Hulk vs. (US - BD)
Gabe would've preferred a series of Stan Lee vs. shorts, but these'll do...
The new Marvel animated universe continues missing the magic of both the studio’s revamped and classic comics, not to mention the relative success of their newly formed live-action universe. The first four films in the new series ( Ultimate Avengers 1 and 2, The Invincible Iron Man, and Dr. Strange) were dully plotted, missing the point of their comic book counterparts. They were also hideously animated. The fifth film, Next Avengers, was more stylish, but the writers put little effort into creating an intriguing storyline, or charming characters.
For this new duo of short films, the studio continues taking correct steps stylistically, but it also continues to devolve in storytelling. What started as simply dumbing down comic storylines ( The Ultimates would’ve been eight hours long and R-rated, had they directly adapted it), has turned into creating forty minute action scenes.
The plot of Hulk Vs. Wolverine is an adaptation of a few issues of the original Hulk comic which first introduced Wolverine, and several issues of the various Wolverine origin stories, mostly Barry Windsor-Smith’s Weapon X series. The short seems to have been made to introduce younger audiences to Wolverine’s Weapon X buddies Deadpool and Omega Red, and re-introduce them to already adapted characters like Sabretooth and Lady Deathstrike. Of course, it’s no coincidence that Wolverine has a new animated series (where he’s also voiced by Steve Blum), and will have a new movie this summer.
Without credits, Hulk vs. Wolverine is only about thirty minutes long, making it an ever so slightly elongated episode of a normal television series. There’s not a lot of story to be told in thirty minutes, and there’s so much fighting in the film, that I can’t believe the script was more than twelve pages. It’s not a terrible adaptation of the origin story, one might even praise its efficiency (we’ll see if the new movie isn’t a bit overlong this summer), but there isn’t a lot of meat in the package. In total it feels like a good start to a Wolverine solo series… just not the one on television right now.
Hulk vs. Thor is the longer movie, but it features surprisingly less plot. Basically, the audience is given a crash course in Asgard’s lore, then Hulk pounds the stuffing out of everything around him. A few other things occur (Bruce Banner’s soul becomes the second act McGuffin), but it mostly amounts to a lot of hitting, and it gets a little boring, especially compared to the mythology heavy episodes of Justice League. It’s not a continuation of the first segment, though one assumes both films take place in the same universe (and there are plenty of cues to tell us Hulk vs. Thor takes place after the two Ultimate Avenger movies). The want to tell the story seems a little more genuine than the money grab behind Hulk vs. Wolverine (even if a Thor movie is also in production), but the execution is a less effective, and more like the other Marvel animated films, just without the extra thirty minutes of story elongation.
The broad shouldered, tiny footed character designs of Hulk vs. Wolverine are appreciated. If you lack the budget for pristine animation, the difference should be made up for in stylistic choices. I’m not so fond of the use of the ‘90s style costumes for most of the characters, but it’s a small issue in the long run (though Sabretooth looks pretty stupid). Hulk vs. Thor is closer to the previous Marvel animated feature releases in look and character design, but pushes its angles, and generally simplifies everything. The studio continues their use of hard lined, multi-coloured shadows from Next Avengers, which is also much appreciated after four movies featuring smudgy grey shading. The biggest improvement from the previous Marvel animated movies is the staging and lighting. Both shorts are full of tilted camera angles, strange perspectives, and in general, a whole lot of scope. Hulk vs. Wolverine is especially stylish, likely thanks to DC Animated Universe alumni Kevin Altieri and Butch Lukic.
The producers get more of their money’s worth out of the PG-13 rating this time. In the first ‘episode’ clawed creatures with mutant healing powers cut and punch the crap out of each other, and the people around them, including four bloody arm removals (five if we’re counting actual arms removed), and the evil members of Weapon X generally curse like prime time television sailors.
Hulk vs. Wolverine, being the darker of the two films, is the less impressive in high definition, but the crispness of the lines and the solid nature of the colours is still impressive. There is no noise or blocking to be found in the rich blacks though, and only a hint of enhancement along the thin character lines. Hulk vs. Thor, taking place in the candy coloured daylight of Asgard, features almost zero blackness. Even edges are coloured, and thus feature fewer edge enhancements. The hand painted backgrounds never quite match the characters, nor do the characters ever interact with it convincingly, but the shades and gradation is impressive in 1080p.
Another overly and amusingly aggressive DTS-HD Master Audio track from our friends at Lionsgate. On this track the Hulk’s lumbering breath alone is enough to knock your speakers off their stands with rumbling bass. Actually, it’s often the most prominent thing on the entire track. The sound designers don’t totally fill the mix with effects, but the channels are all plenty busy with a few objects at a time, clean, and directionally correct dialog, and Guy Michelmore’s thickly produced score. Michelmore doesn’t directly rip-off anything I can recognize this time around, and the scale of these scores is generally impressive.
