Ultimate Avengers 2: Rise of the Panther
While watching Ultimate Avengers 2: Rise of the Panther, I think I discovered another uncanny valley: the closer animated adaptations of Marvel comics get to their DC counterparts, the more we notice what's lacking.
That's not to say that Ultimate Avengers 2—which, like its direct-to-video predecessor Ultimate Avengers is based on the Ultimate line of Marvel comics, in which familiar characters are reimagined—is bad. In fact, it's quite watchable. The movie has the Avengers, a loose coalition of superheroes led by Captain America under the aegis of SHIELD (Strategic Hazard Intervention, Espionage and Logistics Directorate, essentially every government law-enforcement and military agency ever, rolled into one), banding together again to thwart a second attempt at an alien invasion. This time, the invaders' focus is on Wakanda, a mysterious African nation that no outsider has ever seen. Wakanda is ruled by T'Challa (aka the Black Panther), an uncertain king who has just ascended the throne and, in the midst of this crisis, finds himself at odds with Wakanda's traditional isolationism.
The DC adaptations have managed to stay on top all these years because, from the get-go, they concentrated on four things: story, design, animation, and soundtrack. The majority of the series episodes and movies managed to get four out of four, and most of the rest at least got three out of four. However, DC has the advantage of being a corporate sibling to the Warner Bros. television animation division. Marvel doesn't have Warner's deep pockets when it comes to animation production, nor do they have the unity; they've typically partnered with different studios for different animation projects. So until they get the production aspects up to speed, everything is going to have to hinge on the storytelling.
Ultimate Avengers 2's script is pretty good, as it weaves in character interplay throughout. Hank Pym (Giant Man) is a brilliant scientist, but his ego constantly pits him against Captain America and his wife Janet. (A nice touch: Pym's remarks never fall on Cap's ears, because he's too busy worrying about what's important.) When it's suggested at one point that he shrink down to ant size—the way his powers initially worked, and the way Janet's do currently—he angrily dismisses the idea, and it's clear through his tone of voice that becoming smaller doesn't sit with his personality. (Also unsaid is that he doesn't have a problem with Janet shrinking, which says something about how he perceives the power dynamic in their relationship.) Captain America, still having trouble adjusting to the fact that he's a man out of time (he was frozen for sixty years), throws himself into SHIELD work, recklessly fighting against huge odds while experiencing flashbacks to his World War II days. And longtime comics readers will notice how the Ultimate Avengers creators have been laying the groundwork for Tony Stark's battle with alcohol.