Thursday, March 26, 2009
This direct-to-DVD feature is actually two films--Hulk vs Thor and Hulk vs Wolverine--on one disc. However, unlike its deceptively simplistic title, these two animated shorts are not simple fighting matches; they are complete stories which both feature the Hulk as the main antagonist.
Hulk Vs Thor:
This short film is slightly longer than its Wolverine-centered counterpart. Additionally, the story is far more straightforward and epic. This tale is a mythological epic that literally takes the heroes and villains to Hell and back, all with a grand style befitting of its source material.
Everything in this animated Asgard glows with a supernatural light and is sculpted with an angelic grace. This truly feels like a supernatural realm, and is not easily confused with our world.
Thor himself is well-designed, not looking too chunky or overly feminine. He looks, sounds, and moves exactly as he should.
The story is simple, yet takes several turns. At the start, Hulk vs Thor deals with Thor's evil half-brother, Loki, attempting to use the Hulk as a weapon against Asgard. Of course, the Hulk is a monster that cannot be controlled, and apocalyptic chaos ensues.
Bruce Banner's character is given a surprising amount of depth in this story, with the importance of the Hulk/Banner duality in the spotlight. A twist in the plot allows for a deep look at what makes Bruce Banner a hero, something that is rarely--if ever--seen in his other stories.
This tale deals with themes of life, death, love, and self-sacrifice. The epic scale of Thor vs Hulk is remarkable, especially considering its short 45-minute length.
The animation is practically flawless, mixing artistic flair with fluid-yet-brutal motion. I do wonder, however, at the apparent lack of on-screen blood. It seems strange that certain scenes in Hulk vs Thor that show on-screen sword wounds are oddly devoid of the animated blood that permeated Hulk vs Wolverine. After all, it's not as if the film was going to get a rating below PG-13 anyway. Perhaps this film was not originally meant to be coupled with the grittier Wolverine story? Perhaps Marvel Studios wants to be able to air this film on television? In any case, the fact that the story takes place in a magical land covers up for any perceived lack of realism.
All in all, the film is great at what it is: a 45-minute superhero action/drama. Though it may not stand up as high as many of DC comics' animated movies, it's definitely a great feature that fans of action, comic books, mythology, or animation in general can enjoy.
Hulk vs Wolverine
Hulk vs Wolverine trades drama for carnage-filled fun. I was very, very surprised at the level of violence in this film. On-screen characters are dismembered and disemboweled. However, this is not a simple carnage-fest; there is in fact a story here.
This story takes place before Wolverine joins with the X-men, but after he has escaped from the Weapon X science lab. The actual narrative is simple: the government wants Wolverine to track down and possibly kill the Hulk, who has apparently gone on a rampage. However, Wolverine's old Weapon X teammates have special plans, both for Bruce Banner and Logan himself.
One thing that's immediately obvious is that the character designs are a bit different in this film than in Hulk vs Thor. While the designs in Thor were elegant-yet-strong, the characters here have a "clunkier" feeling. It's not necessarily a bad thing, as it reinforces the gritty tone of the story, but I would have appreciated Wolverine looking a little less goofy.
On that note, however, Wolverine is characterized pretty perfectly, just as Thor was. Voiced by the excellent actor who also voices Logan in Wolverine and the X-Men, Wolverine's voice has the perfect amount of grit.
The Hulk/Wolverine fight is one of the best and most brutal fights I have ever seen in animation. It's bloody, tense, and genuinely surprising.
The real story kicks into gear, however, when the Weapon X team shows up.
The villains of Weapon X are a lot of fun to watch, but while Omega Red, Deathstryke, and Sabretooth are mostly just out for Wolverine's blood, Deadpool is genuinely funny. His morbid humor is both slightly disgusting and completely hilarious. It's the first time he's ever been seen in animation, and it's nice. It'll be great to see him return in Marvel's future stories.
If there is any real flaw with Hulk vs Wolverine, it's that the story is practically non-existent. It's lots of fun, but after seeing Thor's deep and meaningful development on several different characters, Wolverine is just a bloody thrillride. However, as a bloody thrillride, it's awesome.
All in all, this is a really great DVD movie. It's thoroughly enjoyable, and has some of the best action animation on this side of the Pacific Ocean. The DVD has some great commentaries that highlight the little details, making the experience for comics fans that much better.
Friday, March 6, 2009
The twelve-issue comic maxi-series Watchmen was published in 1986, and has now become recognized as one of the top 100 novels of the 20th century. Its deep study of the psychological reasoning behind superheroic characters has influenced every facet of the comic-book industry. The story is gritty, realistic, and shockingly dark at times. It is not a tale for children, as its content is entirely too mature.
Many had previously (and infamously) called Watchmen "unfilmable," citing its overly complicated narrative and nonlinear storytelling. Zach Snyder, director of this 2009 film, has now proven them wrong.
For those who don't know, Watchmen is set in an alternate 1985, where costumed vigilantes exist in the real world. With one major exception, none of the so-called "heroes" have superpowers, and many of them are slightly insane. The presence of these vigilantes has completely changed the world, with the U.S. winning the Vietnam War and the subsequent events of the Cold War becoming even more heated. In the present time of Watchmen, the "doomsday clock" stands at five minutes to "midnight," when nuclear devastation will be upon the world. The main plot of Watchmen revolves around a core group of "heroes," complete with lengthy individual flashbacks. When one of these heroes is murdered, a chain of events is set in motion that threatens millions of lives.
Fans of the novel may be dissatisfied with certain alterations to the original story. However, the changes all work in the end. Several alterations are actually superior to the original tale.
Zach Snyder will forever go down in history as the one man with the ability to adapt comics into motion picture form while still maintaining their original integrity. Watchmen practically uses the original novel's panels as storyboards, yet still somehow makes them work in motion. This may be the single most visually well-done film I have ever seen.
Parents must take note: This is not a film for children. Heck, it may not be a film for you. There are at least two notable sex scenes in the film, though only one of them was very graphic. There was also quite a bit of nudity in the film, but only once was it ever used in an unnecessary way. Curses are thrown about like lawn darts, though never without reason. The violence is brutal and bloody. When a younger friend of mine asked me if I thought her parents might allow her to see the film, I replied, "Nope. Your daddy would drag you out of the theater. Too many broken bones and naked people."
Watchmen was always a tale of moral ambiguity, and this film is very accurate to its source material. This is not a simple film in which the characters are identified as "good" or "evil." This is a story about realistic human characters with real human flaws. Those looking for a superhero film will be disappointed: Watchmen is no such thing.
This film is an elaborate series of stunningly beautiful musical montages. Watching Watchmen is like eating New York cheesecake drizzled with strawberry glaze. I found myself wanting to cheer at the action scenes, which are overly stylish, yet kinetic and real enough to seem plausible. Set to electric guitar rock combined with traditional superheroic orchestral fare, the action in this film makes the men in the audience feel like eight-year-old boys again (provided that the on-screen bone breaks and cracked spines don't make them vomit)
Sadly, Watchmen does have its narrative flaws. Even the original novel felt lacking, as though the reader was only privy to short glimpses into the lives of these complex characters. This film has the same problem, but does make up for it somewhat with its highly enjoyable visuals.
All in all, Watchmen is not a perfect film, but is still very good, acting as the new standard for comic book adaptations.