So, how does Lionsgate Home Entertainment and Marvel Animation follow-up last year’s great Next Avengers: Heroes of Tomorrow, the kid-friendly futuristic adventure? Why, by putting the Hulk through some of the toughest obstacles he’s ever faced and tossing in a bunch of popular Marvel characters. Thor? Check! Wolverine? Check! What seems to be an infinite amount of supporting characters? Check. Hulk Versus is full of surprises, some surprises that are just too great to spoil here, and others that will keep you on the edge of your seat until both stories wrap up. The creative teams at Marvel Animated Features have been upping their game with each movie. Last year’s Next Avengers: Heroes of Tomorrow was a great animated flick, one of the best they’ve done, but Hulk Versus is a fanboy’s dream come to life, one that I’m sure many will dig.
Marvel Animated Features and Lionsgate will release two of the most legendary chapters in Marvel’s comic book history with the eagerly awaited DVD release Hulk Vs. If Hulk alone weren’t enough, Hulk is now joined by the Super Heroes of the next 2 Marvel tentpole films—Wolverine and Thor in this newest addition to the Marvel Animated Features series. Make way for the clash of Marvel’s mightiest heroes, as Bruce Banner’s alter-ego takes on fan favorites Wolverine and Thor in two epic, all new, action-packed animated films—Hulk Vs. Wolverine and Hulk Vs. Thor. Two great stories – one great movie! These dark and violent showdowns have been seen in various forms throughout Marvel comic book history, and the rematches have continued to thrill comic fans ever since. Now Marvel and Lionsgate have taken the two epic comic book battles and merged them into two heart pounding tales on one DVD release that stays true to its comic book roots.
Hulk Versus is essentially two stories under one label – Hulk Versus Wolverine and Hulk Versus Thor Even the menu system for the 2-Disc Special Edition DVD and the Blu-ray treat them as different entities. Since Hulk Versus is basically treated as two mini-movies, I will be taking the same approach with this review by looking at Hulk Versus Wolverine and Hulk Versus Thor separately. Both of these stories are completely different in tone and execution and they merit individual examination.
First up is Hulk Versus Wolverine, 37 minutes of pure carnage. Hulk Versus Wolverine hits the ground running with Wolverine and Hulk duking it out as the result of Department H sending the soon-to-be-X-Man to investigate the destruction of a small Canadian town. This movie is definitely a fanboy’s dream, as there’s little that will disappoint fans here. If there’s any hardcore Sabretooth, Omega Red, or Deathstrike fans, well, then they may be upset that those characters act mostly as window-dressing here, never really coming off as fully dimensional characters. That’s the only real downside in the character department. Hulk and Wolverine are handled as best as can be expected for this movie, each getting some truly jaw-dropping moments, even though the emphasis seems to be more on Wolverine than Hulk. We get to see Wolverine’s backstory, from him first being kidnapped outside of a bar, to the Adamantium bonding procedure (which has never looked more painful than it does here), up to his very bloody escape from the Weapon X program. It’s amazing to see his origin done justice here, which was something I was not expecting to see in Hulk Versus Wolverine.
As fun as Hulk Versus Wolverine is, one character will be a definite standout to the fans – Deadpool. Performed to perfection by Nolan North, Deadpool is absolutely hilarious in this mini-movie, getting the best one-liners and jokes. There’s even a great Deadpool gag that you should stick around after the credits for.
And like I said, Hulk Versus Wolverine is pure fanboy fun, even if it is a bit juvenile. Remember Superman Doomsday last year, how some of the action scenes were so over-the-top? Well, Wolverine Versus Hulk is incredibly over-the-top violent, and it knows it. In fact, it soaks it up from start to finish. Blood is just splashed over the scenery as we see bodies ripped apart, pummeled, and clawed to pieces for the film’s duration. Now, I’m not saying this is a bad thing, but I know some fans may have a rough time sitting through 37 minutes of pure violence. And even though the story is a bit thin, it’s still solid enough to get hooked into it and enjoy. This movie is absolutely delirious at times, and it seems to just revel in it. There’s one scene in particular where the Hulk just smashes Wolverine into the ground and then proceeds to pummel him repeatedly over and over and over again. It’s absolutely insane how violent this movie is and how bloody it can be at times. Still, fans expecting a rock ’em-sock ’em clash between Hulk and Wolverine will not be disappointed, and they’ll even get a few surprises along the way.
