Considered a modern The Incredible Hulk masterpiece, the “Planet Hulk” comic book storyline upended our favorite Green Goliath for an epic-length adventure on the other side of the universe. Stranded on an alien world, he fought to survive and eventually found his place on the strange new world of Sakaar. And now, Marvel Animation is unleashing a new direct-to-video animated adaptation of the acclaimed tale. After arguably hitting a series high in quality with last year’s Hulk Versus, will Planet Hulk reach and exceed expectations of last year’s green-laced animated smackdown? Let’s get that pesky synopsis out of the way and find out!
He was a monster, impossible to control, too dangerous to ignore. So Earth’s mightiest heroes exiled him into outer space. But now the Incredible Hulk crash lands on the distant planet Sakaar, ruled by the tyrannical Red King. Sold into slavery, Hulk becomes the planet’s mightiest gladiator—but his new masters get more than they bargained for when he forges a bond of brotherhood with his fellow fighters: crafty insectoid Miek, ruthless rock-man Korg, ex-shadow priest Hiroim, and the noble-born rebel Elloe. Unlike Earth, the desperate people of Sakaar believe a monster is just what they need. But will the Hulk be the one to save their world… or destroy it? Find out in the epic Planet Hulk!
The latest Marvel Animated Feature opens with a haunting pre-credit sequence, where we see a collection of heroes explain via recorded message to a restrained Hulk why he’s currently being shuttled off to a distant planet. Hulk, naturally, is angry and manages to break free. He disrupts the ship’s navigation and ultimately winds up the planet Sakaar. The screen then pans to a stunning main titles sequence and we’re off to Planet Hulk. That, my friends, is a great way to kick off this movie. We are tossed into the middle of a story, but given enough information that we don’t feel lost. It grabs you. Even I, who read the original “Planet Hulk” series and knows the story, was gripped by this great opener.
Right away, calling Planet Hulk “intergalactic action of Hulk-sized portions” (as we seen on the back cover to this home video release) isn’t an exaggeration by any means. We see similar comments like that or “action-packed” tossed around quite a bit, even by myself, and have expectations that go with it. Piles of current cartoons could be considered “action-packed,” and it would be the truth. However, watching something like Planet Hulk reminds you of what exactly “action-packed” really means. And folks? Planet Hulk overflows with action and, at times, is crazy violent. Dismemberment, slicing, stabbing and death are pretty common place here. It never gets tedious, though, and, admittedly, it is nice to see Hulk able to really unleash on Sakaar, something he could never do on Earth.
Anyone who has read “Planet Hulk” knows exactly what to expect. What you get here is basically that epic story in condensed form. Some changes have been made, but they make sense for this 81- minute movie. For those new to the story, just imagine Hulk in an alien gladiator arena and revel in how awesome that idea sounds. And, have no fear, the animated feature pulls it off nicely. Somewhat predictable, yeah, but enjoyable for every single moment of it. An enjoyable script by Greg Johnson, who’s no stranger to the The Incredible Hulk given his animation background, helps the film overcome any sense of predictability with some clever writing and set pieces. Not every character gets the spotlight, and some do get pushed to the side, but Johnson pours just enough into the main cast to make you root for each.
Everything comes together nicely here, and it really seems like the creative teams behind these animated features are learning from past mistakes and correcting them with each successive movie. Before Planet Hulk, Next Avengers: Heroes of Tomorrow was probably the best long-form Marvel Animated Feature in terms of how the story and animation worked perfectly together, and felt completely fleshed out, never rushed. Well, I think Planet Hulk may possibly trump it. Nothing feels rushed (amazing given how condensed this film is from the original comic book version), the story works with the visuals, and it all seems to work in great cohesion.
It’s not perfect, however. Much like with the previous Marvel Animated Features, we do hit a couple snafus with the animation, but it’s no different than any animated direct-to-video feature out there today. We get a couple jumpy walk cycles and a few awkward movements or poor lip-syncing (particularly noticeable right at the first of the movie, oddly enough), but it’s nothing that really hampers enjoyment of the film. The animation still looks really excellent, though. Not as beautifully animated as Hulk Versus was, but the crew here still hits it out of the park in respect to the other previous animated titles. The lush backgrounds really deserve bit of praise here. The alien world looks absolutely breathtaking at times with some incredible looking vistas. And, as I mentioned above, a few characters do get shortchanged here, but the film manages to successfully overcome those hurdles.
