DVD Review: Hulk Vs: 2-Disc Special Edition
by Jeff Ritter
Published: January 27, 2009
I think most people who call themselves comic fans are also animation fans. If that's true, then it's reasonable to assume that fans of Marvel comics will be excited at the prospect of new Marvel animation features. The most recent offering is a 2 disc package called "Hulk Vs." While the creative teams behind these features certainly have great passion behind them, the results are perhaps a tiny bit underwhelming.
The first disc presents "Hulk vs. Wolverine." It clocks in at brisk 37 minutes, and I'd guess about 30 of those minutes are comprised of the Hulk or Wolverine punching and/or "snikting" everything in their paths. I'm a fight fan myself, be it boxing, wrestling or mixed martial arts, but a half hour of the Hulk's guttural growls and Wolverine's snarls is a bit much. That said, there were things I liked about this feature. It takes place before Wolverine became an X-Man, so he's working for Canada's Department H. The creators are able to blend the story from Wolverine's debut appearance in the Hulk's comic with his classic Barry Windsor Smith "Weapon X" origin story. They spice things up with the inclusion of some of Wolverine's best rogues gallery members, Sabretooth, Omega Red, Lady Deathstrike and Deadpool.
Writers Craig Kyle and Christopher_Yost are comic industry veterans and they try hard to appeal to the fanboys with these films. There's a moment when your screen is a near perfect recreation of the classic Todd McFarlane cover from The Incredible Hulk comic where the Hulk's rage is reflected in Wolverine's claws. Deadpool's "merc with the mouth" shtick is on full display here too, and was one of the highlights of this story. In "The Making of Hulk vs. Wolverine" bonus feature, Craig Kyle and Chris Yost comment that they went "mature" for this feature, and that's evident by both the graphic violence and PG-13 rating. Hulk and Wolverine pull no punches here, and there is a pretty fair amount of blood. Dismemberment is not uncommon either as both Deathstrike and Deadpool lose limbs. Sure, these conditions are temporary -- they're superpowered cyborgs and mutants after all -- but you have to know that when a kid sees this DVD at Walmart their mothers will probably throw it in the cart without a second thought. Don't say I didn't warn you about the violence. I dare say this film is more violent than the Hulk live-action feature. That may be because the violence is simply more concentrated with the short runtime. It's pretty clear that Kyle is doing this for the comic readership, and I believe it was Yost who states that comics themselves aren't for kids anymore. If your kids is graduating from Spongebob to the Hulk, well, good luck with that.
The second disc is Hulk vs. Thor, and this was the one I was more excited about. I love Thor -- I've got a longer uninterrupted run of Thor comics than those of any other character. Here again, Kyle, Yost and the production team do a tremendous job of demonstrating their love of the characters. As they say in "The Making of Hulk vs. Thor" bonus feature, this film is not truly "Hulk vs. Thor", it's truthfully Hulk vs. Asgard. Skurge the Executioner, who stood alone at Gjallerbru, makes a cameo. The Valkyrie, more famous as a longtime member of the Defenders than as a Thor supporting character, is used here. Lady Sif, The Enchantress, Hela, Loki, Odin, The Warriors Three, Baldur the Brave -- the Thor fanboy in me was giddy to see these characters in a new medium. I was also appreciative of the character designs for the most part. Balder looked like he was pulled right out of the legendary Walt Simonson comics, and Hel never looked so good. I also noted that Bruce Banner bore a loose resemblance to Edward Norton here, more than in "Hulk vs. Wolverine."
"Hulk vs. Thor" also underlined an issue I have with American animation in general: the art styles are lacking. "Hulk vs. Wolverine" has some decent moments in terms of posing and perspective, but everyone's cartoony. Thor's artistic style is even less refined, looking a bit dated. I know, I should consider the source. These animated features are based on comics, so why wouldn't they look cartoony? Well, why can't they just be drawn with a bit more realism? Comics have been going that way; look at Steve_Epting's Captain America, David Aja's Iron Fist, Michael Lark' Daredevil, and anything Alex Ross puts out. The Hulk is a grotesque character and I know to expect the angry green giant when he's involved, but why not inject some realism where possible? The Japanese anime form is considered every bit as viable as live action films, but in America, if it's animated it's automatically a cartoon. If Marvel won't do an anime quality production, they should consider embracing their famous artists. DC's animated production of "The New Frontier" borrowed heavily from creator Darwyn Cooke's art style. Why couldn't Marvel put together 45 minutes of Thor rendered in Walt Simonson's or Jack Kirby's style?
My other issue with the whole release is that it features the Hulk. I have to admit, I don't really care for the Hulk, and neither disc gives you any reason to. He's there for the fight, pure and simple. Despite the titles, Wolverine and Thor are the lead characters in their films. What made Batman: The Animated Series so great was the storytelling. Wolverine and Thor have plenty of villains in their rogues galleries that would have lent themselves to deeper stories. The storytelling in this package consists of a swift send-up of Wolverine's origin (the good one, anyway) and a sampling of who's who in Asgard for the uninitiated. Bruce Banner shows up in both, but he's such a whiner you'll hope Loki turns him into a goat.
But did I like this set? Yeah, I'm a comic geek, and I can't help it. I did enjoy what's here, I just think they can do better. There's a sneak peek at the upcoming "Thor: Tales of Asgard" feature that looks promising. My fellow comic geeks will likely enjoy it, but parents of young children should be aware of the violence.
Special features include previews for many of the previously released Marvel animated features, a "making of" featurette for each film, first looks for upcoming "Wolverine and The X-Men" and "Thor: Tales of Asgard" releases, a retrospective of Jack Kirby's influence on Thor and audio commentary tracks for each film.