REVIEW: THOR: TALES OF ASGARD

CAST (VOICES)

Matthew Wolf (The Fault of Our Stars)
Rick Gomez (Sin City)
Tara Strong (Batman: TAS)
Alistair Abell (Freddy vs Jason)
Paul Dobson (Chappie)
Brent Chapman (Big Eyes)
Chris Biritton (Carrie 2013)

Tales of Asgard takes place well before Thor would become the mighty God of Thunder. His strength is anything but superhuman. He wields no otherworldly powers. This teenager has yet to seize hold of Mjolnir, the mystic hammer that would go on to be the adult Thor’s weapon of choice. There’s nothing vaguely heroic about him at all, really. The Thor we’re introduced to at the outset is a sheltered, arrogant whelp. He’s never stepped foot outside the palace grounds of Asgard. He’s so wrapped up in himself that Thor fails to recognize that the warriors he battles in the arena are letting him win.

His father Odin and brother Loki do their damndest to keep propping up that façade. When Thor with his masterfully crafted, jewel-encrusted sword is effortlessly bested in battle by Sif — a teenaged girl with nothing more than a bucket and a broken pitchfork — his illusions come crumbling down. Thor thirsts for a real adventure, so he and Loki stow themselves away on the flying ship of the Warriors Three. The prize is the legendary sword of the fire giant Surtur…a treasure that countless Asgardians have chased but never been able to unearth. The treasure hunt at first glance seems to go according to plan, but the sword’s dark power proves to be more than Thor can handle, and a war between the Frost Giants and Asgard quickly erupts because of it. Returning the sword should quell those fires, but Thor and his companions are still a world away.

As much as the Star Wars prequels have trained me to wince at the prospect of a “when they were young” story, Thor: Tales of Asgard pulls this off remarkably well. It’s intriguing to see how different these characters are at the outset. Loki would in later years be Thor’s arch-nemesis — responsible for the deaths of untold legions, to blame for the destruction of Asgard — but here he’s easily the more likeable of the two brothers. He’s fiercely protective of his family, genuinely innocent, cautious, and only just now dipping his toes into sorcery. Thor, meanwhile, is an arrogant, impulsive braggart incapable of looking far enough ahead to think about consequences. At least at first, no one would mistake him for a hero. The events of Tales of Asgard nudge both of Odin’s sons towards the directions they’d take later in life, but instead of feeling like a heavy-handed origin story, it’s a really well thought out and very effective chapter from these early years. Both Thor and Loki are believably fleshed-out as characters, and their arcs feel meaningful and wholly earned.

Asimpressed as I am with the way both of them are presented, the Warriors Three completely steal the movie, overflowing with personality and scoring all the best lines. Also putting in appearances here are Odin himself, The Enchantress, a Fenris Wolf, the Dark Elf Algrim, Brunhilde, and the warrior goddess Sif, among many others. As sprawling as the cast is and as dense as the mythology can be, Thor: Tales of Asgard is never overwhelming. The point of it all is to introduce neophytes to the realm of Asgard, and the movie deftly juggles all of these many different elements and with a minimum of exposition to boot.

The pacing is kept nimble with a constant sense of forward momentum too, so things never have a chance to drag. I’m also intrigued by how even-keeled Tales of Asgard is with these characters. There really is no overarching villain. There are characters who do terrible things, of course, be it willfully or out of ignorance, but there are no nefarious, moustache-twirling schemes or anything like that. Everyone is shown as having a sympathetic, justifiable point of view. Its primary interest is in showing the transformative effects of great power, and in keeping with that, the finalé even takes care to define heroism in terms other than people hitting each other. Even better, the movie manages to make these points in the scale of a colossal battle, never at all feeling preachy, heavy-handed, or anticlimactic.

Thor: Tales of Asgard takes a lot of chances, presenting such familiar characters in very unfamiliar ways and veering away from the traditional superhero formulas. I mean, this is a movie where Thor is kind of a prick, can’t fly, lacks any superhuman abilities, has never held his iconic stone hammer, and is the best of friends with a character we’re so used to seeing as his mortal enemy. It’s impressive enough that Tales of Asgard doesn’t play it safe, but also that it pulls all of this off so well.

