I wasnʼt too buzzed when I first heard about the latest Marvel animated DVD feature by Lionsgate. The Next Avengers: Heroes of Tomorrow sounded like it was going to be more kid friendly fare and not all that interesting. It is the first Marvel animated feature to be rated PG. While I have enjoyed several of the Lionsgate animated productions so far, especially their last outing with Dr. Strange, when I was invited to the screening of the Next Avengers, I almost passed. Iʼm glad I didnʼt.
Next Avengers, while being assessable to children, has sophisticated themes involving fear, hopelessness, loss, regret and courage. The story by Christopher Yost (The Batman, X-Men Evolution) is tight and does a very good job of weaving together these themes, as well as incorporating a fair amount of action and humor. The comedy flows naturally with the events of the story and never feels forced or stagey, which is always the risk in action movie. Each one of the characters has a unique identity, with their own fears and motivations.
The movie is set in the not too distant future. Most of the Avengers have been killed by Ultron, but not before having several children. Tony Stark has managed to survive and keep the children hidden from the psycho-killer robot, who in the meantime has taken over the country, destroying what he didnʼt want. Stark has kept the children in the dark about most of this, doing his best to train them in combat and to fight as a team. Ultron does eventually find out about Stark and the children and then mayhem ensues in the mighty Marvel manner.
As Ultron and his army of death machines hunt down Stark and his wards, the children are forced to put aside their fears and take on the legacy of their parents. The team consists of James, the son of Captain America and the Black Widow, Torunn, daughter of Thor, Azari, the son of the Black Panther, Pym, the son of Giant Man and the Wasp, and Hawkeye, the son of Hawkeye. It is implied that Storm is the mother of Azari but apparently the movie canʼt just come out and say that due to licensing issues.
The plot focuses on the children leaving the safety of their nest and trying frantically to overcome the overwhelming odds stacked against them, all the while being reminded about their parentsʼ legacy and failure. Each child has his or her own burden that must be faced. For example, Torunn is racked with confusion and feelings of failure stemming from her apparent abandonment by her father, Thor. James is plagued by apathy and anger by the death of his parents. As much as anything, this story is about how these remarkable children deal with the tragedy in their lives.
Particularly interesting is the Hawkeye character. He alone was isolated from the other children, growing up with an underground resistance group, scratching out a meager existence among the rubble of the fallen cities. Because of his parentsʼ status as Avengers, Hawkeye holds a special place of honor and leadership within his people, despite his youth. When he meets the other children, there is a certain degree of resentment and mistrust on both sides. The dynamic tension between Hawkeye and James is very well handled by the director, Gary Hartle (He-Man Masters of the Universe) and doesnʼt come across as contrived.
All in all, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this movie. There are twists and turns and unexpected appearances by characters from the Marvel Universe. The action builds to a thrilling final climatic battle. The path to that climax is exciting and funny. The very capable voice talent create a lot of sympathy for the characters they portray and you really do come to care what happens to the Next Avengers. I highly recommend this movie.