This is apparently Marvel's fifth animated feature, the first four being Ultimate Avengers 1 & 2, The Invincible Iron Man and Doctor Strange, all in 2006-7. This is ignoring TV series, releases by DC and so on, naturally. I don't know if I'd go so far as to call it a feature, though. It's actually two unrelated episodes bundled on the same disc, 'Hulk vs Thor' (43 minutes) and 'Hulk vs Wolverine' (35 minutes). They're fun, but a big part of why they work is the fact that their length means they don't need to worry too hard about their plots. You'll see the same phenomenon in anime, by the way, which is appropriate given that the animation studio is Madhouse. These films don't have the richness or emotional depth that you'd associate with anime, but they're a cut above the American Saturday morning cartoon fare that they're clearly derived from. I'm not saying they're rubbish, by the way. Plotting is simply a different art when you're dealing with episodes rather than full features. To tell the truth, I found it rather refreshing. The script can go nuts with fight scenes and chaos in a manner that feels surprisingly faithful to the comics, jumping from moment to moment in a way you just can't do in a live-action summer tentpole movie.
It looks more faithful, too. Wolverine's the right shape (i.e. nearly square) and wearing his yellow costume, for a start. All this would look terrible if you tried to reproduce it in live-action, but in animated form it's rather nice.
The idea behind both of these stories is that the Hulk is unstoppable. Quite right too. This Hulk can rip his way through absolutely anything, tearing apart even Asgard. The gods themselves don't stand a chance against him, with most of them being thrown around like wheat and even the strongest of them (Thor) being able at best to hold his own for a couple of minutes before the Hulk turns him into an impact crater. This is exactly as it should be and I want to applaud wildly, but it has story consequences. The Hulk may be the headline attraction, but these are really Thor and Wolverine episodes which happen to guest-star a green walking earthquake.
That's probably why 'vs Wolverine' is more popular with the fanboys, even though 'vs Thor' is the better story. Wolverine's is cooler. It's as simple as that. His episode may be 35 minutes of nonsense with no real ending, but the argument would presumably be that it's better because it has jokes and blood. I'm not sure I even disagree.
HULK VS THOR
I liked this a lot, but then again I like Norse mythology. There's something funny about seeing what's essentially a Norse religious tract, delivered in completely po-faced style and populated by Marvel superheroes. Asgard is the home of the gods! The mightiest warriors live here, under the invicible protection of Odin... but for seven days he enters "The Odin Sleep" and the wicked descend upon his kingdom. This isn't just a roll-call of all Marvel's characters based on Norse mythology, but also a bunch of the real stuff. The Hulk fights frost giants! You could slot this straight into the Eddas and Sagas.
I also like the tone of it. The gods all speak in this sub-Shakespearian manner of which I approve. The only thing I didn't like was the character who's almost a parody of it. He looks like Falstaff, he sounds like the Queen and he says things like "verily". What's funny about that, eh? "Verily" is a good word. However I'm always going to approve of Thor saying things like, "Loki, I would have words with thee."
I'd love to hear it in a Yorkshire accent, though.
Anyway, Loki has a plan to tear apart Asgard. Helping him is Amora the Enchantress, who's notable for her cleavage and for not thinking things through. Together they split Bruce Banner and the Hulk into two separate entities, to try to make the latter turn Asgard to rubble and kill Thor. It's a Pandora's Box story, basically, but with a few twists later on. I was surprised when Loki killed Banner, for instance.
I enjoyed this one. It has a proper story and villains with a plan, even if Loki's final comeuppance is disappointing. It's scenic, with fun Asgard imagery and even a bit of Hell. Thor's fight against the Hulk is also everything you'd want it to be, pretty much what you'd expect from the Hulk vs Superman. Wow, Thor's strong. He doesn't stand a chance of course, but for a while he almost looks as if he might. Now that's what I call a super-fight. It couldn't be more different from my other "Hulk vs Thor" movie, Bill Bixby's The Incredible Hulk Returns
I have a comment about the voice acting. It's all in a slightly overdone superhero mode, which is fair enough, but once or twice it tramples on what might have been a good line. Oh, and why does the Betty Ross we see in a dream sequence look ugly?