And from there we move onto the second mini-movie, Hulk Versus Thor. Fans of Thor may find themselves torn by this 45 minute movie. Thor takes an enormous amount of punishment in this movie, but he does it for a reason. A reason that some viewers may not realize right away, which I won’t spoil here. The plot, much like Wolverine Versus Hulk is simple. Loki has brought the Hulk to Asgard in order to take over the kingdom. After separating Banner from the Hulk, Loki soon finds himself unable to control the beast, resulting in Thor and Loki teaming up to save Asgard from total destruction. That’s basically it. But, instead of the ferocious nature of the Hulk Versus Wolverine movie, we get more of a majestic, epic feel to the story Hulk Versus Thor. Like Hulk Versus Wolverine, we get to see a great amount of Thor’s supporting characters, some who are given smaller roles than others, of course, but still, each one gets a moment or two to shine. And, naturally, Thor himself is given the largest role in the movie, and he’s handled quite well for the character. Again, others may find fault with how the Hulk really does take Thor to the cleaners, but I thought it worked in building the suspense in the story. I also found the violence here was handled really differently than in the Hulk Versus Wolverine movie. There’s plenty of action, yes, but we don’t see limbs fly and blood splatter here. The violence here seemed more stylized as opposed to the brutal nature of the other movie included here. Comparing the stories here, while both to be somewhat thin, I found Hulk Versus Thor to be more engaging. Maybe it was the fantastical nature of the setting, but I found it really easy to get into and get lost with Hulk Versus Thor.
The different styles for each mini-movie works for their respective stories. The designs for Hulk Versus feel more angular and rough, adding to the violent, dark nature of the Hulk Versus Wolverine tale. In Hulk Versus Thor, the designs are stylized, but they also carry a sense of the fantastic to them. They aren’t as angular and rough as Hulk Versus Wolverine, but they do have some extra detail and more of a rounded look. Both movies keep the designs true to their comic roots, giving us classic versions of some of the most beloved costumes in the Marvel Universe. Whether it’s the classic Thor suit or their rendition of the original Wolverine costume, the design work here is incredibly faithful to its roots and for that I believe it adds to what this movie is trying to do – bring some big Marvel battles to life. Spearheaded by Jeff Matsuda (The Batman), Hulk Versus is probably one of the best looking Marvel Animated Features to date. This is coupled with the top-notch animation in Hulk Versus. A stand-out scene, for me, is the beautifully animated scene where Wolverine tackles a bear in the frozen Northern Canadian tundra.
Before I go any further, I just want to make specific note of a few things. In terms of the cast, Fred Tatasciore is great as the Hulk, providing just the right amount of ferocity to the role, one he’s reprising from previous Marvel Animated Features. Bryce Johnson, who played the lead in the Doctor Strange animated feature, plays the victimized Banner to interesting effect here. Steve Blum and Matthew Wolf play Wolverine and Thor, each bringing weight and gravitas to their respective roles. I already mentioned Nolan North’s great work as Deadpool earlier in this review. The score by Guy Michelmore also deserves a special mention. Michelmore manages to ups his game considerably with each movie he composes, and his excellent work here is no exception. I strongly suggest downloading this score when it becomes available to download on iTunes next week. I also found the directing on both features to be some of the best yet to grace a Marvel Animated Feature.
