Friday, April 20, 2012

"Hulk Vs" (2009)

Starring Fred Tatasciore, Steven Blum and Matthew Wolf
Written by Craig Kyle and Christopher Yost
Directed by Frank Paur and Sam Liu
PG-13 - Violence
Running Time: 82 Minutes

"Hulk Vs" is actually two short features back-to-back: "Hulk vs Thor" and "Hulk vs Wolverine."

In "Hulk vs Thor," the evil demigod Loki (Graham McTavish) convinces the sorceress Amora (Kari Wahlgren) to help him unleash the Hulk (Frank Tatasciore) upon Asgard.  Loki knows that while the allfather, Odin (Dwight Schulz) is in his regenerative sleep, the kingdom is vulnerable and he sees a chance to usurp control.  Amora, angry at having been spurned by Thor (Matthew Wolf), is just angry enough to go along with it.  She helps Loki remove Bruce Banner (Bryce Johnson) from the Hulk, leaving the creature entirely without a conscience.

As the Hulk lays waste to Asgard, only Thor stands in his way.  But the creature proves too powerful even for the god of thunder, and the Hulk beats Thor to within an inch of his life.  Amora, regretful for her actions, rescues him and tells Thor that Loki is controlling the beast, and he seeks out his half-brother, leaving only Sif (Grey DeLisle) and the legion of Valkyries to defend Odin.

In "Hulk vs Wolverine," the Hulk has been cutting a swath of destruction across Canada.  The government sends its best and most lethal agent, Logan (Steven Blum) to track the creature and stop it after it levels an entire village in the countryside.  Logan tracks the Hulk, but is surprised to find only the weak Banner instead.  When his interrogation of Banner unleashes the Hulk once more, the two are set upon by a team of superpowered mercs including Deadpool (Nolan North), Omega Red (Colin Murdock), Lady Deathstrike (Janyse Jaud) and Sabertooth (Mark Acheson).  They are captured and taken to a secret location where Logan learns that the scientist who turned him into Weapon X years earlier, Dr. Thornton (Tom Kane) plans to experiment on the Hulk to turn him into a weapon.

When Thornton tells Logan he also plans to erase Logan's memory and experiment on him once again, as well, Logan breaks free and fights his way through the Weapon X team, unleashing the Hulk in the process.

"Hulk Vs" is pretty solid work from Marvel.  It's the best animation I've seen yet, but since it's two shorter stories put together, there's not a lot of room for character or story depth.  Of the two stories, "Hulk vs Thor" seems the most complex and fully formed, with some twists and turns to the story and some solid emotional resonance for the characters.  "Hulk vs Wolverine" is more of a Wolverine story; the Hulk barely seems to figure into it at all.  In fact, removing the Hulk from that story probably wouldn't have had much of an effect on the overall story.

It makes "Hulk vs Wolverine," entertaining though it may be, a rather curious inclusion here.  Much of the runtime is given over to Wolverine, flashbacks to his origins and his interaction with the other members of the Weapon X team.  The centerpiece fight between Hulk and Wolverine is interrupted by the arrival of the others, and when they get a chance to settle things at the end... the episode is over.  Before it's ended prematurely, however, the fight is pretty cool.  The violence in "Hulk vs Wolverine" is pretty impressive, even for PG-13.  There's quite a bit of blood and dismemberment going on, which is really cool because Wolverine has so often been neutered in his appearances in animated and live-action media.  The standout of the cast is Nolan North as Deadpool, "the merc with the mouth."  He gets some good quips and one-liners in there, and is obviously having a lot of fun.

"Hulk vs Thor" seems more fully formed, and also features the Hulk in a pivotal role.  His battle with Thor is pretty brutal, and the exploration of the Loki character - his obsession with destroying his half-brother and conquering Asgard is so strong, he foolishly unleashes a creature even he can't stop or control - is quite interesting.  The third act trip to Hell to retrieve Banner's soul from the underworld gets a little weird, but there's a fun element to having the Hulk unstoppable even in the afterlife.  Plus, Thor's trade of Loki's soul for Banner's, and the warning that his own fate is unavoidable, is pretty interesting stuff.  It's all well-played, and solidly acted by the cast.

"Hulk Vs" is a solidly enjoyable but fractured experience.  The two stories are very different from each other, and while "Hulk vs Wolverine" isn't bad, it really isn't a Hulk story by any stretch.  But the whole thing is well animated and acted, with cool fight sequences and lots of roaring and destruction.  And really, isn't that a big part of the draw for anything involving the Incredible Hulk?