Extras begin with a series of audio commentaries. Hulk vs. Wolverine features commentary with producer/writers Craig Kyle and Chris Yost, and a separate track featuring director Frank Paur, and storyboarders Kevin Altieri and Butch Lukic. Kyle and Yost are two of the Marvel animation regulars, and it is similar to the other Marvel animation commentaries (i.e. a tiny bit fan-boy annoying). The Paur, Altieri and Lukic track is a different story. Hulk vs. Wolverine marks the first time the team has worked together since the original Batman: The Animated Series. Hulk vs. Thor also features a track with Kyle and Yost, along with another director/artist track featuring Paur, Sam Liu and James Peters. The Thor track is more concerned with colour styles than movement. The commentary teams point out plenty of famous cover image homage, points out Deadpool’s ace ad libs (which actually saved some scenes), and marvels (if you’ll excuse the pun) at the amount of blood that made the cut (working in TV for years has made them more conscious of such things than most of us).
‘This is Gonna Hurt’ is another fluffy making-of featurette from the folks that brought us all the other Marvel animation EPKs. In fact, this one was more or less made available on the Next Avengers DVD. They’ve added a bit of information here, but it’s still more of a sales pitch than an informational video. Interviewees include writers Kyle and Yost, character designer Jeff Matsuda, director Paur, and voice actors Steve Blum, Fred Tatasciore, and Nolan North. The character sketches and background plates are a cool touch, but there isn’t a lot about the design process, mostly just samples of the direct homage. The featurette runs about twenty minutes.
‘Fan Frenzy’ is one of those loud and cheery Comic Con panel videos that keep me away from convention panels. The audience pee their pants over seconds of footage, then lob softballs at the writers, Tatasciore (the voice of the Hulk) and Paur, and they all do their best to condescend to their audience. Craig Kyle is definitely a good hype man, I’ll give him that. It runs about eight minutes.
The Hulk vs. Wolverine extras end with a look at the new animated series Wolverine and the X-Men. I’ve seen a few episodes, and it’s not a bad show. This kind of writing just seems to work better in series form. The silly thing is that they announce that there is a Wolverine vs. Hulk episode in the series, begging the question: ‘Why make this movie?’
The additional Hulk vs. Thor extras begin with ‘Of Gods and Monsters’, which is equally fluffy as ‘This is Gonna Hurt’, and was also partially shown on the Next Avengers discs. This bit focuses a little more, and much quicker upon the actors, including interviews with Graham McTavish (he was the Brit merc in Rambo), Tatasciore (again), and Matt Wolfe. Paur again focuses a bit more on the look of the short, Yost talks about the geeky comic history stuff, and Kyle continues selling the product. This featurette runs about eighteen-and-a-half minutes.
‘Kirby + Thor’ is a look at artist Jack Kirby’s work on the Thor comics in the ‘60s. This featurette is a little out of place considering how un-Kirby the short looks (Bruce Timm’s Planet Apokolips on Superman and Justice League was spot on Kirby), but it’s still a nice touch, for younger fans especially, but at less than five minutes no one stands to learn too much.
Everything comes to a finish with a first look at Thor: Tales of Asgard, which looks to be a continuation on this stylistic and storytelling improvement, and a whole bunch of trailers.
I’m getting pretty bored with this staff’s take on the Hulk, especially their mostly un-heroic or repentant representation of Banner, but it’s pretty cool to use the familiar character as a means to introduce others. If this were the first few episodes of a new TV series I’d be impressed enough to keep watching, but there will probably be another half year between this and the studio’s next release, and as standalone’s there just isn’t enough to produce any lasting durability. This two ‘film’ (I use the term loosely based on the run-times of each) collection marks the studio’s most impressive effort, and it’s worth a watch for fans of the characters, but I can’t picture myself ever watching either again.
*Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray release.
Review by Gabriel Powers
Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13
Release Date: 27th January 2009
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 English
Subtitles: English HoH and Spanish
Extras: Director and Crew Commentary, Producer Commentary, 'This is Gonna Hurt', 'Fan Frenzy', 'Of Gods and Monsters', 'Kirby + Thor', Sneek Peeks, Trailers
Easter Egg: No
Director: Frank Paur
Cast: Mark Acheson, Michael Adamthwaite, Steve Blum, Jay Brazeau, Grey DeLisle
Genre: Action and Animation
Length: 78 minutes
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