Iron Man, Reed Richards, Dr. Strange, and an unidentified fourth member of their secret group (which by process of elimination and comparison to the comic story is likely Black Bolt, but he would be too complicated to explain to movie viewers) banished the Hulk from Earth because they couldn’t overcome his destructive force. His spaceship lands on another planet looking for a gladiator savior to free them from slavery.
When the comic story started, I thought it was a good idea to get Hulk into a different environment, one where they could use the character’s strengths and weaknesses to their fullest without worrying about how he fit into the Marvel universe (not well). That’s even more true here, where we’re watching a different world full of alien species, a distinction played up well in the animated Planet Hulk. (Note that we only see the Hulk; Bruce Banner doesn’t make an appearance. I don’t know why he doesn’t revert; his psyche knowing that the human would die on this new planet, maybe?)
After struggling to adjust to his new situation, Hulk eventually joins with a motley band of outcasts and prisoners to overthrow the tyrant. This allows him to smash a lot, which is the core of the character and presumably what Hulk fans want to see. Unlike DC’s direct-to-DVD animated films, this Marvel movie uses unknown voices cast for their suitability instead of star power. I liked that, since I didn’t get distracted from the story wondering whom I was hearing.
While the plot is promising, the script is horrible. The dialogue seems to have been written by the Cliche-O-Mat, assisted by Hulk Mad Libs. The story is lots of fighting, which is of little interest to me, and random deaths, which I’m tired of. In an early scene, we’re supposed to get emotionally involved in the death of one of the characters, whom we’ve only seen for five minutes and I’m not sure he even has a name. Never mind that several bug-like characters’ deaths were just minutes before being played for comedy.
The emotions are broadly painted, obviously captured, and conveniently forgotten to move the plot and/or fights along. Some fans have been upset that the Silver Surfer has been replaced in this version of the story by Beta Ray Bill, due to licensing restrictions. (The Silver Surfer is used by Fox, not Lionsgate, who put this out.) I couldn’t tell how or when he was replaced, since I haven’t read the comic. Honestly, by 25 minutes into the 80-minute film, I was nodding off. It’s perfectly fine for what it is, but it’s not really my thing. I’m not a fantasy fan, especially when it’s all about the fighting. We skipped ahead to the end, where surprise surprise, the bad guy was defeated and a voiceover spouted more cliches. If you liked the story, or if you like epic struggle or the character, I’m sure you’ll like this as a relatively faithful moving adaptation.
Planet Hulk is also available on Blu-ray or a single-disc edition that lacks some of the special features and the digital copy. Those special features here include two commentaries — one by supervising producer Joshua Fine and screenwriter Greg Johnson, the other by director Sam Liu, character designer Philip Bourassa, and key background painter Steve Nicodemus.
The featurette “A Whole World of Hurt: The Making of Planet Hulk” amusingly starts with Joshua Fine talking about he didn’t want to do this because he thought they’d already done the Hulk to death (I assume with last year’s Hulk Vs.). However, this story showed him new things about the character because of the emotional arc and complexity of the story. The animators also discuss how they couldn’t capture everything about the story (because it would have been a six-hour miniseries) so they opted to choose some of the big fight set pieces. Which sums up why I’m not the target audience. I would have rather had the emotional moments and fewer fights. But they’re playing to the appeal of the character, who isn’t exactly a deep thinker. The rest of the 22-minute featurette is the usual process review — sketches, computer animation demos, art used to inspire the animators, voice casting, etc.
The 12-minute “Let the Smashing Commence!: The Saga of Planet Hulk” explores the comic story through interviews with writer Greg Pak and artist Aaron Lopresti. This kept my attention best of any of the disc’s features, especially when Pak gave the list of items he got from Editor-in-Chief Joe Quesada as springboard for the story (it included “alien planet” and “battleaxe”).
The special edition also includes a Wolverine and the X-Men episode where Wolverine battles Hulk and two motion comics. Plus, there’s a preview of the next direct-to-DVD animated movie, Thor: Tales of Asgard, the story of young Thor and his friends, coming 2011. More fighting, plus British accents. Even though I didn’t care for the movie subject, this special edition is a good package for the film, with plenty of supporting and related material. (The studio provided a review copy.)