It takes more than a couple of AA batteries to conquer the world. HYDRA has it covered, though. They've built a nearly perfect replica of Tony Stark's arc reactor, and they've even found the perfect energy source to kickstart it. After pitting the incredible Hulk against the Abomination, weakening them both, HYDRA starts siphoning off their gamma radiation. The good news...? They're definitely onto something when
it comes to creating energy. The bad news...? HYDRA's knocked out the power to half the Eastern seaboard, and they've inadvertently spawned a sentient being composed of pure electricity. Oops. Tony Stark slaps on his Iron Man armor and trots over to this algae processing plant in the middle of nowhere, hoping to just investigate a spike in gamma radiation at the epicenter of the mass blackout. Instead, he stumbles across an enraged Hulk. Double oops. After the usual titans-clash-and-oh-wait-that's-right-we're-friends routine, the two Avengers team up to take down this energy creature -- you can call him Zzzax -- before he wipes out every trace of life on the planet.
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Geez, I really want to gush over Iron Man and Hulk: Heroes United. I'm a sucker for a good superhero team-up (and have the Marvel Two-in-Ones and Marvel Team-Ups to prove it!). In the space of an hour or so, minus credits, you get the Hulk, Iron Man, HYDRA, Zzzax, the Abomination, and a couple surprises in the credits that I can't bring myself to spoil. The whole thing is basically one superpowered slugfest after another, hardly ever stopping to catch its breath. To keep things from getting too stale, they even throw in a half-battalion of Wendigo in a creepy cemetery. Why? No idea. I mean, they had me at Zzzax. Everything else is pure frosting.
The problem is...well, kind of everything. Marvel's previous line of direct-to-video animated movies were aimed at teens and twentysomethings; Heroes United is definitely playing for the Disney XD junior set. Every turn in the plot is overexplained within an inch of its life, and the movie's overflowing with clunky dialogue like "all those gadgets and doo-dads, and still you're not so tough!" and "just came for some fresh
mountain air...and mass destruction!" When the HYDRA scientists have their endless back-and-forth and say "Dr. Cruler" eighteen thousand times in a minute and a half, I'm pretty sure I was being punished for something. The story's thin enough that you could map out the whole thing on a cocktail napkin, which'd be okay if the unrelenting action were more of an adrenaline rush. The movie's around an hour long minus credits, and it's really not an exaggeration to say that fight scenes probably make up at least fifty-five of those minutes. It's even all-Hulk-all-the-time without any puny Banner to get in the way. No matter how many robots the Hulk and Iron Man smash 'n zap, not all that much of it's especially thrilling.
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It doesn't help that I kinda hate Heroes United's visual style. The computer animation has an oily, plasticky look to it. Movements are stiff and choppy, and the backdrops are far too stark. There's one point where the Hulk and Abomination plow into a bank, and every safe deposit box has the number 202. Obviously that's not a dealbreaker, but it's chintzy enough to be distracting. As colossal as the Jade Giant and Hulkbuster armor are, it never feels like they have any real mass or weight, just sliding across the screen like Colorforms. The low-ish resolution of the textures is kind of glaring whenever something's too close to the "camera" too. There are so many lens flares throughout Heroes United that I halfway expected to see J.J. Abrams' name in the credits somewhere.
There are some kinda cool moments, though. It's a geeky thrill seeing the Hulk decked out in red and gold armor. I was pretty into seeing the Hulk grab ol' Shellhead by the leg and use him as a club to smash a bunch of flying robots. An immobile Iron Man guiding a blinded Hulk through a slugfest with I-lost-count-how-many Wendigo is a definite highlight. If I were watching Iron Man and Hulk: Heroes United with a wide-eyed seven year old, I'd probably have a blast with it. On its own, though...? It skews so young that I'm just not even close to being part of the target audience. Worth a rental for the kids, but it's a pretty safe bet that you're not gonna want to watch Heroes United more than once. Rent It.
I spent the better part of a paragraph up there griping about Heroes United's visual style, and...yeah, not so much a card-carrying fan. Its presentation on Blu-ray is pretty much perfect, though. The computer animation is clean, clear, and crisp, bolstered by a bold, vibrant palette. The disc has been authored skillfully enough that even throughout its most challenging moments -- Zzzax's snaking electric bolts, in paticular -- there's not a single hiccup. Not my kind of style but presented about as perfectly as I could've hoped to see.
Iron Man and Hulk: Heroes United smashes its way onto a dual-layer Blu-ray disc at a screen-filling aspect ratio of 1.78:1.
On one hand, Heroes United's 24-bit, six-channel DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack gets a chokehold on the subwoofer and just about never lets up. Between the superhuman slugfests, the foundation-rattling hum of HYDRA's arc reactor firing up, and all sorts of other electrical grunts and growls, it's pretty much one low-frequency assault after another. The use of the surrounds is kind of a letdown, though. They do reinforce the music and occasionally feature such sound effects as scattering debris, Iron Man soaring around, and all sorts of energy zaps. The rear channels are active but not aggressive, with this 5.1 mix coming across more like stereo and
then some. There aren't more than a handful of discrete effects attacking from behind, and pans from the front to the rears and vice versa are few and far between. It's a really strong 3.1 track with some genuinely impressive clarity, but the rears come across as an afterthought. That's disappointing for a movie that's pretty much wall-to-wall action.
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Also along for the ride are Dolby Digital 5.1 dubs (640kbps) in French and Spanish. Subtitles are served up in English (traditional and SDH), French, and Spanish.
- Marvel Mash-Ups (17 min.; basically SD): Marvel's taken a bunch of random clips from the awful Iron Man cartoon from the mid-'90s along with The Incredible Hulk 'toon that loved so much when I was a tyke, and they've redubbed the voices to heap on the snark. The gags are all pretty lame and lazy, though, and there's nothing quotable like "pork chop sandwiches!" or "I'm the Juggernaut, bitch!" You might've seen this stuff as filler on Disney XD already. Three of these clips are listed along with the rest of the extras; the bulk of 'em show up as "Inter-Missions" whenever you pause the movie.
- Marvel Team-Up with Ryan Penagos and Joe Quesada (12 min.; HD): Marvel's chief creative officer sits down with @AgentM to chat about superhero team-ups in the Marvel Universe, including some of their favorite pairings, most memorable issues, and the induction of Spider-Man and Wolverine into the Avengers. ...and, yeah, appropriately enough for the movie, the two of 'em do tackle Hulk and Iron Man team-ups. It's a decent, casual conversation, but for some reason, I was completely in awe of the cinematography. It's just two guys talking in a comic shop, but the photography is frickin' gorgeous. Whatever camera rig and lighting setup they're using, every Blu-ray featurette needs to whip that out from now on.
Iron Man and Hulk: Heroes United comes packaged in an embossed slipcover, and an anamorphic widescreen DVD and Digital Copy Plus code are riding shotgun.
The Final Word
Iron Man and Hulk: Heroes United delivers just about everything I ever could've wanted in an animated Marvel movie when I was seven or eight. Despite basically being a feature-length collection of superpowered battle royales, the whole thing is too hollow and visually unappealing to do much for me as an adult. Rent It if you're looking for something to watch with the kids, but skip right past it otherwise.
Between The Invincible Iron Man, Rise of the Technovore, and now Heroes United, Marvel's 0-for-3 when it comes to direct-to-video Shellhead. Better luck next time, maybe.