With the release of "The Avengers" Lionsgate as well as Marvel are wisely ensuring there are enough secondary outlets for new and old fans alike to get their fix of the legendary team. Following up their release of the "Ultimate Avengers Collection," "Marvel Animated Features: Three Film Collection" collects three previously released animated features for comic book connoisseur consumption. "The Invincible Iron Man" and "Planet Hulk" reside on disc one (a flipper disc) of this two-disc release and will be the most familiar faces for viewers, with the second disc's "Doctor Strange: The Sorcerer Supreme" likely being the first time non-comic book lovers are introduced to this fascinating and underutilized Marvel figure.
THE INVINCIBLE IRON MAN
Produced around the same time as the dismal "Ultimate Avengers" films, "The Invincible Iron Man" suffers from the same not quite up to snuff animation issues other Marvel animated films of the time were plagued by, but in the story department, the final product is best summed up as a intriguing and curious misfire. Loosely rehashing the origin of Iron Man, "The Invincible Iron Man" attempts to go in a direction familiar to comic fans, most noticeable by the simple fact Tony's father, Howard is still running Stark Industries, which results in one of the film's b-stories that ultimately goes nowhere.
As Tony gets drawn into misuse of Stark tech while helping an archaeological dig uncover an ancient Chinese ruin, Tony's life is changed in more ways than one resulting in the creation of the classic Mark I Iron Man suit. Additionally, a Chinese legend of an "Iron Knight" to vanquish evil thrusts Iron Man into a battle against supernatural forces headed by his classic comic nemesis, The Mandarin. While the attempt to put a new spin on a familiar character is appreciated, the lack of any Mark III or beyond Iron Man action is a bit of a letdown and interjection of four, clichéd elemental spirits reeks of obvious time padding (as does the love interest of Li Mei, whose ultimate role doesn't come until late in the film), saving the showdown with the Mandarin for the final act. A few last minute attempts at curveballs actually hurt the final product rather than help it.
If underdeveloped ideas and clichés weren't enough, the creators chose to tarnish some of the film's action with clunky spurts of third-rate CG animation. Granted the 2D work isn't pretty, but the transition is jarring and feels like rejected cutscenes from a video game. Staunch purists will likely despise this middling tale and find it blasphemous, but frankly this type of product should be embraced with open arms, provided more thought is put into the planning and execution. "The Invincible Iron Man" is true curiosity piece that might hold a few treasures on repeat viewings.
Produced in 2010, "Planet Hulk" represents a great leap forward in Marvel Animation. Running a little longer than the standard 70-odd minute offerings of a few years prior, "Planet Hulk" is a quite effective, albeit abridged adaptation of the popular comic. The basic back-story finds the Hulk on a strange prison ship, sent into space for the protection of Earth by Iron Man and a cabal of other heroes. Through coincidence or destiny he crash lands on the nearly barren planet of Sakaar where he is quickly overpowered by the forces of a brutal dictator and is forced to fight alongside a ragtag band of rebels and political prisoners in a brutal gladiatorial contest.
"Planet Hulk" is a fascinating tale, mostly due in part to the way it allows the Hulk himself to reveal more of himself past the standard "Hulk smash" moments. Through a classic plot device, a universal translator allows the group and a reluctant Hulk to share their backstories, which are vital to future events in the film, as well a way to tip the hat to Marvel events of the past. In one of maybe the only cases of a rights issue preventing the inclusion of a character, the creators are forced to sub the Silver Surfer for Beta Ray Bill and the result, at least for this long time Marvel fan is a huge smile. The voice acting is more than admirable and when the film enters periods of drama and exposition, there is a definite sense of heart to these characters; we want to see them make it through the brutal fights.
"Planet Hulk" has a number of surprises up its sleeve and it's nearly impossible to predict how the third act will play out. Comic purists may be angry at the lack of translation of the original comic's epilogue, which led to the miniseries "World War Hulk," but frankly without any certainty of that story being adapted, the ending is perfect. The overall animation design is Spartan but incredibly effective and the animation is a huge step up from past entries. "Planet Hulk" is a solid entry for comic fan and newbie alike and a great place for anyone curious about the character to start.
