're stuck with a movie that predated everything the MCU would accomplish, but due to constraints of money, film time, and medium, fails to compares to the second attempt at the material.
In the film the Chitauri are back and this time they've set their sights on Wakanda, home of the Black Panther. Their goal is to steal the vibranium that Wakanda has in great supply (since a meteor fell in the country centuries earlier, and has powered Wakanda's fortunes and industry ever since). The Chitauri need the vibranium for everything they do -- to build their ships, to powers their weapons -- and if they get their hands on that big a supply of the metal the entire world would be doomed; the Chitauri would be unstoppable at that point.
T'Challa, son of the king of Wakanda, T'Chaka, had just recently returned home after spending years in schooling out in the "white man's world". Although his advisors don't trust him, fearing he may be too much of an outsider at this point, T'Challa is forced to take over the title of King (and the mantle of the Black Panther, defender of Wakanda) when T'Chaka is killed by the Chitauri. Fearing that the aliens may be unstoppable, T'Challa goes to talk to the only person to ever fight them and win: Captain America. This leads the Avengers to join the fight, against Black Panther's wishes, putting the new king's hold of his territory in jeopardy. But Wakanda just might need the help of the Avengers if they're to fight of this outer-worldly threat once and for all.
My first and biggest issue with Ultimate Avengers 2: Rise of the Panther is that it doesn't do enough to tread new ground. It brings back the Chitauri as the villains for a second film in a row, and frankly they're just as boring here as they were the previous time around. Most of the aliens are just weird, hunched, tentacle critters devoid of personality, making them little more interesting than putties at Power Rangers. The one Chitauri that has a personality, Herr Kleiser, gets by on scenery chewing alone; he's not given an actual story, just a fetch quest to perform, diminishing how effective this one villain really can be.
But then the film doesn't really seem to know what to do with any of its characters. Most of the heroes have regressed back to where they were at the start of the previous film, going through the same issues they had there as if they hadn't grown and changed in the last movie. This makes it hard to care about Captain America's PTSD or Giant-Man's anger issues when they were both supposedly past it last time we saw them. That's still better than the treatment of other characters, as heroes like Black WidowNatalia Romanova was one one of the greatest and most effective Russian spies, a deadly killer who could blend in anywhere. Then she was turned and became one of SHIELD's most effective, and trusted, agents., Iron ManBillionare Tony Stark has a secret: while he travels the world by day as a playboy philanthropist and head of Stark Industries, he combats the evils of the world as the armored Iron Man., and Nick FuryIn Marvel's history there have been two characters to bear the name Nick Fury, father and son, both of whom fought for their coutry to protect the world. But it's the second, Nick Fury, Jr., who is famous as the head of SHIELD and backer of the Avengers. are just there to move the plot along and join in on fights; they movie completely forgets to give them real plots at all, so they're simply reactionary figures instead of real heroes.
Two characters do get to have their own stories but they're two characters with the least to do in the film. ThorBorn to one day by the king of Asgard, Thor is the god of thunder. His power is divine but can be tapped into by whoever wields his hammer, granting them the powers (and title) of Thor. is ordered to go home to Asgard by his father, Odin, but Thor refuses, eventually getting himself banished from his home. This is a big moment, and it clearly weighs on the character. Sadly, Thor is a side-character to most of the action so while it's nice to see some growth for him it doesn't have the impact on the story it should. The HulkOnce the brilliant Dr. Bruce Banner had dreams of making the world a better place by building super soldiers to act as a shield for all mankind. Then an accident at his lab bathed him in gamma radiation. Now he has a living nightmare, as a big green guy lives within, just waiting for the rage to take over so he can be free., too, gets a deeper story, but it's as Bruce Banner, trapped in a prison after Hulk went smashy-smashy last movie. Bruce gets to move the story forward, and he's a major catalyst for much of the plot, but he also spends three-quarters of the film out of the action so, again, his impact feels lessened than if they would have just let him be a full-fledged hero.
It's Black Panther, though, who suffers the worst but, in this case, it's not directly the fault of this movie. Much of the film is spent on T'Challa, his issues with his advisors, his reluctance to become Black Panther, his growth into becoming a leader. It's a great storyline, to be fair, and I appreciate the work the film does with him. Yes, it does render this movie into essentially, "Black Panther, with special guest the Avengers", but at least it's something. The problem is, though, that everything we see here about Wakanda feels so small, so... well, racist. It's a very African country, yes, but it's people, its territory, its technology, is all presented as if these people have remained tribesmen this whole time.
That's something the MCU Black Panther changed -- if these people have such a big resource of vibranium, enough to make them a technological superpower, they should be depicted as such. While the Wakandans in the MCU still hold to their African traditions, they also have a bustling metropolis, scientific advances that dwarf the rest of the world, and the money and power to do as they like. None of that is conveyed in Ultimate Avengers 2, much to the detriment of the character and this movie.
The movie could at least be a distraction, even with these issue, were it not for the plodding pace of the plot. The whole story essentially amounts to "Black Panther needs help fighting the Chitauri, and eventually he lets the Avengers fight by his side until all the aliens are gone". It's thirty minutes of story, maybe, but the film drags it out to a full ninety. Worse, most of the heavy plot beats are loaded at the front of the movie such that the back-half really drags. The film becomes a tedious slog right when all the heroes finally get to together, and while the movie climaxes with a big whiz-bang battle sequence, by then it's already too little, too late.
I feel like the producers really wanted to make a Black Panther film but, for whatever reason, didn't feel like he was a character that could support his own solo-adventure. So the Avengers were shoe-horned into the movie and, in the process, drag all the good bits down with this. This team is pretty awful, really, with characters that don't grow and, worse, none of the personality or charisma of their MCU versions. While I was kind and said that the original Ultimate Avengers could be viewed as a good movie if you'd never seen the MCU, I can't say the same for the sequel. It's a total mess and absolutely should be skipped by all but the most die-hard Marvel fans.