If I have any major criticism, it seems that Hulk acts mostly as a plot point for both movies and that’s it. We get to see a bit more of him, but, for the most part, he seems just there to smash things and he serves that purpose well. Fans should be happy to hear Hulk spout all of his popular lines from the comics, and also a few more. They did a good job with the Hulk, don’t get me wrong, but I was hoping we’d see these more has Hulk stories instead of vehicles for Wolverine and Thor. It’s because of the Hulk that Wolverine finds himself in a difficult situation. It’s because of Hulk that Thor has to go to Hell itself to try and save Asgard. Hulk seems to be a pawn in both movies, both of Department H and Loki, and I suppose that was the best way to work him into these roles. They do him justice, though, and for what the movie present, Hulk is handled well. It’s likely because the stories for both Hulk Versus Wolverine and Hulk Versus Thor are somewhat thin, but I suppose it works in the grand scheme to try and find a way to make these characters meet. On the other hand, I like that this movie actually had the nerve to toss the viewer into the middle of a story. When we first see Bruce Banner in Hulk Versus Thor, he’s already been captured by Loki. And in Hulk Versus Wolverine, we first see Banner just after he’s rampaged through a small Canadian town. Both movies give enough exposition to keep the viewers up to speed, especially those who may be new to the Marvel Universe. To those viewers in the know, there’s plenty of references to the comic books to keep them entertained. My personal favorite is the visual reference to the cover of Wolverine Origins #1 in the Hulk Versus Wolverine segment.
While Hulk Versus may not be perfect, will definitely please fans and newcomers. If you’re looking for a kick-ass comic movie, you got it here! The entire Hulk Versus feature is a fun exercise in letting comic book characters run loose, but if I had to pick a favorite out of the two, I’d have to lean a bit more toward Hulk Versus Thor. Don’t get me wrong, Hulk Versus Wolverine is fun with it’s over-the-top insanity, but the epic feel of Hulk Versus Thor just grabbed me a little more. The visuals are eye-popping and exciting, and still found myself engaged by both of the movies even though the stories are somewhat thin. Probably the highest profile Marvel Animated Feature to date, Hulk Versus is definitely something that fans haven’t seen before. Yes, they’ve seen heroes tussle in their favorite comics, even in some of the other cartoons and animated features, but never like this. The action is intense and usually unforgiving as characters hack and smash their way through these two features. And while some will find the violence over-the-top and repetitive, others will no doubt get a kicks out of the demented and sometimes cartoonish mayhem. Hulk Versus is another great release by Marvel Animated Features that comes Highly Recommended.
Lionsgate Home Entertainment has released Hulk Versus in the standard Elite Blu-ray case with a foil-embossed cardboard O-ring slipcase. The artwork on the slipcover replicates the artwork for the case wrap-around. Disappointingly, there’s no artwork on the other side of the case wrap-around, artwork that can be seen through the Elite case when you open it up, something that apparently recently discontinued on their Blu-ray releases. Suprisingly, the Maple Pictures release of this title in Canada features art on both sides of case wrap-around.
Now, onto the actual contents of the Blu-ray disc itself, it should come as no surprise that Lionsgate Home Entertainment, Maple Pictures in Canada, has created a great release for the new Marvel Animated Feature. After including only a handful of disappointing extras for each of their previous Marvel Animation Features releases, Lionsgate has finally given us an amazing selection of bonus features that should please any fan. Since the menus are divided between Hulk Versus Wolverine and Hulk Versus Thor, the respective bonus material will be approached in the same manner.
For the Hulk Versus Wolverine half of the disc, the extras include an audio commentary with Craig Kyle and Chris Yost, an audio commentary with Frank Paur, Kevin Altieri and Butch Lukic, a “This is Gonna Hurt: The Making of Hulk Versus Wolverine” featurette, a “Fan Frenzy: Hulk Versus Wolverine 2008 Comic-Con” featurette, a brief “First look at Wolverine and The X-Men” featurette, and a batch of trailers. The commentaries are very informative, as Kyle and Yost comment about how they came up with the story for the movie and discuss the writing process. As one can expect, they also point out references in each of the films to their comic origins. Overall, I found both Kyle and Yost did a great job with the commentary and, thanks to the relative short running time of Hulk Versus Wolverine, there was rarely a quiet spot to be found. The other commentary, featuring Frank Paur, Kevin Altieri and Butch Lukic, tends to focus more on the overall look of the movie, the drawing process, and artistic changes made along the way. There’s also an interesting discussion on choosing the right level of violence for the feature. Like the other commentary, it moves along at a nice pace with few blank spots. The “Making of” featurette is your standard EPK-style look at the movie, featuring the cast and crew discussing the film and providing a fair amount of behind-the-scene material. The “Fan Frenzy: Hulk Versus Wolverine 2008 Comic-Con” featurette is generally well done and will likely be a big interest to fans who attended the Comic-Con presentation of the movie. The “First look at Wolverine and The X-Men” provides a brief overview of the series, a look at why some of the creative decisions (like making Wolverine the leader instead of Cyclops) are quickly touched upon, and provides an estimated street date for the first Wolverine and The X-Men DVD release. Basically an EPK, but a very good one that gives us a really nice look at the series. I would like to add that the featurettes do seem a bit longer than the usual EPKs on these Marvel Animated Feature releases, which is a nice surprise. This section is rounded off by a selection of trailers, which are a mix of Marvel-related and Lionsgate titles.