The final entry in the set shines the spotlight on a criminally underutilized character in the Marvel universe, Doctor Stephen Strange. Naturally, the story demands to be an origin tale, and while it's not comic book perfect, the core ideas surrounding the character are nicely conveyed. Introduced as a brilliant but cocky surgeon, Stephen Strange's life is irrevocably changed two-fold: the first a chance encounter with Baron Mordo, who along with his allies were supposed to be cloaked from normal human view, and secondly, a car accident that leaves his prized surgically skilled hands with crippling nerve damage. Enter Wong (Strange's comic sidekick) who offers the depressed doctor a chance at healing, high in the Himalayan fortress overseen by the Ancient One.
"Doctor Strange" is one of the only Marvel films that fully utilizes its short runtime effectively and by the time the story wraps up, its almost a guarantee the viewer might feel shortchanged. The plot is cleverly paced mixing Strange's training in the mystic arts alongside growing animosity from supporting characters. Long time comic fans will know exactly where some characters end up, while newcomers will get the added bonus of every element being strange and exciting. The story is never overwhelming and while the character arc of Strange himself is a bit heavy-handed with our first meeting leaving an impression of a whiny, snobbish, egomaniac, the final message outweighs the shaky journey.
The film's final act highlights absolutely stunning art design that nearly erases any disappointment from yet another, mediocre set of animation. Color choices are particularly effective and the film's supernatural themes allow for some outlandish but perfectly believable visuals. The final showdown isn't quite as satisfying as the battle that precedes it and the abrupt ending that follows is still a sore point from this fan. It's a damn shame Marvel never followed this program up, as it remains one of the most interesting and enjoyable offerings in their entire animated film catalog.
Video and Audio
THE INVINCIBLE IRON MAN
The 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer features, good but not great color reproduction with some bleeding; fortunately the animation is almost always smooth and compression artifacts are kept to a minimum.
The Dolby Digital English 5.1 audio track is a solid presentation and quite immersive at times, with a strong low-end sound use and clear, clean and balanced dialogue. A Spanish 5.1 track is also included as well as English and Spanish subtitles.
The 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is only marred by some occasional jagged lines due to aliasing. Otherwise it's a consistently solid transfer with color reproduction that doesn't bleed and not noticeable compression artifacts.
The Dolby Digital English 5.1 audio track features strong rich dialogue, especially when the Hulk's deep at times rumbling voice is highlighted. Surround use is more than adequate, a necessity given the large number of sequences taking place in a circular, packed arena, although there was room for improvement as the surround isn't as dynamic as it could possibly be. A Spanish 2.0 track is included as well as English and Spanish subtitles.
The 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is nearly flawless with intense color reproduction, smooth animation reproduction, and virtually no compression artifacts. The production design pops on the screen and helps mask the trouble with the story a great deal.
The Dolby Digital English 5.1 EX audio track is equally incredible with striking surround work, notably in the demon and sorcery filled finale on an urban street. The dialogue is spot-on in terms of natural clarity and balance and the effects are equally impressive with some very booming uses of the low-end. A Spanish 5.1 EX track is present as well as English and Spanish subtitles.
"The Invincible Iron Man" features a behind-the-scenes featurette titled "The Origin of Iron Man," a deleted opening sequence, a gallery of concept art and a preview of the animated "Doctor Strange" film. "Planet Hulk" features the most substantial extras with A commentary by Joshua Fine and Greg Johnson, a making of featurette titled "A Whole World of Hurt" and the opening sequence from "Thor Tales of Asgard." "Doctor Strange" features a brief "Who is Doctor Strange" featurette, a "First Look at Avengers Reborn" which fans may recognize by its changed titled "Next Avengers" and a collection of "The Best of Marvel Video Game Cinematics" that are actually only a few assorted offerings from "Marvel Ultimate Alliance" and "X-Men Legends 2."
While "The Invincible Iron Man" is a so-so, but still worth watching, "Planet Hulk" and "Doctor Strange" lend the most in terms of quality in this somewhat random assortment of animated Marvel offerings. Recommended.