- The Thing, Fantastic Four #530-something
Misguided...? Maybe. They're not cruel, though: rather than duping the Hulk into walking into a spaceship and flinging it into the sun or something, they pick out an idyllic, far-flung planet...one lush with vegetation, teeming with game for him to hunt, and devoid of any intelligent life to torment him. 'Course, this sort of thing has been tried before, and it didn't work then...not gonna work now. An enraged Hulk smashes the ship off-course, sending it careening away from paradise and hurtling instead towards the barren wasteland of Sakaar. He barely has a chance to step out from the wreckage of his ship before becoming enslaved. Weakened from that passage through a wormhole, the Hulk can't even scream that he's the strongest one there is. He's vulnerable...he bleeds.
A creature like the Hulk is too valuable to be wasted on slave labor, but his strength and fury might be enough to distract the crowds at the gladiatorial arena for a round or two. No matter what the Red King throws at the Hulk -- a parade of oversized robots, a towering tentacled monster, and another off-worlder with the power of a God, for starters -- he tears 'em apart and barely breaks a sweat. He and...well, most of the rest of the enslaved warriors who fight alongside him continue to survive to battle another day. The crowds at the arena quickly grow, but there are murmurs that this giant green beast
"Planet Hulk" is a risky choice for a direct-to-video animated adventure. Most of these movies of Marvel's up to this point have been origin stories, looming around comfortable territory with a familiar supporting cast and an iconic villain or two. "Planet Hulk", meanwhile, opens off-planet, the Hulk never reverts back to his human form and I don't think so much as mentions Puny Banner, and virtually every last character was created expressly for this story. So much of the appeal of the original comic arc stems from its sprawlingly epic scale, one that's driven as much by an intense emphasis on characterization as it is by the colossal scale of the war that's quickly mounted. Its quieter moments are as compelling as the megaton battles, and translating a saga spanning more than 350 pages into an animated movie that barely creeps past the 70 minute mark minus credits...?
I was skeptical, sure, but the story translates over brilliantly. I'm startled by how faithful an adaptation Planet Hulk is, really, staying closer to the original comics than any of Marvel's other animated movies have to date. I've read the arc in print enough times to recognize that a lot of the dialogue and imagery claws its way over verbatim. The storytelling is exceptionally sleek and efficient at every turn. The movie opens with Hulk groggily awakening aboard the spaceship, for instance; the little bit of exposition that's lobbed out is all the setup you get, and that's all the setup you need. Some of the battles have been reshuffled to take place in the arena for clarity, but all of the fights are still in here: the brawl with the Maw, the Wildebots, a battle royale between the Hulk and an unlikely cosmic foe, the assault by a swarm of infectious Spikes... Planet Hulk doesn't linger on anything unnecessary. You don't get an explanation of what an Oldstrong is, exactly, but it's clear that
Planet Hulk hasn't been watered down to play to the junior set either. You don't get any shots of the Hulk with his hair singed off and a half-dozen spears poking through him, no, but with exploding heads, severed arms, and plenty of otherworldly blood sloshed around, Planet Hulk definitely earns its PG-13 rating. After all, this is a story where the Hulk's spilled blood is a key plot point. The singularly most haunting shot from the comics finds its way into the movie as well.
Of course, with Marvel having licensed so many of its characters out to different studios, not everyone was available to pop up in this movie. Reed Richards is a murky shadow early on, the Warbound loses the nameless Brood, and the lawyers even managed to keep the Silver Surfer out of the fray. Reed's not missed, though, and as awesome as it would've been to see one of the Brood splashed across a 60" HDTV, it's not as if the Warbound is exactly hard up for membership. Rather than sulking about losing out on the enslaved Silver Surfer's battle with the Hulk, Planet Hulk's producers chucked Beta Ray Bill into the mix. The smart money says you're having one of two reactions to that. Either you're asking yourself "...wait, who's Beta Ray Bill?", or you're not saying anything at all what with your jaw scraping its way across the floor and all. Beta Ray Bill comes out of left field, sure, but seeing that Asgardian-fueled Korbinite whack the incredible Hulk with a giant hammer is about the biggest nerdgasm I've had in the past year and change. I was digging everything else about the movie up to that point, but Beta Ray Bill alone sends Planet Hulk screaming somewhere towards essential viewing. Scattered around are a gaggle of other cosmic cameos, including the Grandmaster and Adam Warlock, so keep your eyes peeled.