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REVIEW: HULK VS

 

CAST (VOICES)

Fred Tatasciore (9)
Matthew Wolf (The Fault of Our Stars)
Graham McTavish (The Hobbit)
Grey Griffin (The Replacements)
Kari Wahlgren (Rick and Morty)
Bryce Johnson (The SKulls 3)
Steve Blum (Wolverine and The X-Men)

Hulk vs. completely lives up to its title. There are no long, tedious origin stories. Neither half of this double feature is bogged down by any meandering, who-really-cares filler subplots, clunky romances, or triple-underlined moral messages. These two mini-movies chuck viewers straight into the action and never let up until the end credits roll. Marvel and Lionsgate haven’t watered it down to play to the lunchbox crowd either; these battles against Thor and Wolverine are intense and unflinchingly violent.As a nod to the comics that first introduced Wolverine to the world, he and the Hulk square off in — where else? — the desolate Canadian wilderness. The Hulk has been carving a path of destruction throughout the Great White North, and Department H drops Wolverine in to stop the beast dead in his tracks. The two are fairly evenly matched: Wolverine’s healing factor can take all of the abuse the Hulk can dish out — flinging him what looks like miles away, smashing his hairy little body into the ground over and over again with a three-ton rock — and although those adamantium claws sink deep into the jade giant’s hide, all it really seems to do is piss the Hulk off even more. Just as the tide starts to turn in this brutal, bloody brawl, the Hulk’s back is peppered with a stream of oversized tranquilizer darts. The Weapon X program sees the Hulk as the ultimate weapon in its arsenal, and as the sleeping giant is being prepped for a mindwipe, Wolverine escapes and slices through the small army of seasoned killers that stand in his way.Barely breaking the half hour mark minus credits, the core of the story is lean and uncluttered, and the whole thing is devastatingly brutal wall-to-wall action. Hulk vs. Wolverine draws deeply from imagery from the comics, from that iconic McFarlane cover of the Hulk reflected in Wolverine’s gleaming claws to entire pages of Barry Windsor-Smith’s Weapon X origin translated verbatim. The movie doesn’t take any undue liberties with its characters or their powers; I really do get the sense that this was written, directed, and animated by lifelong comic fans making the sort of movie they’d want to watch instead of just trying to cast a wide net and disinterestedly hit the studio’s numbers. A movie about Wolverine recaptured by Weapon X can’t be saddled with a PG rating, and this is so hyperviolent and sopping with blood that I’m really not sure how it managed to just score a PG-13. I’m not exaggerating when I say it’s more brutal and unflinchingly graphic than a lot of slasher flicks I’ve seen. I love the skewed, stylized character designs, and from Wolverine’s half-growled dialogue to the Hulk’s thunderous roar, the voice acting is absolutely perfect. I don’t want to spoil the reveal of who all is part of Weapon X’s superpowered black ops team — the surprise is a huge part of the fun — but I have to give

