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My knowledge of “The Incredible Hulk” saga pretty much begins and ends with the late-70’s television series starring Lou Ferrigno and the late Bill Bixby. As such, it’s safe to say that I’m fairly ignorant on the subject, and I’m not entirely ashamed to admit that fact in a public forum. For whatever reason, the comic books weren’t really to my liking; my days were spent reading back issues of “Captain America”, “The Amazing Spider-Man”, and “Groo the Wanderer”. A story about a guy who transforms into a hulking green brute whenever his anger becomes unmanageable still doesn’t sound like a good time, especially when it’s being adapted for the screen by Ang Lee. Yeesh.
Sam Liu’s spunky 2009 animated feature “Planet Hulk”, on the other hand, is based on a specific series of books in the Hulk universe. Needless to say, I haven’t read a single one. Does this matter? I’m not entirely sure, but as someone who knows next to nothing about the characters, their origins, or why Hulk beats the unholy Green Giant out of someone named Beta Ray Bill, I still found the flick to be an entertaining way to kill off an otherwise boring afternoon. It helps matters considerably that I have a high tolerance for nonsensical interplanetary silliness and slickly animated fight sequences. There are certainly worse ways to blow roughly 90 minutes of your otherwise meaningless existence.
The story is a little hard to pin down, but I’ll do what I can: Having grown increasingly tired of Hulk’s violent displays of unadulterated emotion, the big green goober’s so-called “friends” strap him to a rocket and send him hurtling into the far reaches of space. The theory, of course, is that he’ll crash land on a distant planet and become a huge problem for someone else. However, a temper tantrum of sorts knocks his ship off course, causing him to crash onto a strange little planet called Sakaar. Upon his arrival, Hulk is immediately taken prisoner by the villainous Red King and forced to battle an array of enemies inside an arena for the amusement of the masses.
What the people of Sakaar don’t realize, of course, is that our big green buddy is seriously badass, and he’s not really in the business of letting people push him around. His mean streak allows him to quickly work his way through the ranks, much to the disapproval of the proverbial Powers That Be. The people, bewildered and awestruck by Hulk’s fighting prowess, believe that he’s been sent to free them from tyranny. Whatever the case may be, our hero isn’t going to stop until the whole thing comes crashing down around him, regardless of whether or not his actions destroy an oppressive alien regime in the process.
Compared to some of the other feature-length animated films inspired by popular Marvel characters, “Planet Hulk” is a fairly well-executed endeavor. Powered by some impressive visuals and a voice cast that actually seems to give a damn about the script they’re reading, Liu has crafted a strangely mesmerizing experience that has the possibility to appeal individuals who may not be initially interested in the material. Naturally, if you have zero interest in comic books and the plight of interplanetary fascism, there’s absolutely no reason for you to be here. “Planet Hulk” is enjoyable, but it’s certainly not going to convert non-believers to the cause.
Surprisingly, Lionsgate has gone out of their way to deliver a DVD that fans would actually want to buy, as opposed to dropping a few dollars for a single night’s rental. The special features are numerous, and include a few nifty behind-the-scenes featurettes, a handful of audio commentaries, a few episodes from varous Marvel-owned characters, two motion comic books, and a few music videos. And while the standard-definition transfer on the DVD is rich and creamy, I’m sure this thing pops and crackles on high-definition Blu-Ray.
Is “Planet Hulk” true to the source material? I honestly can’t say. However, the film is certainly entertaining, and should appeal to cinema fiends in search of an action-laced animated feature that doesn’t insult their intelligence. That being said, I’m still not much of a Hulk fan, though I can clearly understand why so many people flock to his books time and time again. There’s nothing quite like watching a menacing brute with frightening anger management issues destroy everything in his path. “Planet Hulk” isn’t the end-all, be-all of direct-to-video animated features, but it’s definitely a good place to start.
Sam Liu (director) / Greg Johnson (screenplay)
CAST: Rick D. Wasserman … Hulk
Mark Hildreth … Red King
Kevin Michael Richardson … Korg
Marc Worden … Iron Man
Liam O’Brien … Hiroim