by Chris Eaton-
I will say this. Marvel is on the right track.
Before I begin my review of Planet Hulk, the latest effort from Marvel Animated and Lionsgate, I would like to point out that I’ve always been lukewarm on Marvel’s attempt at the home video market. Warner Premier and DC for the last few years have dished out nothing but home runs in the titles they’ve released. Death of Superman, Justice League: New Frontier, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, Batman/Superman: Public Enemies are all fantastic titles. They use the freedom that the DTV market allows them, creating stories geared towards the people that are buying them: The adults who bought the comics as kids. Each DC title has a loving craftsmanship to them. By telling great stories, with top notch animation that is a step above TV, but not quite feature. Marvel, while handing DC it’s collective ass on a sliver platter with their film adaptations, have had their balls kicked by DC on the animated department for years. When they attempted to replicate the DC method, their results have been mixed, at best.
Of their titles, Ultimate Avengers 1 and 2 were decent efforts. While the animation left a bit to be had, it appeared that Marvel was getting the idea of what older fans were looking for. Then, they released Iron Man and Doctor Strange. These features tried to do the mix of CG and Cell animation. The result, to me at least, was a mess. Add that to the soso story telling, and Marvel just took two steps back from where they started. They then released The Next Avengers, kinda harping on the long cancelled M2 line that Marvel had going in the mid 90′s. I never watched it, though I was told good things about it. Marvel then tried going back to the basics. They released 2 short films on one feature, and called it Hulk Vs. Basically two, 35 minute films were Hulk fought Thor and Wolverine respectively. To me, they made a literal leap back in the right direction. The animation in both were far more fluid and solid. The story telling, while compact, was far better than their previous attempts. Both films made full use of their PG-13 rating. Though if I had one complaint, it was that, for a feature being called Hulk Vs., Hulk seemed to take a back seat to both Thor and Wolverine.
With Planet Hulk, that is not the case.
For those unfamiliar, Planet Hulk was a major storyline that took place concurrent to the Civil War storyline. In the story, pre Civil War Illuminati members Iron Man, Black Bolt, Mr Fantastic and Doctor Strange tricked Hulk into destroying a rouge satellite, only to trap him in the shuttle that was suppose to return him home. Instead, the shuttle was programed to take Hulk to a planet uninhabited by evolved beings were the Hulk could live out his days alone, and unable to hurt anyone. Much like he always wanted. Unfortunately, Hulk damages the ship, and veers it off course into a worm hole that lands him on the planet Sakaar. On this planet, Hulk is no longer the only monster around. He’s surrounded by other creatures just as himself, and just as strong as he is. Captured, he’s forced into slavery as a gladiator for the amusement of The Red King. In the arena, Hulk makes a bond with the other gladiators, becoming the Warbond. Hulk quickly regains his strength and defeats the warriors of the Red King. It is then revealed that Hulk is the great hope foretold in a prophecy, that the people of Sakaar had been hoping for to free them from the rule of the Red King. Once feared, Hulk is now looked upon to lead a revolution on a world that is not his own. This is the story of Planet Hulk, both the comic and the animated feature.
The original story was written by Incredible Hulk scribe, Greg Pak. It was to be the first part of an epic trilogy for Hulk. The second part became World War Hulk, which moved into the current Hulk comic line that deals with the Red Hulk. Pak took a character that many had said had no more real stories to tell. Now, one of the complaints I’m always hearing is how one dimensional the Incredible Hulk is. How he is just nothing more than the big monster to have the other heroes to fight or to prove how strong another character in the Marvel universe is. I tend to disagree with this train of thought, and so did Pak. First off by placing Hulk in a world where he is no longer the only monster is sheer genius. No longer is he the scariest thing walking around. Instead there are other beings just like him, just as strong as him. There are other creatures even bigger than Hulk that have no fear of him. But, that’s not the greatest part of this story. What Planet Hulk did was finally tell a PURE Hulk story. Everything in the movie and in the comic is told from the Green Hulk’s perspective. Not the Grey Hulk with the smart ass mouth, or the Banner Hulk, that has the body of the Hulk but the mind of Banner. No, this is Green Hulk, pure and straight. We finally see what makes him tick as a being. When he’s not just screaming Hulk Smash and jumping around. When he can openly communicate with other beings. We finally see what goes on in Hulks head when he’s thrown in these fucked up situations he’s constantly put in. Surprisingly, this Hulk is the most intriguing of all Hulks.
