An interesting rivalry of sorts has developed with the direct-to-video animated superhero movie market. DC has been releasing properties with a deal through parent company Warner Bros. (and their Warner Premiere shingle), over the past couple of years. These movies have been smart, sophisticated little movies, with distinct thematic and stylistic bents - 'Batman: Gotham Knight' was Batman filtered through the distinct visions of Japan's most cutting edge anime directors; 'Justice League: The New Frontier' faithfully retold Darwyn Cooke's miniseries of the same name with vivid colors and post-war imagery; and 'Superman: Doomsday' scaled down the epic struggle between Superman and Lex Luthor to a sort of same-sex romantic tryst. (Trust me on this.) They've scaled down and modernized the mythology in new and refreshing ways and there's been only one true dog (the recently released 'Batman/Superman: Public Enemies') among the bunch.
Marvel, on the other hand, has released nothing BUT dogs. In trying to transpose some of its biggest franchises (like the 'Ultimates' line of Avengers comics in 'Ultimate Avengers' and 'Ultimate Avengers 2'), it has settled on second- rate animation and clunky narrative. These things are barely watchable, and for all their attempts at hip, gritty realism, they seem about as cutting edge as Saturday morning cartoons.
Still, with a title like 'Hulk vs.' you've got to hold out at least a little bit of hope. While the not-so-jolly green giant has been brought to life memorably in a television series and, more recently, in two underrated big screen adaptations (Ang Lee's 'Hulk' will one day be appreciated for the masterpiece it is - mark my words). But with the seemingly limitless possibilities of an animated Hulk smashing up all kinds of stuff, well, that's worth getting excited about. And he'll be fighting two of Marvel's brightest heroes - Thor and Wolverine! Could it get any better?
Well, actually, yes, because 'Hulk vs.' is quite lousy, in fact. It's a "movie" that's divided into two halves - the 'Hulk vs. Thor' half and the 'Hulk vs. Wolverine' half. Neither one are particularly exciting or all that stylish, and both feature lots and lots of fighting.
'Hulk vs. Thor' is the lousier of the two, and the first one on the disc. It's also straddled with the clunky expository stuff about the mythical land of Asgard, the different feuding gods, and everything else. Seems that Loki, the God of Mischief and Thor's brother, has kidnapped Bruce Banner (the Hulk's human form), because he knows that the Hulk has come the closest to defeating Thor on numerous occasions. From then on it’s a long slog to the end of this 45-minute mini-movie, complete with Loki taking over the Hulk (in a weird possession type thing) and people getting thrown through mountains. The animation is minimal and stiff, like some bad Japanese cartoon from the mid-1970's, and the entire thing is completely dull. You can skip this one and go right for the second mini-movie, for sure.
'Hulk vs. Wolverine' is marginally better because there seems to been at least a cursory consideration to style (there's a cool scene where Wolverine is hacking up baddies, completely in shadow) and to upping the level of violence in an organic way (blood flies aplenty). The story of 'Hulk vs. Wolverine' takes place before Logan has joined the X-Men, and is just some rogue military operative (but still, for some reason, rocking his distinctive X-Men uniform) brought to help combat the monstrous foe. Sooner or later the Weapon X crew shows up, with Lady Deathstrike and Deadpool amongst the additional baddies. So, yes, there are lots of things for Wolverine to slice up in this section of the disc. So much so that you'll think that this section should have been called 'Wolverine vs. Lots of Dudes' instead of 'Hulk vs. Wolverine.' Not only is 'Hulk vs. Wolverine' better - it's also shorter! If you want to watch some mindless fun, you could do worse than 'Hulk vs. Wolverine.' Then again, you could do a lot better by just hunting around for a different disc.
As a whole, 'Hulk vs.' is a supreme disappointment. It just seems amateurish and crude, especially in comparison to the rather elegant product that the DC/Warner Premiere folks have been churning out. If you're a Marvelholic like me and absolutely must see it, you might be even more disappointed. Because, really, there could be a whole lot more to these movies than just, simply, Hulk smash.
Technically the MPEG-4 AVC transfer (1.78:1 aspect ratio) on this 25GB disc is nearly flawless. Still, something can be technically flawless and still have some things left to be desired.
True, everything about these traditionally animated films looks great - colors are bright and vivid, there aren't any pops, blots, or smears on the film. There is no grain, detail is nice, shadows are dark and appropriately inky, and everything is polished and clean.
But the level of animation here just leaves something to be desired, and no matter how good it looks, you'll still wish you were looking at something more proficient, something livelier. Time and time again on this disc, the creators talk about how they wanted to distance themselves from the relative safety of Saturday morning cartoons, but the difference, especially when you can see the image this clearly, is negligible at best.
There are some issues with banding, but these moments are few and far between, and if you're looking for a solid, but unspectacular transfer, you can do far worse than 'Hulk vs.'
Better by my estimation is the disc's audio track, with the lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 offer plenty of bang for your buck.
As I've said before, both films basically boil down to huge brawls, so the surround channels get a clear workout. Every thud, thump, crashing boulder, and crack of lightening are rendered with bold clarity and couch-vibrating power. Is it full of delicate nuance? No. Will it wake up your cat if you have the volume turned up too high? Undoubtedly.
But while the atmospherics are the most obviously impressive bits of the mix, dialogue sounds just as great - clean, crisp, and well prioritized. Similarly, the music in both segments sounds more robust than it ought to. I wasn't particularly impressed with the score, but I must admit that hearing it boom brilliantly from this mix did sway my opinion.
Additionally, there are no nagging technical issues - no hisses or pops or elements jumbled on top of each other. The mix represents a nice, clean presentation all around.
This is an appropriately muscular mix for this kind of movie, and will give any home theater set-up a nice workout. If you're a big time audiophile who lives for the finely-tuned-but-still-deafening cacophony of cartoon characters pummeling each other, this is for you.
There's also a Spanish Dobly Digital 5.1 mix on here, as well as subtitles in English SDH, English, and Spanish.
I'm going to break down the extras per segment. It should be noted this disc is Region "free."
Hulk vs. Thor
Hulk vs. Wolverine
Overall, 'Hulk vs.' is a decidedly mixed bag. Content-wise, this disc kind of sucks. 'Hulk vs. Wolverine' is fairly good, but 'Hulk vs. Thor' is almost a complete waste of time. Far removed from the stylish work of the DC/Warner Premiere folks, this Marvel/Lionsgate joint project does have admittedly wonderful audio and video, and a whole host of extras that most nerds and casual fans will enjoy. So, I will cautiously recommend a rent for this, but only by a squeak, for people who want to give their home theater a workout and who enjoy the characters. Otherwise, give this baby a pass.