5 Feb 2010

Screen Time: PLANET HULK

By Stewart R

Cast: Kevin Michael Richardson, Rick D. Wasserman, Mark Hildreth, Liam O’Brien, Lisa Ann Belay, Advah Soudack, Sam Vincent
Director: Sam Liu
Writers: Greg Johnson (screenplay) Greg Pak (comic-book)
Runtime: 81 mins
Release Date: 2 February 2010

Considering that Iron Man 2 is out in a few months, cameras are rolling on Thor and the First Avenger: Captain America casting is due any time now, I’m slightly surprised that Marvel have used this animated window of opportunity to focus on the Hulk again. Slightly less surprising is the decision to use Greg Pak’s critically acclaimed Planet Hulk as the basis for some gamma-induced action.

Spanning some 13 issues of Incredible Hulk the Planet Hulk storyline inevitably suffers some ‘scaling down’ for these 81 minutes of animation but doesn’t suffer too much in terms of quality. Events kick off with a brief holographic message from the ‘Illuminati’ as the (temporarily) restrained Hulk is informed of the fate that Earth's forces of good have determined for him and suffice to say the Green Goliath doesn’t take kindly to the news! Cue the usual amount of bellowing and tearing asunder as Hulk’s final destination alters to brutal Planet Sakaar.

What we get next is a trim Gladiator-tour-de-force, coming across like Marvel’s own version of Spartacus, as the Hulk, showing no interest in battling for the inhabitants amusement or helping his fellow captives, sulks, strops and occasionally brings out the fists-a-flying action to win the trust of those growing close to him as he provides ever growing problems for the smarmy and underhanded Red King.

The comic went quite deeply into the growing bond of brotherhood and camaraderie that the Warbound developed through their trails and it’s an obvious victim for the restrictive runtime, as is the full compliment of Hulk’s followers from the comic run (Brood making no appearance here). This restriction probably helps to keep the appeal of this animated feature quite broad and ensures that it doesn’t get too bogged down in character development and things keep progressing at a good lick as a result.

Director Sam Liu, fresh off the back of directing DC’s Superman/Batman: Public Enemies returns to the Hulk having previously helmed the Hulk Vs title for Marvel. This time of course he’s dealing with a character with a little more personality than the brainless monster he’s brought to the screen before and this is the start of some of the minor niggles. Liu doesn’t go into the Hulk’s growing relationship with Caiera in far enough detail and doesn’t even bother to explain the source of her powers. Considering that she manages to go toe to toe with ‘the strongest there is’ this probably should have been fleshed out a little, and by the time that the sliver of romanticism arrives it’s quickly washed under the carpet of ceremony.

The Hulk’s strength also proves to be an issue that’s never quite balanced enough. One second he’s having real trouble pushing a rather large door open and the next he’s decimating tentacled-nasties with huge, shockwave-inducing blows. Simply showing that his journey to Sakaar had left him fatigued could have made his growing ability to overcome the foes thrown at him more plausible.

For a villain the Red King is also rather lightweight and while his acts of leadership are certainly vile he’s portrayed more as the spoiled brat than a cruel leader of the people. It causes the earlier battles and gladiatorial set-pieces to be far more entertaining that the final scrap which is something of a shame.

Niggles aside this is something of a romp with plenty of ‘Hulk Smash’ for your money. The quality of the animation is as high as I’ve come to expect though the drawn characters are kept simple and understated at the same time. As with many of the animated features from the two big publishers these days, the action can be necessarily brutal at times and the story benefits from this honest portrayal of violence. There are various little nods to other corners of the Marvel Universe and a rather large character substitution which works quite well in the long-run.

This is a pretty decent adaptation of the comic with plenty of tension, a dose of drama and a gut-full of gamma-rage. It’s by no means perfect but then it could just be me getting fussy in my old age. The big question now of course is will Marvel be tempted to give us World War Hulk in animated form? 7/10

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