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“Next Avengers: Heroes of Tomorrow” is the latest from Marvel’s direct-to-DVD animated feature series from Lionsgate. To clarify, the film is not based on “New Avengers,” “Young Avengers,” or “Avengers: Next,” all of which are different things. This is “Next Avengers,” the story of the children of the original Avengers who have grown up in the wake of their parents’ death at the hands of Ultron.
The story begins on a remote arctic island that doesn’t look like the arctic at all, where Tony Stark has raised the five children of the original Avengers: James, the son of Captain American and Black Widow; Pym, the son of Giant-Man and Wasp; Azari, the son of Black Panther and Storm; and Torunn, the daughter of Thor and… somebody.
The Avengers’ idyllic life of training and sitting around is shattered when a damaged Vision arrives on the island. While Tony repairs the former Avenger, James accidentally activates a squadron of “Iron Avengers,” who immediately charge off to fight Ultron and cause Tony’s secret arctic base to be discovered. However, in this story, Ultron can infect any technology, so Tony’s puzzling master plan of building an unstoppable squadron of robot avengers naturally fails.
Tony is kidnapped but the child Avengers escape and set off to rescue him. They arrive in Ultron’s base of operations, the former New York City — now called Ultra-City. There the Avengers meet the son of Clint Barton as well as a resistance movement that apparently takes orders from a thirteen-year-old boy. This is not too much of a stretch as it sounds, though, as not a single member of the resistance movement seems to have a strong personality -- or even a line of dialogue.
From there, the child Avengers set out to rescue Tony and defeat Ultron. And the Hulk makes an appearance and smashes things.
“Next Avengers” is the first PG-rated film in the Lionsgate oeuvre of Marvel DVDs, but adults might find it a tad trying at times. But despite its many flaws, the film is without a doubt one of the standouts of Marvel’s animated features so far. The animation is top-notch and the plot structure and character development are superior to previous releases.
Whether it’s Justice League: The New Frontier” or “The Death of Superman,” DC Comics’ direct-to-DVD animated features are telling stories that worked in comics and bring them to a new medium with power and verve. What was the point of Lionsgate acquiring the rights to Marvel characters if not to take advantage of their iconic presences and stories? Why not use the tales that already worked great the first time? If you’re looking to produce a film starring Marvel characters that skews to a younger generation, why not adapt “Young Avengers?” If you want an action release with a mature edge and a PG-13 rating, why not produce an adaptation of “The Ultimates,” rather than retooling it into something different?
There’s a lot that works in “Avengers Next,” but it’s hard to argue any of it exceeds the masterful twelve-issue storyline writer Allan Heinberg spun with “Young Avengers.” The traditional Avengers elements combined with the conflicts over lineage and a generation of characters kids can relate to are all there and a lot better crafted. And for those who argue that “Young Avengers” skews more mature and “Avengers Next” was made for kids, I’d ask you what kid has ever preferred a story written with them in mind over one that’s just written to be exciting? Kids don’t like to be talked down to any more than adults, and they’re smart enough to know when it’s happening, as it often is in “Next Avengers.”