I have to admit that while I’ve loved almost everything that Bruce Timm and company have done with the DC Universe in animation throughout the years, I have always felt that with a few exceptions, Marvel has never been successful at making the transition of the depth and richness of their books into animated form. I toured their entire MLG (Marvel & Lion’s Gate) library and came away feeling like while the animation was nice and the vocal talent pretty deep, the whole experience just felt shallow and dull. However, being never one to give up on a solid idea, when I saw the preview for Planet Hulk on one of the DVDs, I decided I would have to give that one a go before writing off the whole MLG experience and truthfully, I’m really glad I did.
Based on Greg Pak’s fantastic Incredible Hulk: Planet Hulk book, the film tells of Hulk’s destructive nature to the planet finally reaching a point of unacceptability and The New Avengers: Illuminati’s reluctant decision to jettison Hulk into space. The original plan was to have his spacecraft crash onto a peaceful lush planet of greenery and livestock for which the Hulk could live out his remaining years alone but the plan is derailed when an enraged Hulk starts thrashing around in the capsule and causes it to crash land on an alien world somewhere between earth and his original destination.
Subdued by a restraining chip and sold into slavery, Hulk quickly finds himself in the role of Russell Crowe’s character from the movie “Gladiator”. It turns out that the world he crashed upon (Sakaar) finds itself locked in a political dictatorship that has the people putting hope in the arrival of a savior to restore freedom to the land.
Without giving up any spoilers, the Hulk’s incredible feats of strength in the coliseum aren’t unnoticed by the populous and before long rumor begins to spread that perhaps his arrival was foretold in prophecy. In an act of utter irony, Hulk’s destructive nature is suddenly viewed as the catalyst for lasting peace.
The action begins in this one nearly immediately; wasting very little time with setup. Hulk’s crash sequence is complete by the opening credits and the alien world is presented with some pretty cool life forms and concepts. Especially note worthy is that due to Sakaar’s proximity to a wormhole, species of countless races crash land on the planet’s surface and, because they are unable to leave, become the property of the Empire (in other words slavery is alive and well on Sakaar and involves far more than just the indigenous species).
The Hulk we’re given here is surprisingly intelligent as well with his sheer uncontrollable rage offered as a sort of brooding determination. We actually get some character evolution as well, with Hulk’s gradual change from a sulking, primitive monster in the beginning to a beast with a sense of pride and honor by the end. Bruce Banner makes not a single appearance here and while that may seem suspect to some die-hard Hulk fans, truthfully the slant toward a more intelligent Hulk blended with the fact that the alien world would have killed Banner instantly, makes this fact not only justifiable but plausible in the mythos as well.
Pacing is pretty quick (as is expected when stuffing some 400 pages of material into 72-minutes of film) and the action heavy gladiator sequences are offset with some nice splashes of back-story & character development.
With an ending that certainly hints to a “what-if” vibe, the whole story can technically be viewed as a sort of offshoot to the time-honored Hulk material but this is certainly not a bad thing. Quite honestly Hulk’s out of control nature here on earth lends beautifully to this exact scenario and it’s really interesting to witness the green man pitted against enemies truly deserving of the beating he is capable of administrating.
In all, even if you’ve gone through the other MLG pieces and came away disappointed, Planet Hulk is certainly worth giving a go. I’m truly hoping this piece has elevated the bar for all future Marvel animated features to follow.
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