The title Hulk vs. Thor doesn’t really convey the scale of the second half of this double feature. The Hulk isn’t just pitted against the Norse god of thunder; he singlehandedly takes on the entirety of Asgard: the Warriors 3, legions of valkyries, frost giants, Odin’s ravens, Hel itself, and virtually every last iconic character from the pages of the comics. The movie is set in the waning hours of the Odinsleep: the annual slumber of Asgard’s greatest protector that leaves the realm most exposed to assault from its enemies. Every plot, scheme, and army to have ever been unleashed during the Odinsleep has been handily defeated over the years, but the warriors of Asgard have never been pitted against a force as unstoppable — the embodiment of rage — as the Hulk. An embittered Enchantress uses her dark sorcery to bring the Hulk under Loki’s thrall, and the god of mischief pulls the beast’s strings to effortlessly pummel his brother Thor to within inches of death: no small feat for an immortal god. The Hulk’s thundering rage proves too difficult for Loki to control for long, though, and with his ferocity fully unleashed as never before, he’s not going to stop until the entirety of Asgard lays in ruin.It’s as if the writers behind Hulk vs. Thor couldn’t figure out what Asgardian lore to mine from the hundreds of issues of the comic, so they opted to throw in everything. Virtually every recognizable character and iconic image from the greatest of the Nine Worlds is featured here at some point. Its story is more involved than Hulk vs. Wolverine and is given a few extra minutes to breathe, but the action never lets up here either. Dark magicks rend Bruce Banner from the Hulk, removing the lone spark of humanity keeping the beast’s colossal rage in check, and his path of destruction is unreal, even threatening to topple Hel itself. The imagery isn’t nearly as graphic as Hulk vs. Wolverine, but there’s still an enormous amount of carnage, and the sight of Thor’s arm being shattered or the god of thunder laying limp and lifeless after being punched clean through a mountain is still remarkably intense. I have to admit to not being quite as dazzled by Hulk vs. Thor as I was with the first half of this double feature; dialogue like “You are no troll, monster!” doesn’t sound quite as effortless, the voice acting is perfectly fine but more straightforwardly proper and British, and the celebratory ending seems a little forced. Still, its ability to draw so deeply from some four hundred issues of Thor ought to astonish even casual fans of the comic, the scope of the movie is truly epic, and the torment and anguish inflicted on Bruce Banner pack about as much of a wallop as a roundhouse from the Hulk.Hulk vs. is the first of Marvel’s direct-to-DVD animation to really feel as if it’s targeted squarely at  fanboys. There’s no filler or tedious origin stories here: both halves of this double feature dive headfirst into the action.

REVIEW: CAPTAIN AMERICA (1966)

CAST (VOICES)

Sandy Becker (The Beagles)
Paul Kligman (Spider-Man 60s)
Paul Soles (The Score)
John Vernon (Dirty Harry)
Bernard Cowan (20,000 Leagues Under The Sea)
Peg Dixon (Strange Paradise)
Chris Wiggins (Babar)

The graphics during the cheesy but patriotic and memorable opening theme tune are a clue to what to expect from this 1966 cartoon series. Basically it is a cartoon version of several tales involving Captain America taken from the early years of Tales of Suspense and The Avengers.


It was great to see animated versions of several of Cap’s early triumphs, well animated in the sense of moving comic book images. Included here are several tales set in WWII involving The Red Skull who wears a sanitised version of the costume he wore in the original comic and Adolf Hitler’s role in the Skull’s origin has oddly been replaced by some generic Nazi figure. These tales also feature Cap’s sidekick Bucky Barnes. From the 1960’s C.A. takes on Batroc and the Red Skull again with his Sleepers and the Cosmic Cube, featuring A.I.M.


It also includes several tales from The Avengers. There is an edited version of Cap’s silver age re-appearance in Avengers #4 (minus the Sub-Mariner’s role) the other tales involve Zemo and his Masters of Evil (The Black Knight, Radioactive Man and the Melter), the Commissar, Super Adaptoid, Enchantress and Power-Man and ending with the Sworsdman and the Mandarin. Several versions of the Avengers are seen with Thor, Iron Man, Giant-Man and The Wasp, Hawkeye, Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch….. even Rick Jones and Jarvis. The only downside of the Avengers tales is the daft voice given to Giant-Man. Just watch how the Wasp’s costume changes over even this short period of time. All 13 episodes are included here and I highly recommend it, just don’t expect Pixar quality animation

REVIEW: THE MIGHTY THOR (1966)

CAST (VOICES)

Bernard Cowan (20,000 Leagues Under The Sea)
Peg Dixon (Strange Paradise)
Chris Wiggins (Babar)
Len Carlson (Cypher)

With the big screen adaptations of Thor proving to be both a critical and commercial success, Clear Vision  re-released the 1966 animated series of The Mighty Thor on DVD. The series was a part of a nightly run of programming for Marvel animated series, with five key Marvel characters having their own night to showcase their adventures. Of course, Thor was aired on Thursdays.

Thirteen episodes are collected on two discs and cover a range of Thor’s greatest enemies, although Loki does dominate proceedings throughout, particularly on disc one, where the format appears to be Thor minds his own business on Earth trying to woo Jane Foster, whilst under the guise of Dr. Donald Blake. Of course, Loki can’t leave our hero be and decides to come up with various schemes to put Thor in danger or discredit him. Of course, Thor, often on the brink of defeat, manages to defeat Loki, and with the help of Odin, banishes him to imprisonment he won’t be able to escape. Well, until the next episode at least.

