Because of DC Comics’ relationship with its parent company, Warner Bros., superhero fans have recently been treated to frequent, high-quality, direct-to-video animated features drawn from classic DC stories. But Marvel Animation has lagged, focusing more on TV series, staggered with the occasional tentative DVD introduction to a prime Marvel property. Marvel Animation’s new DVD Planet Hulk represents a rare modicum of ambition, as it takes on a recent, well-received storyline from the Hulk comics, and does so without a lot of setup. Planet Hulk opens with the green-skinned, constantly enraged Hulk in shackles on a spaceship, having been exiled from Earth by a council of concerned superheroes. Hulk breaks free and smashes up the ship, throwing it off-course, and crash-lands on the planet Sakaar, where he’s enslaved by the natives and pressed into gladiatorial combat.
As in Greg Pak’s original “Planet Hulk” stories, the movie delves into the culture and politics of Sakaar, and sets up a Spartacus/Gladiator scenario where Hulk leads an army of slaves against their common oppressors. It’s hardly original, but it’s reasonably sophisticated for a movie aimed at 12-year-olds (and perpetual 12-year-olds). Too bad the animation style isn’t as adventurous as the plot. The look of Planet Hulk isn’t substantially different from Marvel’s usual, functional animation style—and in fact may be a little duller, given the more distinctive designs of series like Iron Man: Armored Adventures and The Super Hero Squad Show. The Planet Hulk DVD features a preview of an upcoming straight-to-DVD Thor movie that looks far more exciting, design-wise—almost like a Studio Ghibli version of the Marvel Universe.
Like most of the previous Marvel Animation movies, Planet Hulk is rated PG-13, which mainly gives the creative team license to lightly pepper the film with mild profanity and blood-spatter. And action-wise, Planet Hulk is fairly intense, marked by one scene after another of Hulk pounding some alien critter into a pulp. (Including obscure Marvel character Beta Ray Bill!) But the end product doesn’t reflect the kind of care and imagination that DC/Warner has been putting into its animated movies. Given how many terrific stories Marvel has in its archive, it’s good to see them hauling one out to refashion as a cartoon. Next time, maybe they’ll come up with something as vivid as the source material.
Key features: Two in-depth featurettes, plus two wonky commentary tracks, two “motion comics,” two music videos, and a bonus Hulk-themed episode of Wolverine & The X-Men.