Marvel's ambitious business venture into the motion picture industry proved itself to be an unprecedented success when The Avengers raked in well over $600m at the domestic box office, good enough for 3rd all time. Shortly beforehand, Disney swooped in and bought up Marvel for $4 billion, a venture that has paid off for them in spades. Now, in addition to comics and movies, there are endless amounts of toys, live-action and animated TV programs (on top of a string of existing successful cartoons), video games, and a theme park is almost certainly around the corner. The one area where Marvel isn't cleaning up is the animated feature film, the only venue in which they're actually being bested by their competition at DC. Iron Man & Hulk: Heroes United is their first serious stab at breaking into that market, and the results are less than impressive.
The one thing the major Marvel movies all have going for them is strength of character. Each one of these heroes has decades of backstory to draw from, providing a wealth of inspiration for anyone trying to craft a character piece. Thus, it's especially disappointing that Iron Man & Hulk doesn't really bother with character development, focusing instead on a small-scale conflict that feels more like an episode of a TV show than fodder for even a direct-to-video feature. The film jumps right into the action, assuming the viewer knows characters like Abomination instead of bothering with the set-up a normal movie requires. They're not wrong -- these will play directly to the MCU's pre-existing audience, but that doesn't excuse poor storytelling. The voice-acting is also disappointing, with Padsar and Tatasciore unable to capture the tone or spirit of their live-action counterparts.
Throughout the 70-minute feature, lack of wit is the order of the day, both generally and literally. The overall story by screenwriters Henry Gilroy and Brandon Auman is fine, with Zzzax serving as an adequate threat for the two guys to face, but there's no real rhyme or reason to why the finished script plays out the way it does. Hulk and Iron Man butt heads for no particular reason and gradually get over it. They fight bad guys, struggling in the battles at first, until they overpower the enemies. It's not like they learn more about one another, or formulate strategies; the conflicts just present themselves, eat up some screen time and then arbitrarily resolve themselves. Even when a good idea crops up like Hulk being temporarily blinded and relying on Iron Man to be his eyes, nothing creative is done with it. Simultaneously to all of the story beats, the writers unleash a torrent of mediocre comedy, calling on old standbys like "Little help?" and bad breath jokes, as well as the expected hat-tips to the characters' iconography (Hulk comments that Zzzax wouldn't like him when he's angry, calls Iron Man "shellhead").
Thoroughly substandard CG animation completes the puzzle, along with stiff direction by co-directors Eric Radomski and Leo Riley. I'm sure it sounded good on paper to go CG instead of traditional animation, setting itself apart from DC's output and offering an easier way to tie into the visual appearance of the theatrical MCU, but this plastic-looking picture looks more like a video game cutscene than a feature film. Environments appear sparse and empty -- there are almost no characters in the movie other than Hulk, Iron Man, Zzzax and Abomination, so the lack of detail in the characters' surroundings stands out more. Action is stiff and unconvincing, with characters often coming to a dead halt to crack jokes or share information. It could be argued that none of this will matter to the kind of children the movie is intended for, but that's an old critical chestnut: just because children will be happy to settle for substandard material like Heroes United doesn't mean they should have to.
The Video and Audio
On the other hand, the program's DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track is a non-stop surround extravaganza, with each of the film's numerous, extensive action sequences offering plenty of opportunity for rear surround, deep bass, and any number of unusual sci-fi style effects. To my ears, it's pretty much on-par with a theatrical feature. French and Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1, English captions for the deaf and hard of hearing, and English, French, and Spanish subtitles are also included.
The disc's other two "bonus features" are fairly obnoxious). Whenever the disc is paused, a 10-second countdown activates, after which something called "Marvel Inter-Missions" play. These are a series of clips from what appear to be vintage Marvel cartoons, with new "comedy" voice-overs. Three more of the exact same things are also referred to as "Marvel Mash-Ups" under the special features. Much like the film itself, kids will be amused by most things, and they'll probably be amused by these, but they're pretty stupid, relying mostly on goofy voices.
Trailers for Iron Man 3, "Hulk and the Agents of Smash", "Avengers Assemble", and the Lego: Marvel Super Heroes video game play before the main menu.