To comment on the voice cast, Rick D. Wasserman pulls off a surprisingly effective Hulk. In all honesty, it is a bit jarring to hear him speak so much in this film, but once you get used to it, Wasserman pulls off a very noble side to the Hulk that we only see through the character’s usual grunts and screams. Wasserman can also pull off the traditional “Hulk Smash” moments, but he also brings a new side to the Hulk that we haven’t really seen in animation. Very well cast. In watching Planet Hulk, I thought the voice work for the movie was pretty excellent on all fronts. No real hiccups or odd deliveries, just good work all around.
Now, to briefly touch upon the film’s score, I feel that Guy Michelmore, who provided the score to Planet Hulk deserves another solid shout-out. This is his seventh Marvel Animated Features title and, as no surprise, he keeps knocking it out of the park. His Planet Hulk score is simply epic and ranks as one of his best. He’s manages to produce consistently good work, effortlessly adapting to the different settings and characters from each movie, and this release is no exception. Marvel has found a great thing with Michelmore and I hope they keep him around for a long time to come. I strongly suggest downloading this score off iTunes or Amazon.
Thankfully, whether it’s the voice acting, the animation, score or the story itself, nothing ever feels out of place. It all compliments each other nicely, but I feel the need to discuss the ending of the film, for just a brief moment. Be warned, there are spoilers here, feel free to just skip the following paragraph if you don’t want the ending given away. While the movie has been available for purchase for over a week now, I still feel I should give a spoiler warning here. Just skip over the green text.
I completely agree with how the creative team ended the movie. The Planet Hulk animated feature ends much differently than the actual comic storyline. “Planet Hulk” ends with Sakaar ravaged and Hulk, once again, alone. Seeking revenge, he returns to Earth to seek revenge on those who sent him there in the first place. Here, in Planet Hulk, the movie ends on a happy note. Hulk has found acceptance, he’s well revered and has found love. To me, this ending works on two levels. The first is that, finally, Hulk wins. After being hunted for years upon years, he finally wins one. It’s a great ending for the character who, after saying time and time again he would never find peace on Earth, proves himself right in an unexpected way. On the second level, it’s a great lead-in to an animated World War Hulk animated feature if they ever go down that path. Much like the comic storyline, Hulk finds everything he finds here at the end of the animated feature, but then it’s ripped away. How gripping would the opener for the next animated Hulk movie be if they followed the same path? I think it’s a brilliant way to get another animated Hulk feature, and I hope it comes to pass.
Still there? Okay, let’s move on.
How does it stand up to the other animated films from Marvel Animation? Quite well, in fact. I’ve enjoyed every previous Marvel Animated Feature, some more than others, although their rewatchability greatly varies. Ultimate Avengers: The Movie, Next Avengers: Heroes of Tomorrow and Hulk Versus tend to be the ones I find myself revisiting the most time and time again, in all honesty. I actually still believe Next Avengers: Heroes of Tomorrow is probably the most under-appreciated animated feature to come out of both DC and Marvel from the past couple years, but that’s a completely different topic. To get back on-track, Planet Hulk, I think, may become the absolute favorite in the Marvel Animated Feature line for fans. True, I have a soft-spot for ol’ Jade Jaws, but you can’t deny the quality. It is Hulk unleashed, in a solo role, with a full fleshed-out story and some pretty splendid action. It’s the animated portrayal fans have been clamoring for for years.
Planet Hulk is pure Hulk, from beginning to end, and it’s an utter blast. There’s action from start to finish, but it’s never tiring and the film leaves plenty of room for character development and plot advancement. It’s not perfect, these recent direct-to-video animated features from both Marvel and DC both have their flaws, but the few flaws found here, which really just amount to a bit of obvious animation shortcuts and focusing on certain characters, have little to no affect on how enjoyable Planet Hulk really is. This is Hulk unleashed, and I think fans of this great character would be foolish to pass up the chance to see one of the best Hulk stories to ever come down the pipeline animated and treated with the utmost respect. Plus, come on, this film is just whetting our appetites for World War Hulk now. If you want to see “Hulk Smash,” then look no further! Planet Hulk comes Highly Recommended.