Some other elements did have to go, including a couple of the Warbound flashbacks, although the ones who miss out on that are still fleshed out reasonably well further along the way. One of the bigger changes is that the sense of a true
I'll also give a quick nod to the voice acting. I wasn't really impressed with what I heard in Planet Hulk's trailer, but it plays much, much better in the context of the movie as a whole. The standout for me is Sam Vincent's take on Miek, and it's eerily similar to the voice I imagined as I read the original comic arc. Rick Wasserman is a terrific choice as well, believably conveying the Hulk's gradual shift from a monosyllabic monster into a more clearly intelligent creature, but that heavy, almost feral breathing between lines makes it clear that the beast could once again seize control at any moment.
"Planet Hulk" is one of my favorite mainstream comic arcs in many, many years, and when I heard that an animated version would be coming down the pike, I was half-excited and half-skeptical about whether or not such a colossal, epic storyline would translate all that well to a barely-feature-length animated movie. Its premise is far removed from the usual "Hulk smash!" story -- although there's no shortage of destruction -- and viewers with more of a casual interest would probably be better off picking up Hulk vs. before tearing into this one...starting off with something a little more traditional. One of the great things about Planet Hulk is that it's so easy to recommend to comic and animated action fans no matter how they feel about the character. It's one of the best Hulk stories this side of Peter David's epic run, yet it veers far enough away from the usual mythos that those who've found the Hulk to be kind of stale ought to feel as if they're watching something entirely different. Planet Hulk is an outstanding adaptation of one of the most exceptional comic arcs of the past decade, and both this movie and the original comics come very, very highly recommended.
Planet Hulk looks about as perfect as I could hope for on Blu-ray. The very fine linework definitely benefits from the additional resolution that high-def has to offer; there are some shots where the camera's pulled back extremely far -- like the brawl against the Devil Corker -- when the Hulk would probably just be a tiny green smudge on DVD but manages to remain crisply and clearly defined here. A few scattered moments are unexpectedly soft, but most of this looks to be intentional. The colors also come through perfectly on Blu-ray. Much of the movie is dominated by yellows, browns, and ashen grays -- it's set on a rocky, barren, desert planet, after all -- but the hues are impressively bold when they have a chance, especially the brilliant blues and lush greens during the Asgardian throwdown on Korg's home planet. Though backgrounds sometimes looked just a bit unstable when I was giving Planet Hulk a second pass on my computer, the AVC encode looked to be rock solid from a normal viewing distance on my HDTV, and I guess that's what's counts. Aside from some occasionally choppy animation early on, I really don't have any complaints at all, and this Blu-ray disc ought to be well-worth the extra couple of bucks over the DVD release.
Planet Hulk is presented on this BD-25 disc at its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1.
As great as Planet Hulk looks on Blu-ray, its eight-channel DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack somehow manages to top it. The clarity and distinctness of every last element in the mix is phenomenal. Even with all of the havoc being wreaked here, every line of the movie's dialogue is rendered cleanly and clearly, never once struggling in the mix. The low-end is tight and punishing, and all of the punches, kicks, blasts, slammed tendrils, and bodies being flung hundreds of feet across the screen all hit like a slug in the gut. Even Korg's growl and the Hulk's heavy breathing are reinforced nicely in the lower frequencies. Although there's a very strong sense of imaging and directionality across the front speakers, the action doesn't really attack from the surrounds all that often. It's an atmospheric mix that does take advantage of the multichannel setup -- Caiera's childhood home crumbling around her, grit and dust settling as the Hulk tumbles to the ground, and swarms of Spikes raining from the sky -- although pans across the surrounds and discrete effects in the rears are kind of sparse overall. That's somewhat disappointing, sure, but since everything else about this soundtrack comes through so flawlessly, the limited use of the surrounds is easily shrugged off.
Planet Hulk also features a Dolby Digital 5.1 dub in Spanish along with subtitles in English (traditional and SDH) and Spanish.
The second disc in the set is a digital copy for use on iTunes and Windows Media-powered devices. Planet Hulk comes packaged in an embossed slipcase boasting some terrific painted artwork by Alex Ross.
The Final Word
Startlingly faithful for a seventysomething minute adaptation of such a sprawling epic, Planet Hulk deftly melds quite a bit of the intelligence and characterization from Greg Pak's comics in with the unrelenting action and devastation you'd expect from a movie with the Jade Giant scoring top billing. Admittedly, first-timers might probably be better off picking up the more accessible Hulk vs. as a starting point...something a little more traditional and familiar. Still, "Planet Hulk" easily ranks as one of the most exceptional arcs to hit mainstream comics in the past five or six years, and this adaptation is so much better than anything I could ever have hoped to see. Not only is Planet Hulk one of the best of Marvel's animated efforts to date, but it looks and sounds outstanding on Blu-ray, and it's all backed by a reasonably solid selection of extras. Highly Recommended.