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This week, we continue our look at some recent animated movies by exploring Marvel’s latest foray in the epic tales of one of their most beloved and yet conflicted heroes, The Incredible Hulk. I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for the Hulk; perhaps this stems from my Dad making me watch the 1970s TV series every Friday night. Regardless, I’ve always found the dual nature of this unstoppable force to be one worth reading about. I will admit, however, that both Plant Hulk and World War Hulk were series that I somehow missed. Therein is where the beauty of this film resides. For upon watching the show I was immediately drawn to my favorite comic book store to pick up the trade and read it. Here, Marvel is adeptly showing us how the power of a good story is crucial to any successful comic translation.
The story is pretty simple. Iron Man, Doctor Strange, and the rest of the Illuminati have placed our green hero on a shuttle bound for a peaceful planet. Iron Man declares that The Hulk has become too powerful and needs to be put on a planet where he can no longer hurt anyone. Upon hearing this message, The Hulk gets pretty pissed off and destroys the shuttle’s navigation system sending him crashing to the planet Sakaar. After emerging from the wreckage The Hulk is captured and carted off to an imperial coliseum. Here, he and other slaves must do battle with powerful monsters in order to win their freedom. At first, all the Hulk cares about is going home (presumably to kick Iron Man’s ass), but after awhile he befriends the group of revolutionaries he is forced to fight with, and together they attempt to free Sakaar from the tyranny of its dictator The Red King.
There are plenty of things to love about Planet Hulk, including some notable cameos in the film. In the comics, The Hulk in forced to do battle with the Silver Surfer who has also been captured by the Red King. This was an amazing sequence in the comic and you should all take time to check that out. However the replacement character that Marvel Animation chose was none other than Beta Ray Bill. One might find this odd as it comes so close to the Hulk vs. Thor cartoon, but I enjoyed it tremendously. I’ve always loved the Beta Ray Bill story and as such have always wanted to see the monstrous figure turned hero in more action sequences.
The other thing I really enjoyed were the side characters in the film. All of them were quite interesting, and while not as flushed out as they were in the comics, each one had a great backstory that is explored in flashbacks. There is even a love interest for our green hero, a female warrior named Caiera who possess great strength and can go toe to toe with the Hulk. The action sequences with Caiera and Hulk are fantastic and feel somewhat akin to foreplay. This leads to a relationship at the end of the film that doesn’t feel forced at all, in fact it felt quite real. And for a Hulk fan, that was a nice surprise indeed.
Beyond the fight scene with Caiera, the rest of the action is top notch. It is quite fun to watch Hulk and his brethren do battle against giant monsters and overwhelming odds. We even get to see Hulk don traditional gladiator garb, the perfect battle attire for a hero such as him. The Hulk was already menacing looking enough, but toss on some spiked shoulderpads and a battle axe…Oh yeah look out!
Finally, there is no Bruce Banner in this film. Normally I would cry foul at that, Bruce Banner and his attempt at controlling the rage that is The hulk is central to the canon and lore of this Marvel icon. However, writers by Greg Pak and Carlo Pagulayan wanted to focus primarily on the character of the Hulk and give him an opportunity to grow without his alter ego. Their explanation for the non transformation is never fully explained, but I believe it has something to do with the atmosphere of Sakaar being toxic to humans and would kill Bruce Banner. Regardless it was fun to watch a story just about Hulk and not deal with a whiny Bruce Banner. The story then becomes a redemption story for a character that has almost always gotten the raw deal in the Marvel Universe. As such we end up cheering for him even more and we smile when we see a glimpse of his humanity surface without the help of Dr. Banner.
At 81 minutes, Planet Hulk is a short and concise ride that is every bit as fun as the original storyline. Fans of The Hulk will want to grab the BluRay as it has a ton of extra features they will undoubtedly enjoy. Or if you just want to enjoy a great comic story with your kid, or by yourself you can’t go wrong with this film.