Given that the first disc is rather formulaic, it hardly makes for compelling viewing and much of the enjoyment is gleamed from the fantastic art work. Disc two is where the series really hits its stride, mainly as it breaks from the formula and introduces an array of antagonists for Thor to face off against. Loki still makes appearances, and Odin’s displeasure at Thor’s relationship with a mortal is still evident in every episode, but having the focus on other antagonists is a refreshing change.

The final episode will, no doubt, be the one of most interesting to the majority of the target audience, as it brings together the members of The Avengers as they face off against the Lava Men. The episode itself features a muddled plot and resolves itself a little too quickly for you to really register what’s happened, but seeing all of the characters work together against an antagonist that isn’t Loki is a nice change.

Most of the voice work is great, particularly Thor, Odin and the other inhabitants of Asgard. However, Loki is a weak link.

The series is more like a motion comic than a full animated series, but is still a rather charming piece of work that will surely be of great interest to those who have strong feelings of nostalgia for the series. There are times where mouths move during dialogue-heavy sections and motion is hinted at, but mostly it’s a collection of frames, and once you get used to it, it’s barely noticeable.

REVIEW: THE SUPER HERO SQUAD SHOW – SEASON 1-2

CAST (VOICES)

Charlie Adler (Wall-e)
Alimi Ballard (Sabrina: TTW)
Steven Blum (Wolverine and the X-Men)
Dave Boat (Ultimate Spider-Man)
Jim Cummings (Darkwing Duck)
Grey DeLisle (The Fairly Oddparents)
Mikey Kelley (Gravity Falls)
Tom Kenny (The Batman)
Stan Lee (Avengers Assemble)
Tara Strong (Batman: The Killing Joke)
Travis Willingham (Dragon Ball Z)

RECURRING / NOTABLE GUEST CAST

Shawn Ashmore (X-Men)
Dee Bradley Baker (American Dad)
John Barrowman (Arrow)
A.J. Buckley (Disturbing Behavior)
Ty Burrell (Muppets Most Wanted)
LeVar Burton (Star Trek: TNG)
Taye Diggs (Private Practice)
Michael Dorn (Ted 2)
Suisan Eisenberg (Justice League)
Carl Lumbly (Alias)
Robert Englund (A Nightmare on Elm Street)
Jonathan Frakes (Star Trek: TNG)
Greg Grunberg (Heroes)
Nika Futterman (Futurama)
Mark Hamill (Star Wars)
Lena Headey (Game of Thrones)
Tricia Helfer (Powers)
Cheryl Hines (The Ugly Truth)
Josh Keaton (Justice League: Gods and Monsters)
Wayne Knight (3rd rock from The Sun)
Maurice LaMarche (Futurama)
Phil LaMar (Free Enterprise)
Jane Lynch (Glee)
Jason Marsden (Full House)
James Marsters (Smallville)
Jennifer Morrison (Urban Legends 2)
Scott Menville (Teen Titans)
Jim Parsons (The Big Bang Theory)
Adrian Pasdar (Heroes)
Kevin Michael Richardson (The Cleveland Show)
Katee Sackhoff (Battlestar Galactica)
Kevin Sorbo (Hercules: TLJ)
Ray Stevenson (Divergent)
Fred Stoller (Little Man)
George Takei (Star Trek)
Cree Summer (Batman Beyond)
Michelle Trachtenberg (17 again)
Hynden Walch (The Batman)
Jim Ward (Danny Phantom)
Adam West (Batman 60s)
Nina Dobrev (The Vampire Diaries)

When I saw a preview of The Super Hero Squad Show back in February of 2009, I thought it looked pretty interesting, but certainly aimed at the kiddies, and as it aired on Cartoon Network, I never saw an episode. In fact, I forgot all about it, and when I got my hands on this disc, I thought it was an animated take on the old Fisher-Price Marvel kiddie figures. So I had no expectations coming in. Well, my only expectation being that it would be bad. So it was with a good deal of shock that I found it to be a pretty entertaining action-comedy series, if you don’t mind the cheese-level of many of the jokes.