And now, the Hulk Versus Thor bonus features. For this section we get an audio commentary with Craig Kyle and Chris Yost, an audio commentary with Frank Paur, Sam Liu and James Peters, a “Of Gods and Monsters: The Making of Hulk Versus Thor featurette, a “Jack Kirby + Thor” featurette, a “First Look – Thor: Tales of Asgard” featurette, and a collection of trailers. Much like with the Hulk Versus Wolverine half, the extras here are quite good, as well. The commentary by Kyle and Yost is enthusiastic and informative, basically covering the same ground as the other commentary. However, they reveal an interest fact about the opening credits for Hulk Versus Thor that really adds to the movie and some neat deleted concepts. The second audio commentary with Paur, Sam Liu and James Peters basically covers how they approached this story and what they wanted to convey in their style to make the movie feel as epic as the characters themselves. The “Of Gods and Monsters: The Making of Hulk Versus Thor featurette is your standard EPK featurette, covering the basics on the creation of Hulk Versus Thor. The Jack Kirby + Thor pays tribute to Kirby and covers the infleucence of the famed artist on the project and how they tried to stay true to what Kirby created. After that the “First Look – Thor: Tales of Asgard” featurette gives us our first look at the next Marvel Animated Feature, slated for Fall 2009, starring a young Thor exploring the world of Asgard and covering the character’s origin. And the trailers are the same here as on the Hulk Versus Wolverine menu, covering Marvel-related and Lionsgate titles.
All in all, a great selection of bonus materials. We’ve gotten a lot more great material to see and listen to here, a huge step up over the usually lackluster extras put on the Marvel Animated Features releases. We actually get commentaries – four, no less! – and they are great to listen to. Everyone is obviously very enthusiastic and you get that sense as you listen. They are obviously enjoying their work, too, as they get really involved with the movie as it unfolds. They’re really fun commentaries, all of them, from start to finish. Animation and comic fans will definitely enjoy the commentaries since they go in-depth about this project and mention others, as well. Everything looks great, too. The Blu-ray is definitely a sharp looking release. The animation quality is very high and it looks great on the high-definition transfer. The colors are vivid and everything looks smashing. The audio track, as you can expect, is just crazy impressive, with everything coming out crisp, clear, loud, and just earth-shattering at times. A really solid audio and video transfer.
Overall, the Blu-ray release of Hulk Versus is the way to go. Hulk Versus looks absolutely stunning in high-definition and the extras are nothing to sneeze at, either. In terms of bonus material, this is a great release that dwarfs all other Marvel Animated Features releases. Hulk Versus is a fun kick-ass movie that is a non-stop ride, rarely letting up the breathe. Both “mini-movies” here are a great trip, whether it’s the dark nature of Hulk Versus Wolverine or the epic feel of Hulk Versus Thor. This feature won’t win any Oscars, as Kyle and Yost say in the Hulk Versus Wolverine audio commentary, but it’s a really fun trip for fanboys. I have no doubt this will end up being one of the most popular animated releases to date for the comic fandom, one that will assuredly bring in a lot of new fans, as well. Without a doubt, Hulk Versus comes Highly Recommended to check out. Again, this movie is a just a bang-up smashfest, so don’t go in expecting an art house film. What you’ll get instead is epic battles that will rattle your speakers with their high intensity and, sometimes, very bloody fallout. It’s a fun ride, so hop on the Marvel train to see where it takes you.
Hulk Versus arrives on 2-Disc Special Edition DVD, single-disc DVD, and Blu-ray on January 27th, 2009. Hulk Versus is made available in Canada through Maple Pictures.