And now to the Blu-ray release…
Maple Pictures, handling assorted Lionsgate Home Entertainment releases for Canadian consumers, really stepped up to the plate with their previous Marvel Animated Feature Hulk Versus, giving us a great assortment of extras instead of the usual scant bones tossed onto the previous Marvel releases, and I’m happy to say they’re continuing that here with Planet Hulk. Underneath the embossed cardboard slip and Blu-ray casing (thankfully blue, not green) contains a wealth of nice bonus goodies that animation and comic fans should find worth checking out. Let’s dive in and see what has been bestowed upon this rousing Green Goliath adventure.
As what should be a surprise to no one, Maple Pictures has created a superb video and audio transfer for Planet Hulk. The film itself looks just stunning, everything coming in as clear as day. Those beautifully painted vistas I mentioned earlier? Those look just jaw-dropping here on Blu-ray, worthy of being framed. Every single punch connects, and sounds absolutely brutal, in the 7.1 audio mix. Maple Pictures has provided a robust 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track along with an alternate 5.1 Spanish Dolby Digital mix for Planet Hulk, and its easily one of their most aggressive tracks for the Marvel Animated Features line.
Moving on to the bonus features, you can all breathe a sigh of relief. As I mentioned above, Maple Pictures has provided a nice heaping of extras for this two-disc Blu-ray release. Starting things off, let go with the two audio commentaries, one with producer Joshua Fine and screenwriter Greg Johnson, the other with director Sam Liu, character designer Philip Bourassa, and key background painter Steve Nicodemus. I find these two commentaries complement each other nicely and actually manage to really cover the entire Planet Hulk production, even if they suffer from the occasional dead air or bouts of ‘pointing out what’s happening on-screen.’ The commentary featuring Liu, Bourassa and Nicodemus is, understandably, a bit more technical than the other, but equally as entertaining.
Also featured are two features covering both the animated Planet Hulk production and the comic from whence it came. “A Whole World of Hurt: The Making of Planet Hulk is a nifty twenty minute featurette looking at the production of the animated feature with input from nearly the entire creative team. Topics also include what changes were made between the comic story and the film, scenes images pulled from the source material, key moments, a look at the main title sequence, the voice actors, and a few odd tidbits here and there. A nice compliment for the commentaries. “Let the Smashing Commence! The Saga of ‘Planet Hulk’” is also a nice look at the original comic storyline, running about ten minutes, with writer Greg Pak and artist Lopresti dropping their two cents on this acclaimed tale and, among others, how it set up Hulk’s current status quo in the Marvel Universe. If you are a fan of ‘Planet Hulk,’ you will be very happy with these two featurettes.
Moving on, the remaining bonus features are a mix of sneak peeks, trailers and motion comics. An extended look at the opening sequence to Thor: Tales of Asgard along with a trailer is included, providing a nice look at the next Marvel Animated Feature due to hit in 2011. Up next are Marvel’s two big Motion Comics – Astonishing X-Men and Spider-Woman: Agent of S.W.O.R.D., of which we get the opening chapter and music videos for each. Both are well done despite their obvious limitations, though the music videos are somewhat hard to sit through. A trailer gallery rounds off the first disc. It’s also worth noting that the Wolverine and The X-Men episode included on the American Planet Hulk releases via Lionsgate Home Entertainment is not included on the Maple Pictures Canadian releases due to licensing issues.
The second disc is a standard definition Digital Copy of the film suitable for Macs and PCs.
Once again, Maple Pictures has put together a great little high-definition package for Planet Hulk, serving as a very nice companion to last year’s Hulk Versus Blu-ray release. The main feature is solid entertainment from start to finish, wholly accessible to a new audience while respecting its comic roots. The bonus features are definitely worth checking out, nicely complimenting the main feature, which is given a marvelous audio and video transfer, I might add. All things considered, it’s a top-notch release that shouldn’t be passed up. Planet Hulk is an action romp from start to end, and this Blu-ray release is the best way to experience this cosmic Hulk smash-out. Offering solid entertainment on all front, Planet Hulk comes Highly Recommended to own.
Planet Hulk is now available to own on Blu-ray, Two-Disc Special Edition DVD and single-disc DVD from Maple Pictures in Canada.
Get more on Planet Hulk at Marvel Animation Age.