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While not quite the oldest dilemma to confront the human brain since the beginning of time, it's still a question that has occupied a lot of minds, torn friends against each other, and provoked a lot of heated discussion: Who's stronger, Superman or the Hulk? Who would win in a fight, Spider-Man or Batman? If Stan Lee and his cohorts had existed in ancient Greece, undoubtedly Socrates and his students would have debated superhero match-ups in between discussions of Socratic Method. Like many of those perennial philosophical discussions, there are a few classic counter-arguments to these quandaries: namely, "Batman always wins" and "Hulk is strongest one there is"-that last one mainly on the Hulk's own insistence. The Hulk, while always one of the more famous superheroes in the Marvel Comics stable, holds a special place in the hearts of those who debate very grim and serious topics like this one. Essentially a Jekyll and Hyde riff, unfortunate scientist Bruce Banner, in a moment of anger, transforms into a unstoppable green monster that aptly earns the name "Hulk." The Hulk's size and aggression make him ideal fodder for these arguments, and there's nary a superhero fan who hasn't considered who would come out on top in one fight or another. Marvel and Lionsgate team up to offer these two animated "mini-movies" that posits answers to the questions that have vexed Socrates and/or the guys who sit around the local comic shop all these years.
Facts of the Case
In Hulk vs. Wolverine, the clawed mutant, pre-X-Men, is tasked by the Canadian government to take out the perpetrator of the massacre of a small town-a big, green perpetrator. In his first encounter with the Hulk, Wolverine gets more than he bargained for, especially when it turns out he's not the only one with an interest in taking down the Hulk.
The Hulk is drawn into the immortal conflicts of the gods in Hulk vs. Thor. Kidnapped by Loki, the Norse God of Mischief, the Hulk falls under Loki's control and is used as a blunt weapon in an assault on Asgard, the home of the gods. Thor, God of Thunder, is called upon to defend his homeland and battle for the Hulk's very soul.
The requirements for a project called Hulk vs… are pretty simple: pick a target for Ol' Purple Pants, point him at it, and watch the sparks fly. While Marvel's similar Ultimate Avengers films attempt a well-rounded movie experience, the mandate is different with these episodes, sold individually or in this two-disc edition. And these are, rightly, called "episodes," as neither feature clocks in at over 45 minutes. Even the filmmakers' refer to them as "mini-movies" (with the hint that budgets were to blame for the abbreviated running times). The length, though, is hardly a deterrent, as there's little to explain, and even less to evoke: there's not much in the way of human drama in Hulk vs.. No, forty minutes or so is just about right for some smashing and counter-smashing. While hardly brainless, these episodes aim to please viewers looking for a good fight.
The most immediately successful of the two is Wolverine, enlivened by a punchier script than its Norse cousin. Craig Kyle and Chris Yost, screenwriters for both episodes, are veteran comic book writers and well-versed in the world of the X-Men, and as such seem to have injected Wolverine with a bit more energy. The tone of the movies is established early on, as Hulk and Wolverine wail on each other with PG-13 abandon. These are not cartoons for a Saturday morning; these are often surprisingly brutal beatdowns. Claws rend flesh, bones shatter, blood flows, limbs fly (tellingly, Kyle and Yost spend much of their commentary keeping track of how many characters' arms are ripped off). All delusions that these are targeted to a younger audience-Thor is similarly graphic—vanish the second Wolverine sinks adamantium claw into green skin. With that out of the way, Wolverine and Hulk battle across the Canadian wilderness, generally demolishing nature and each other. A forced stalemate brings in a whole new group of characters with an interest in both of the combatants.
Of the two movies, Wolverine offers the most lore straight from the comics. It's gratifying, as a devotee, to see the faithfulness of the adaptation, from Wolverine's pre-X-Men mask to an accurate re-presentation of Barry Windsor-Smith's "Weapon-X" origin story for Wolverine. The spoilers of the Wolverine-Hulk fight, agents put together by a rival agency, are a group of depraved characters familiar to X-Men fans, including Deadpool, who absolutely steals every scene he's in (his own movie can't be too far behind, can it?). Between its mix of comic book nods and top-this action set pieces, culminating in the complete destruction of an underground military installation, Hulk vs. Wolverine is a worthy bout between two characters who don't like to lose.
The more somber movie is the Thor chapter, which features just as much violence as Wolverine but is mired in the same melodramatic cosmology that plagues the comics. Rather than an all-out brawl, this is a conflict between gods, as Loki manipulates the Hulk into an assault on Thor and Asgard, home of his godly brethren. The lack knives jutting out of forearms doesn't make this installment any less brutal, with Thor knocked about like a ragdoll as Hulk steamrolls his way through the Asgardian military. While vs. Thor is full of just as many nods to the fans as Wolverine, it's just not as neat to see, say, the Warriors Three as it is to see fast-healing mutants go at it beneath the Canadian wilderness. By nature, Thor is a more stoic affair: grim gods ponder their fates, mortal souls hang in the balance as austere warriors battle on. Thor does the most for the Hulk as a character, as demonstrated by an extended fantasy sequence in which Bruce Banner is granted his heart's desire. It's the closest the Hulk/Banner comes to depth between the two movies. The sequence doesn't last long, however. It isn't long before the Hulk is a blunt instrument again, there to make trouble for the God of Thunder and cause a lot of damage that would cost millions in special effects if done in live action. Kyle and Yost have less of an affinity for Thor, and it shows; their Thor script, despite its violence, lacks the glee of the Wolverine installment. In approaching Thor's Hulk as a raging counterpart to Wolverine's more reactive, child-like Hulk, the creators commendably draw a distinction between their interpretations of the character, but the Asgard throwdown is simply less fun than its more gonzo counterpart.
Included on the Wolverine disc are two commentaries, one by the production team of Frank Paur, Kevin Altieri, and Butch Lukic and one by screenwriters Kyle and Yost. Given the overlap in the films' production, some anecdotes and trivia get repeated, but these are by and large genial and informative commentaries by animation veterans. "This Is Gonna Hurt" is a substantial making-of featurette with lots of footage of the voice actors doing their thing (Fred Tatasciore's Hulk is impressive-and exhausting to watch). "Fan Frenzy" chronicles the film's reception at the nerd-stravaganza San Diego Comicon, about as ideal a test audience as the filmmakers were likely to find. This disc is rounded out by a brief featurette promoting the just-started Wolverine and the X-Men cartoon.
The bonus features on one movie are mirrored on the other, so Thor's features are structured similarly. The God of Thunder gets his own pair of commentaries by the same creative staff, and "Of Gods and Monsters," the behind-the-scenes feature, features more of Tatasciore's grunting. A sadly brief featurette, "Jack Kirby and Thor," recounts artist Jack Kirby's influence on the comic book and how that is reflected in the movie. Thor's turn at the promotional wheel is a glimpse (mostly pencil tests) of the upcoming Thor: Tales of Asgard DTV movie.
Each mini-movie has its own distinct feel to it, and the animation is a cut above the longer Marvel animated movies. Decidedly not for young kids, these are movies made for and by fans of the material, which means lots of allusions to the comic books and lots of violence besides. Neither film is above the material it freely adapts, but it lives up to that little "vs." nestled between the stars' names. Not surprisingly, fans of one character will prefer that one over the other, and arguing over whose movie was better-and who deserved to win-will have to become part of all the other arguments at the comic shop.
The Hulk and all his associates-hairy, divine, blonde, and/or Candian-are
free to go provided Dr. Banner is kept very, very heavily sedated.
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