"Planet Hulk," the latest animated feature from Marvel Studios and Lionsgate Home Entertainment, hits shelves today with a story inspired by one of the character's most popular story arcs in recent years.
Based on Greg Pak's 2006-2007 arc in the "Incredible Hulk" comic book series, "Planet Hulk" finds Marvel's green goliath transported to a harsh planet where he's enslaved and forced to compete in gladiatorial combat under the brutal rule of The Red King. Weakened by the journey through space, Hulk must rely on his savage instincts to survive the new environment, and eventually finds himself leading a rag-tag group of fellow gladiators.
"Planet Hulk" is directed by Sam Liu ("Superman/Batman: Public Enemies") with a screenplay by Greg Johnson ("Doctor Strange"). This review is based on the Two-Disc Special Edition DVD. Oh, and SPOILER WARNING!
THE GOOD: While the "Planet Hulk" movie takes liberties with its comic book source material, the basic elements of the story (and what produced some of Hulk's best comics in quite a long time) remain the same: Hulk finds himself on a world where the savage side of his dual existence is not only the norm, but encouraged by friends and enemies alike. With Bruce Banner rendered irrelevant, both the film and its source material offer a fresh take on the character as they explore Hulk's growth as the dominant side of the Banner/Hulk equation.
By using a cast of unknown voice actors, "Planet Hulk" avoids one of the stumbling blocks of many recent animated features. Star power can occasionally make it difficult to separate voices from the actors behind them, and the combined effect of hearing the voice, picturing the actor, and seeing the animated character can create a dissonance that distracts from the film. With "Planet Hulk," the characters' voices were not only cast well, but ran little to no risk of taking the audience out of the film.
Along with cameos by well-known characters like Iron Man, Reed Richards and Dr. Strange, there's also a great sequence in "Planet Hulk" that features Thor and one of my favorite lesser-known Marvel characters, Beta Ray Bill. In fact, Beta Ray Bill replaces Silver Surfer in an extended scene taken from the comics, since the rights to Surfer are currently owned by "Fantastic Four" studio 20th Century Fox. Comics fans should also keep a close eye on the audience during many of the gladiator scenes in "Planet Hulk," as various characters from the cosmic side of the Marvel Universe make cameos, including Star-Lord and Warlock.
THE BAD: While the theme of "Planet Hulk" remains true to its source material, anyone who enjoyed the tale as it unfolded in the comics is likely to be disappointed by the omission of several key scenes and characters from Pak's "Incredible Hulk" run. In fact, several moments that provide much of the emotional impact and reader attachment in the comic have been changed significantly in the animated film — and with considerably less dramatic results. In some cases, lifting these scenes or characters directly from the comic would have required too much explanation or left too many threads hanging at the end of the film, but a few of the changes appear to simply be directorial decisions, and the overall product suffers for them.
On a more trivial yet no less annoying note, much of the Hulk's dialogue in the first 1/3 of the film tends to be limited to roars and grunts, which gets a bit repetitive — and unintentionally funny. Rick D. Wasserman does an admirable job as the voice of Hulk throughout the film, but viewers have to suffer through a little too much "HULK SMASH!!!" and guttural roars to get to the meat of Wasserman's performance. Note to Marvel Studios: We get it — Hulk's a primal beast.
FINAL WORD: "Planet Hulk" is an excellent addition to Marvel's lineup of animated features, and holds up well as a standalone film. It avoids many of the flaws of other animated features, and manages to offset most of its shortcomings with fan-pleasings tweaks and cameos. However, when judged against its source material, "Planet Hulk" is a far cry from the powerful story originally authored by Pak. It feels toned-down for younger audiences and removed from the greater comics continuity more than previous animated films — and given the story's importance to many of the Marvel Comics storylines developing after "Planet Hulk," fans of the comic could have some issues with the story decisions.
In the end, "Planet Hulk" is a fun film that should prove entertaining for mainstream audiences and fans of the character. Marvel Studios and Lionsgate are headed in the right direction with their animated features, and "Planet Hulk" feels like another step forward.
"Planet Hulk" arrives on shelves today (February 2) as a Two-Disc Special Edition DVD, Special Edition Blu-Ray, Standard DVD, and Digital Download.