HULK VS WOLVERINE
This one's apparently a loose prequel to an episode of Wolverine and the X-Men from the previous year. That's called 'Wolverine vs Hulk' and it's season 1, episode 7. It also stars Nick Fury and has the same voice actors for Hulk and Wolverine, but as usual a different Bruce Banner. Fred Tatasciore has voiced the Hulk five times to date, but he's played him opposite four different Bruce Banners.
I'm going to be generous and assume that the existence of a sequel justifies the lack of an ending. Seriously, this thing simply stops. There's a big bunch of fighting, then Wolverine and Hulk leap at each other. The end. You'd better put on your comic book head for this one. Fortunately at 35 minutes it's not a million miles away from the length of a TV series episode of something, which is probably the best way to watch it. Remember all that stuff I was saying about comic books living for the moment?
Anyway, this is the fan-favourite match-up that makes no sense at all. Wolverine is tough, but really. Healing powers will stop him from dying and the claws will make Hulk even angrier, but basically this is a snarlier lower-IQ Marvel equivalent of Batman vs Superman. Nevertheless it's the fight the fans want to see, so the film gives it to them.
This is fun as far as it goes, but fortunately it doesn't go on too long and soon we've got Weapon X showing up to pester Wolverine again. Hulk takes a back seat for a good chunk of the episode at this point. The Weapon X guys are Deadpool, Sabretooth, Lady Deathstrike, Omega Red and Professor Thornton and they're a lot of fun, although as a DC boy I wasn't too familiar with most of them. Omega Red has a Russian accent and tentacles. Sabretooth is Sabretooth. Lady Deathstrike is fun, but her Japanese accent sounded to me more like German and her few snippets of Japanese are ludicrous. Firstly, she calls Wolverine "gaijin", i.e. foreigner. Think about that for a moment. Wolverine's Canadian and they're in Canada. Secondly, on another occasion she calls him "Logan-san". Why so polite? I'd have expected something like "kisama", or even "temei". Maybe one might read this as characterisation, reflecting the past history of their relationship, and it's even possible that such a fan theory might fly in the comics... but clearly no one's suggested this to the voice actress.
Deadpool is the best villain, though. I'd heard that he was a fan-favourite and now I see why. He's hilarious! He's basically Spiderman with a gun, wisecracking his way through violence. Take for instance his exchange with Wolverine when the latter's been taken captive. "Hey, still have that unbreakable skull?" BLAM.
Basically, this is an exercise in throwing together fun characters and letting them hurt each other. The plot doesn't matter, really. There's entertainment value in seeing the Hulk finally unleashed and the villains about to enter a world of pain. What's more, they're doing Wolverine properly. The director worked hard to make this violent and dark, the results of which are laughable compared with Japanese anime, but still nastier than these characters' more usual world of Saturday morning kiddie cartoons.
The character designs are the biggest problem. They've been made "animation-friendly", or in other words cartoonish. However I like their version of Wolverine, who's the more brutal version from before he'd joined the X Men and is happy to cut off his opponents' body parts. His fights end with corpses and blood. When Wolverine cuts off Deadpool's arm, you also see little arm slices thanks to Logan's triple blades. The body count of this thing is surprisingly high for a cartoon and that's basically what makes this the kind of Wolverine story we all want to see. He's cool because he's violent. Take that away and he's a bit of a dork, frankly.
There's not much else to talk about with 'Hulk vs Wolverine'. It's violent. It's also funny, mostly thanks to Deadpool although I also got a giggle from Hulk and Lady Deathstrike screaming at each other. That's pretty much all the reasons anyone might have for watching it.
I think I rather like this episodic format. A full-length animated feature would tend to feel more like a cut-price substitute for the live-action films, which will have had more time, more talent and infinitely more money put into them. A better point of comparison would undoubtedly be the various Marvel animated series, but I haven't seen those. Viewed as a straight-to-DVD effort in its own right, I thought this stood up quite well. It's more faithful to the comics than are the live-action films, that's for sure.