Rated: PG-13 :: Released: 27 January 2009
Directors: Frank Paur and Sam Liu :: Starring: Steve Blum, Bryce Johnson, Graham McTavish, Nolan North, Fred Tatasciore
By Desmond Reddick
07 May 2009 — When I heard about the release of a direct-to-DVD animated film called Hulk Vs., I thought to myself, "That sounds about right." But, after hearing of all the good Marvel Animation has been doing with properties like Next Avengers and Doctor Strange, I was more than interested. And the inclusion of Wolverine and Thor on the other side of the abbreviated "versus" in the title promised carnage.
Hulk Vs. Wolverine
I've seen enough films and comics to know that you don't go into to something titled "Hulk Vs. Wolverine" expecting the story of the century, but I have to say that the one real flaw is in its story. But why am I complaining when I essentially just told you that I shouldn't be? They set you up for a great story, that's why.
Though we enter the film in medias res as a costumed Wolverine faces off against the Green Goliath, we flashback to a plainclothes Logan on a Canadian military helicopter being flown in to stop a rampaging monster. Very quickly this film separates itself from ever being considered children's fare with flippant language and blood. Lots of blood. It doesn't take long for our hero to accept the job of hunting down the Hulk.
That's when the mayhem begins.
Now, I was fully intrigued and very much into this one by this point. I sat back with a cool beverage to enjoy what I expected to be a modernized retelling of Incredible Hulk #181 — that's the first appearance of Wolverine for you norms out there. And, for a short time, that's what we get. But very quickly, the film flashes into bits of Weapon X and a lot of 90s X-books revelry. Any of these would be good on their own — in fact, Weapon X should itself be an animated feature — but there are just too many elements crammed into the first half of this 30-odd minute short feature, leaving the action-packed back half completely devoid of plot.
Craig Kyle and Christopher Yost — whose history with the X-Men should let you know a little bit about some of the costume choices and quick cameos — do a pretty good job at bringing everything to the plate, but in the end it came across a little flat. Again, I know I shouldn't be expecting an intricate plot, but the setup of this film brings in too many high-concept elements not to pay off in a massive way.
At the very least, something titled "Hulk Vs. Wolverine" should be knock-down-drag-out fight fest, but the scenes with these two fighting get old really quick. Had they backed away from all of the fan service and elected to stay with a retelling of Wolverine's first appearance with modern approaches to both characters, I feel as though it would have translated a lot better. Plus, it would have been only the second appearance of an animated Wendigo. And that, my friends, would have been awesome.
However, the action is intense with only a few missteps in animation. The character design is uneven with a rather boring Marvel Adventures-looking Hulk and a lithe but sharp Deadpool. One character will look better than they do in the comics and another will barely look dynamic enough to be animated. The heavy anime influence is seen in most of the characters and, while it worked for a few of them, I found much of it distracting. There is, however, plenty of blood and slow motion, and lots of visual references to classic stories and covers from the characters' previous meetings.
Comic book fans will not be disappointed with the Merc with a Mouth and his glib view of the world around him. There is no breaking of the fourth wall going on, but it would be out of place. Deadpool's lines are by far the best parts of the film and anyone wanting to see him try to reattach his arm should plunk down the cash for this DVD immediately. But, if Deadpool is the best part of "Hulk Vs. Wolverine," then it is certainly a problem. I would say it's most definitely worth the 37 minutes, but make sure you go in with your brain turned off and then make sure to turn it off again halfway through. Oh, and stay through the credits. Trust me.
Hulk vs. Thor
This second short feature begins with an amazing narration from Graham McTavish as Loki telling us that every winter Odin hibernates bear-style and, during this Odinsleep, Asgard is vulnerable. Winter time is a shitstorm at the gates of Asgard, baby!
We are treated to the heroes of Norse legend as they take on trolls, giants, dark elves, demons and frost giants and make short work of them. We are introduced to all of the greats of Simonson's run (The Warriors Three, Balder the Brave and Sif) as they lay waste to the monstrous threats before them. It slows down only for a moment for Thor to lament how bored he is of this cycle of war before letting us know that boredom is short-lived now that Loki has enslaved a certain green monster and sends him to kill Thor.
It's a simple setup in a grand setting. This vision of Asgard is beautiful from Rainbow Bridge to glowing spires. It actually exceeds what I've seen in the comics. There's a lot of majesty in the setting here and it adds to the epic sensibility of what feels like the third act of an amazing film. The music, animation, superior voice acting and grandeur all combine to make what I can only say is the best animated adaptation of a comic property that I have ever seen. And while I don't necessarily hate the anime influence these both carry, this film is much lighter in this area for good reason. I just don't want to see Japanese versions of Northern European gods.
But this isn't all beauty and sweeping scenery. This 45 minute film answers a lot of burning questions. Like, can the Hulk get tired if Banner's soul is removed? Can Hulk lift the hammer if he is controlled by Loki? What does Mjolnir sound like ringing off of the green galoot's noggin? And how does Hulk take down a valkyrie? (He punches her winged horse, of course!)
The Hulk in this portion of the DVD is much more savage. And although he's voiced by the same actor in both parts, he comes across as animalistic here. His wild hairdo only adds to the truckload of kickass just waiting to smear some winged-helmet wearing Teutons. And that he does. The fighting is brutal and completely without the boredom that sets in quickly in the previous film. Hulk lays waste to the gods of Asgard with reckless abandon and clearly they have never seen anything like it.
There is very little in the way of comic homage as the history between Thor and Hulk is nowhere near as archived as Wolverine's is. But it is clear that Thor knows the Hulk and is really the only one, beyond Loki, who knows the damage he can do. It seems as though the only real fan service this film does is make a good film with a good story without relying of geeky cameos and jokes. This is a serious, brooding, mean, violent and still awe-inspiring film that gave me goose bumps twice.
If director Kenneth Branagh can match the power and majesty of this film in his live action feature then he will probably make the best comic book film of all time. Sadly, I doubt it. Luckily, Marvel Animation has plans for another animated feature and an animated series. Hopefully they can keep up the quality this film establishes because I will certainly be there for it.
Overall, I think this DVD is definitely worth picking up for any comic or animation fan. While one portion is far and away a better piece of animated cinema, I think there's enough in both to soothe your bloodlust. Check it out, you won't be disappointed. Verily!