The Super Hero Squad (sort of a loose version of the Avengers) is made up of an assortment of Marvel heroes, including Iron Man (as the leader), Captain America (who provides aid on a regular basis), Wolverine (adding the X-Men’s popularity,) The Hulk, Thor, a spacey surfer-dude version of the Silver Surfer, and Falcon (obviously added to bring some diversity.) Joining them is the mostly unknown Reptil (a dinosaur-powered bit player from the Avengers comics) who is both a young guy and Hispanic, helping fill out the P.C. scorecard a bit more and give younger viewers a stand-in.  They go up against Doctor Doom and his legion of bad guys (and ineffective henchmen), as he searches for the Infinity fractals, shards of the Infinity Sword (which seems connected to the Infinity Gems of the Infinity Gauntlet. Infinity.)


Though the storylines are pretty solid and offer big action-packed battles, the bulk of the show is comedy, with the character’s out-sized personalities carrying the jokes, be it Thor’s overwhelming concern about his appearance or Captain America being stuck in the ’40s. Maybe I don’t give kids a lot of credit, but I can see a large portion of these gags flying over their heads, which will make the show far more enjoyable for adults than one would have expected. There was more than one joke that got a genuine laugh out of me, though many of them rely on bodily functions or pratfalls for the punchline. The wordplay and character-generated jokes are much more entertaining and fun, especially Thor’s Asgardian versions of modern language, the Silver Surfer’s alien view of Earth life, and anything involving the always-ridiculous floating head known as M.O.D.O.K. (voiced hilariously by Tom Kenny.) One joke about the Hulk swallowing a yo-yo is technically genius. The only thing about the show that doesn’t really work is Reptil, who feels like the Poochie of the show, coming off as a bone tossed to kids, with his dino-focused power, youthful role and extreme behavior.


This version of the Marvel Universe smartly keeps the same look for its characters, giving long-time Marvel fans an in for the series, but presents them in a super-deformed style (squat bodies, large heads and feet, four fingers) that’s kid-cartoon friendly and which easily separates it from any other version of the Universe you’ve ever seen. That way, there are no issues with continuity or previous incarnations, and the show can be enjoyed on its own merits (allowing them to do something like make Dr. Strange a complete lunatic.) That’s a good thing, because the show is loaded to the gills with fan-service goodies, like the episode titles (which reference famous comic titles) and title cards which replicate memorable cover art. The show also pulls characters from the depths of the Marvel roster, like Screaming Mimi and the Melter, and having silly cartoon fun with them. Taken simply as a silly, almost What The–?! treatment of the characters, it’s well worth a look for comic-book fans out of grade school.

On a non-story note, the theme song, provided by Parry Gripp of Nerf Herder, is an energetic blast, while the voice cast for this series has to be one of the best for a non-prime time animated series, with tons of veterans of the cartoon industry, like Kenny, Tara Strong, Jess Harnell, Grey DeLisle, Cree Summer and Charlie Adler, along with plenty of genre stars, including Robert Englund, Tricia Helfer, Jennifer Morrison and Adrian Pasdar. It’s rare to see a show like this pull this kind of voice cast.

the overall plot of the cycle will feature the villain Thanos seeking the six stones of the Infinity Gauntlet, a powerful cosmic weapon. Opposing him will be the titular Super Hero Squad, which is made up of goofball takes on Iron Man, Thor, Falcon, Wolverine, Hulk, Ms. Marvel, original character Reptil, Scarlet Witch, and sometimes Captain America. While the first two shows focus specifically on the Thanos plot, other episodes detour into one-off excursions. For instance, “World War Witch!” takes the heroes back in time to when Cap was fighting the Red Skull alongside the Invaders in WWII, while “Support Your Local Sky-Father!” pits Olympus vs. Asgard, and it features the Marvel Universe rendition of Hercules.

