Friday, February 12, 2010

DVD Review: PLANET HULK (Lionsgate)

When I first heard that "Planet Hulk" was next in Marvel Animation's series of DVD-release movies, I felt a mix of anticipation and trepidation. Marvel Animation's movies have been a mixed bag; I have thoroughly enjoyed all their "Avenger" efforts, but fell asleep halfway through "Doctor Strange: The Sorcerer Supreme." The choice of "Planet Hulk" was an odd one to me, however. I like the fact that it would have to veer away from the traditional Marvel settings, stories, and characters - how many times can we see an origin story we already know - and represented a push into a wider "universe" in these movies, I was skeptical of the movie's ability to recreate the epic feel of its outstanding source material.

My skepticism wasn't unwarranted. This movie is fun to watch, for reasons I will enumerate, but die hard fans of the "Planet Hulk" comics had better not cling to any hope of a strict adaptation, nor should people who really enjoy the Hulk/Banner dichotomy and all its attendant whining and self-hatred expect to enjoy this.

And that, to my taste, is one of the best reasons to watch and enjoy this movie; in it, Hulk gets to be Hulk. Banner isn't in this. At all. If I recall correctly, the closest thing to it is Iron Man calling him "Bruce" once. And that's fantastic. Hulk is most fun when he's smashing. Period. Whiny, pouty Bruce Banner has a tendency to ruin most Hulk adaptations (see especially Ang Lee's dreadful version, which mired Bruce in daddy issues and anvil-like geopolitical allegory). Perpetually Hulked-out-Hulk as angry messiah-conqueror figure is a winning play, in my book.

Anyway, about this movie; plenty of Hulk, plenty of smashing. Good and better. This movie is well paced; we jump right into the action and it rarely stops; the "spike" attack on a rebel village is possibly the action highlight of Marvel Animation's efforts so far.

The fast pace does take a toll on the characters. With an 81 minute running time, character depth is going to be pretty limited (and yes, I realize this feels a little contradictory with what I said about Hulk/Banner, but frankly, whining isn't equal to depth, and that's usually what filmmakers have had Bruce Banner do). Hulk's "Warbound" is reduced to a band of four, cutting "No Name of the Brood" out entirely, and each is pretty much a one-note character; Korg is brave, Hiroim is faithful, Miek is reluctant, and Elloe is optimistic. Only Caiera Oldstrong shows any real character development, and her portrayal was easily a highlight of the movie.

About the animation; not a strength, not a weakness. I'm hard-pressed to point out any particular highlights, but can't think of any real weaknesses. Nothing stands out for being particularly well drawn (except perhaps the Red King's battle armor) and nothing stands out for the opposite reasons.

As I said above, the movie is fun, not great. There absolutely zero context for understanding the Illuminati's decision to shoot Hulk into space; when the movie starts it has already happened and Iron Man appears (with a shadowy Dr. Strange and Mr. Fantastic, and a fourth shadowy figure that is unidentifiable, though many want to assume is Black Bolt) to tell Hulk what's happening. Likewise, there is absolutely no reason given for why the crowd at the arena start referring to Hulk as the Sakaarson, their messiah figure. They just do. Now there might be reason for Hiroim to suspect, but it seemed pretty clear that the movie was just interested in getting the messiah story jump started as quickly as possible.

So, who should go out of their way to see this? People who want to see Hulk smash. As I said above, Hulk fans who are really into Hulk's psychological development are not going to find much to really enjoy. Anyone who enjoyed the comic series will probably enjoy this movie, even if they lament the scaling down of some of the comic's epic qualities. Worth the time, worth the rental, certainly. Worth the purchase? Unless you're a die hard Hulk or Marvel Animation fan, maybe not.

One last note; this movie is probably not appropriate for young children. The violence isn't quite as "comic book" as one might expect. Eyes get crushed. People burn to ashes. Parents turn into zombies and attack their children. Potentially scary stuff for youngsters.


Spoiler #1: The movie ends before the 'real' ending of the story, as those who have read the comic, know it. Hulk gets a happy ending.

Spoiler #2: The appearance of "the Silver Savage" was one of my personal favorite moments of Planet Hulk. I understand that the Silver Surfer character couldn't be used. Fine. But to replace him with Beta Ray Bill? A questionable choice, at best.

Dan Ford
Staff Reviewer

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