So enough with the back story, how is the damn film? The film is awesome. Pure and simple! Greg Johnson, Craig Kyle and Joshua Fine adapted the multi layered storyline perfectly into a more compact streamline screen story. Running at 82 minutes, the film moves a brisk pace. To do this, of course, there were certain scenes that had to be left out from the comic, or scenes that were switched around to make the story more adaptable to fit the screen. Having read the original comic, this adaptation works. Though, I will say that there are a few MAJOR differences from the comic to film.
In the comic, during the final battle in the coliseum, Hulk fights the Sliver Savage. A captured Silver Surfer. In the movie, though, it’s changed to…. wait for it…………… Beta Ray Bill. Now I hear you say, “what the fuck? Beta Ray Bill?” Before you ask “WHY?”, the behind the scenes feature makes it known that the rights to use The Sliver Surfer were held up elsewhere (coughfoxcough) So, instead of throwing away what is basically the whole turning point of the story, the creative team did something really, creative, and used Beta Ray Bill in his place. Guess what? I think it works better than the comic version. Bill was always a really cool obscure character in the Thor mythos (who, btw, spoiler again, makes a cameo in this film) and never really got any due in the animated world. Even his one turn in the Silver Surfer cartoon, he wasn’t even really Beta Ray Bill, just an illusion of himself. Here, he’s in all of his thunder god power glory. His appearance on Sakaar is explained quite nicely, and his battle with the Hulk is one of the highlights of the film.
The other difference is the ending. While the Planet Hulk story ended with half of Sakaar getting wiped out by Hulks ship when it blew up, leading to the events of World War Hulk, in the film, it ends on a happier note. While I’m not going to go into details about how it ends. lets just say that if we never get an animated Hulk movie, this is a fine on to go out on. Hell, it would have been nice ending to the comic series had the decided to go this way to.
As for the details. The animation in Planet Hulk is quite good. It was done by Madhouse, a Japanese animation studio that was responsible for Hulk Vs Wolverine (also the great Ninja Scroll anime too!). Given their anime background, they had experience in detailed fights that move with a fluidness that other animation seems to fall short on. Director Sam Liu does a fantastic job bringing the story of Planet Hulk to animated life.
The voice cast is spot on too. The one thing I always liked about the Marvel films compared to the DC ones is that they don’t have the need to get “celebrity” voices. Instead, they’ve always relied on professional voice actors to get the job done. Rick D Wasserman brings more of a tempered Hulk than the normal screaming and yelling Hulk of the previous incarnations that have come before this one. Lisa Ann Beley as Caiera, the oldstrong, the woman that is the Hulk’s equal, is splendid. The rest of the cast, Mark Hilderth, Liam O’Brian and Kevin Michael Richardson are all spot on in their rolls.
The DVD itself: The DVD is presented in 1.78:1 ratio, with 5.1 Dolby Digital audio. The bonus features are decent. We get audio commentary by Producer Joshua Fine and Screenwriter Greg Johnson. There’s a nice 15 minute Making Of, that explains the changes made to the story, and how the film came to be. The standard previews for the previous Lionsgate Marvel film along with the DVD release of Wolverine and the X-Men. There’s also a sneak peak at Thor: Tales of Asgard, that offers up the first 5 minutes of the film. While I’m personally not to keen on seeing the origin story of Thor, the animation looks to be an even bigger step up from Planet Hulk. Finally, the cover is an awesome painting by Alex Ross.
As far as DTV features go, I say Marvel is in the right direction. If they stick to adapting their major story lines from the comics, much like DC is doing, instead of telling new stories or altered stories of their more famous characters, I think that Marvel will do just fine in the animation department. Though, I will put this out there, if the forces that be are smart, they’ll give us a Cable/Deadpool film next. Just an idea, and throwing it out there.