REVIEW: THE AVENGERS: EARTH’S MIGHTIEST HEROES

MAIN CAST (VOICES)

Brian Bloom (Vampirella)
Chris Cox (All Star Superman)
Jennifer Hale (The Rick)
Peter Jessop (Jla Adventures)
Phil LaMarr (Free Enterprise)
Eric Loomis (Shin Chan)
James C. Mathis III (Undercover Brother)
Colleen Villard (Duel Masters)
Fred Tatasciore (Hulk Vs)
Rick D. Wasserman (Planet Hulk)
Wally Wingert (American Dad)

RECURRING / NOTABLE GUEST COICES

Gabriel Mann (Cherry Falls)
Drake Bell (The Reef 2)
Bumper Robinson (Sabrina: The Teenage Witch)
Steven Blum (Wolverine and Teh X-men)
Alex Desert (The Flash 90s)
Vanessa Marshall (Duck Dodgers)
Kari Wuhrer (Eight Legged Freaks)
Elizabeth Daily (Valley Girl)
Troy Baker (Lego Batman)
Nolan North (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles)
Crispin Freeman (Hellsing)
Scott Menville (Teen Titans)
Grey DeLisle (Danny Phantom)
Cam Clarke (He-Man)
Lance Reddick (Lost)
J.K. Simmons (Whiplash)
Kevin Michael Richardson (The Cleveland Show)
Nika Futterman (Hey Arnold!)
Lance Henriksen (The Terminator)
Jonathan Adams (Bones)
Jeffrey Combs (Gotham)
Graham McTavish (The Hobbit)
Dawn Olivieri (The Vampire Diaries)
Clancy Brown (Highlander)
Dwight Schultz (The A-Team)
Keith Szarabajka (The Dark Knight)
Lacey Chabert (Mean Girls)

Both Marvel and DC have to an astonishing degree started to pick up these last few years, with several well-appreciated shows that I really enjoy: Young Justice, The Spectacular Spider-Man, Iron Man: Armored Adventures, Green Lantern TAS, and now this; The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes.

It’s very rare indeed for a superhero cartoon of this magnitude to be  great from start-to-finish, but that’s what Earth’s Mightiest Heroes is, right from Episode 1 `Iron Man is Born’ to the finale `Avengers Assemble!’. There are literally no dud episodes whatsoever! The whole series is infused with tremendous intrigue, exceptional plotting and some of the tightest continuity I’ve ever seen in a TV series. The number of sub-plots and story-arcs that are juggled here is staggering, but the creative team handled it all with such precision. The coherency, intricacies and pacing is nothing short of exemplary overall. This isn’t just essential for kids; adult Marvel fans will get bags of satisfaction from watching this cartoon!

So what exactly can folk expect? Well, as I said, the choicest pieces of Marvel history (be it in comics or on film) have been successfully adapted and utilized here. From how the Avengers banded together to life-changing events like the Civil War threat and the Skrulls’ Secret Invasion (adapted beautifully here!). Iron Man, the Hulk, Captain America, Thor, Ant-Man/Yellowjacket, the Wasp and Black Panther are all superbly established before `Assembling’ for the first time, members come-and-go, characters undergo changes, Hawkeye, Ms. Marvel and the Vision join the ranks, and all-manner of superb guests join the party, such as Spider-Man, Wolverine, the Fantastic Four and even those Guardians of the Galaxy!

And on the villains-front, you can be subjected to a cracking-bunch of dastardly rogues, such as Loki, the Red Skull, Hydra, A.I.M., Baron Zemo, the Enchantress, the Masters of Evil, Kang the Conqueror, Doctor Doom and (of course!) chief arch-nemesis Ultron. And it’s not all just for window-dressing. The depictions of all these characters (hero, villain and otherwise) and their worlds is just pure gold. It’s perhaps the most faithful animated portrayal of the Marvel Universe.
Really, The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes could (and should) have gone on for more seasons. Instead, Marvel pulled the plug in favor of the replacement show Avengers Assemble. Thus in the last batch episodes, you DO get the feel that the writers were trying to wrap things up and give the show a grand swansong to make way for the next-cartoon-in-line. Admittedly, there are a few loose ends left over, but the series is mostly wrapped-up in winning style with a very acceptable conclusion. And in an age where too many shows are cancelled prematurely/end on a sour note, it makes that final moment of `Avengers Assemble!’ all the more of a triumph, just like the entire series itself.