Hulk Vs. direct-to-video animation
Directors: Sam Lui (Thor)/Frank Paur (Wolverine)
Writers: Christopher Yost & Craig Kyle
Studio: Lionsgate Films/Marvel Animation
My wife and I were at Blockbuster a short while ago, looking for a flick to kill an evening. While she was off picking something out for the both of us, I happened upon this DVD, and I decided to give it a look (figuring I’d watch it on my PC while my better half immersed herself in one of those History Channel shows I find so tedious). The animation for both short films is sharp, and it seems to be somewhat in keeping with the house style for the new Wolverine and the X-Men cartoon. It’s obvious this DVD is intended more as a marketing tool for forthcoming big-screen films featuring Marvel properties (this summer’s X-Men Origins: Wolverine and the in-production Thor flick), and I went in with that in mind, eyes wide open. With the two short animated films, Hulk Vs. offers up a mixed bag. There’s a nice introduction to the players and Asgardian culture one needs to appreciate Thor, but the Wolverine short is awful, its gratuitousness matched only by the completely ineffectual nature of its script.
Shortly after the Hulk’s “birth,” he wanders into Canadian territory, which prompts Department H to call upon its deadliest and most effective superhuman agent to deal with the problem. After Wolverine hunts and finds the Hulk, he soon discovers that the havoc for which he’s been blamed actually lies at the feet of a quartet of Weapon X project assassins tasked with capturing the green-skinned monster. Years later, Loki sees the Hulk as the ultimate weapon for him to use to wage war on Asgard and destroy his half-brother, Thor, god of thunder. After separating Bruce Banner from the Hulk, he sends the mindless brute to cut a swath of destruction through Asgard, now unimpeded by a human soul or conscience.
The 37-minute Hulk Vs. Wolverine feature will probably be the bigger draw, given the higher profile of the Hulk’s opponent. The screenwriters also use this opportunity to showcase some of the supporting Weapon X characters and villains who will play a role in the upcoming live-action Wolverine movie. Of course, for some reason, all we really learn about these characters — Sabretooth, Deadpool, Omega Red and Lady Deathstrike — are their names. What drives them or their specific powers aren’t spelled out clearly at all. Another frustrating aspect of the Wolverine feature is that there is absolutely no resolution to the plot. The “story,” such as it is, stops in mid-battle between the two title characters; the filmmakers make no effort to satisfy the audience in any way. I realize the main point is to present a series of fight scenes, but even a boxing match ends with some kind of decision.
Furthermore, I was shocked to find that the violence in this cartoon exceeds anything we’ve seen in any of the live-action X-Men movies. Limbs are sliced up and torn off with abandon, and it adds nothing to the story save to establish a more “adult” tone. My belief is that the uber-violence is meant to appeal to a younger audience of ‘tween boys. While this is rated PG-13, the other films promoted on the disc seem more in keeping with a younger audience. The producers can claim this is for grown-ups all they want, but it seems clear to me to whom this is being marketed.
The 45-minute Thor movie is much more interesting. Yost and Kyle tap into the cycles of Asgardian myth and its warrior culture quite well. the various characters — from the Warriors Three to Hela — are introduced clearly, and Hulk’s presence in Asgard actually makes sense from a plot standpoint. The plot is unfortunately rather predictable, but it’s thankfully not as gory and gratuitous as the companion feature on the DVD. Perhaps the greatest strength of the Hulk Vs. Thor short was the strength of the backgrounds. While the animators didn’t really embrace Jack Kirby’s vision of Asgard, there’s definitely a majesty and otherworldly wonder to be found in the main setting.
One aspect of this short film that disappointed in the same way that the Wolverine short did is the lackluster nature of the voice performances. They were serviceable, but little more. And the cast was made up of unknowns, so there wasn’t even the appeal of trying to pick out the name actors during the course of the features. 4/10