Judge Patrick Bromley marvels at the mediocrity.
In case The Avengers hasn't given you your fill of the Marvel universe.
Marvel Studios are on top of the world right now, as their big gamble The Avengers—which has been building for four years and five separate movies—is demolishing box office records on its way to being one of the most successful movies of all time. It makes sense that everyone would want to get in on that money party, so, from a business standpoint, it's easy to understand why Lionsgate would repackage three of its direct-to-DVD Marvel animated movies, Planet Hulk, The Invincible Iron Man and Doctor Strange into the new Marvel Animated 3-Movie Collection.
What I don't really understand are some of the decisions made by Marvel Studios in putting some of these movies into production. With the quality control on Marvel's live-action output being pretty consistent (give or take a Fantastic Four, Elektra or a Ghost Rider), there's a laziness and a calculation to these animated movies that shouldn't be acceptable from a company that has proven its capable of doing better. Though they're obviously following the lead of DC, who has released some truly excellent animated movies of their properties in recent years, Marvel's output can't match what's being put out by its chief rival. The good news, I guess, is that Marvel has it all over DC when it comes to live action.
Leading off the Marvel Animated 3-Movie Collection is Planet Hulk, arguably the strongest of the titles collected here. Based on the popular 2006 story arc from the pages of The Incredible Hulk comic book, the movie finds the big green guy exiled from Earth by the other superheroes who have determined he has become too dangerous. He lands on the planet Sakaar, where he is made a prisoner and a slave, forced to fight in gladiator battles with other aliens (including Marvel character Beta Ray Bill, replacing Silver Surfer in the comic version, who is already licensed by Fox and couldn't appear here). Hulk eventually leads an uprising against the Red King who runs the planet and falls in love with Caeira, a lieutenant in service to the king.
What distinguishes Planet Hulk from the other movies included in this set—and from the majority of other Marvel animated movies—is that it isn't just another origin story that exists to establish the character so that a series of future animated movies can be made. This is the movie that gets made after four or five other Hulk movies have already been released. As an adaptation of Planet Hulk, it's not bad. As a standalone Hulk movie, it's got a lot of problems, largely because it's more concerned with being an adaptation than following a traditional three-act structure or creating compelling characters that aren't big and green and gamma radiated. Still, the animation is decent (owing a lot the the Japanese-influenced stuff that shows up late at night on Cartoon Network) and there's a lot of Hulk Smash action. It's not kids' stuff, either; Planet Hulk is surprisingly violent. Like all of the movies in the Marvel Animated 3-Movie Collection, I doubt I'll return to this—the comics run telling the same story is better, mostly because it has the luxury of time to flesh out its ideas—but it at least offered some of what is most enjoyable about the character of the Hulk.
Next up is The Invincible Iron Man, a true head-scratcher and easily the worst of the Marvel animated movies I've seen (to be fair, I still haven't seen either Ultimate Avengers movie). Released in 2007, presumably to build anticipation for the live action version directed by Jon Favreau, Invincible Iron Man tells another variation on the origin of the character and his transformation from billionaire playboy Tony Stark to the man of metal. The big difference here is that it includes the Mandarin, arguably Iron Man's most famous villain, and the Four Rings, which may please die-hard fans of the comic who still haven't seen those elements brought to life on film.
That's maybe the only thing The Invincible Iron Man has going for it, because everything else about it isn't very good. The animation and design is fine but uninspired. The voice work is mostly flat. More than anything, though, the movie suffers by comparison to the excellent Robert Downey Jr. version that came out just a year later. Why would anyone watch this version when a much, much better depiction of the character exists on film? Don't get me wrong—Invincible Iron Man would be a pretty bad movie even if the Favreau movie never existed, but the fact that it does exist just serves to underline all the things the animated movie gets wrong. As a result, the movie feels like a cynical imitation—the Marvel Studios version of an Asylum production (the studio responsible for an endless series of cheap knockoffs of blockbuster movies—"mockbusters"—such as Transmorphers and the recent Battleship imitator American Warships). Marvel sullies its own brand with lazy stuff like this.
Rounding out the collection is 2007's Doctor Strange (also known Doctor Strange: The Sorcerer Supreme), a character well suited to the animated format if only for what would have to be a prohibitively expensive price tag for a live action version. It's yet another origin story for a comic book character, telling of the transformation of Dr. Stephen Strange, a respected neurosurgeon desperately trying to reverse the effects of a crippling accident, into Doctor Strange, Sorcerer Supreme and Master of Magic. He's forced to fight off an invasion of monster and demons, including the dreaded Dormammu (another fan service casting for fans of the comic).
Though released the same year as Invincible Iron Man and, on the surface, just another attempt by Marvel to flood the market with animated films based on many of their second-tier characters, Doctor Strange is considerably better than the animated Iron Man. Though the character has never been my favorite in Marvel's stable, the animated film does a good job of making both Strange and his universe accessible while still staying true to the spirit of the comic book—even if that does mean having him engage in the occasional sword fight. It works as an introduction to the uninitiated and gives fans a chance to see the characters and stories they love brought to life, but doesn't do much beyond that. This is just a surface recreation of Doctor Strange, far from a definitive adaptation of the Sorcerer Supreme. It's hardly a ringing endorsement when my first thoughts having finished watching the film were a mixture of "I never have to see that again" and "Well, at least they didn't totally blow it."
All three of the films in the Marvel Animated 3-Movie Collection have been released on DVD before; there is no new content included here, in case you were debating some sort of double-dip or upgrade. The only advantage to picking up this multi-film set is that all three titles can be had pretty cheaply (it saves space, too, I guess?). All three are presented in anamorphic widescreen transfers in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1, with Planet Hulk and The Invincible Iron Man sharing a single flipper disc and Doctor Strange getting a second disc all to itself. The transfers are identical to those on previous editions, with decent clarity and bold colors. They look good. All three titles also offer 5.1 surround options (only Planet Hulk has a traditional stereo option as well, though why you would choose that one I couldn't say), with clear dialogue and some pretty powerful action movie moments—strong bass and dimensionality that add up to an all-around immersive experience. The movies all succeed on a technical level, at the very least.
The special features have all been ported over from the original releases. On Planet Hulk, you'll get a commentary with writers Joshua Fine and Craig Johnson, a "making of" featurette and the "opening sequence" from Thor: Tales of Asgard, which basically amounts to an extended trailer for another Marvel animated film. The Invincible Iron Man comes with a series of featurettes, including an alternate opening, an "origin" piece, a look back at past armor suits, some concept art and, of course, an extended trailer for Doctor Strange. The Doctor Strange bonus features are the most anemic of all, consisting of some concept art, an origin piece and a bunch of advertising for other Marvel properties, including a promo piece for two video games (Ultimate Alliance and X-Men Legends II) and a look at Ultimate Avengers.
It would be impossible to recommend any of the movies in the Marvel Animated 3-Movie Collection individually, much less collected all together in one set. I'm a huge fan of comic book and superhero movies, and even I wasn't really satisfied by these offerings.
Disposable stuff like this makes me feel that Marvel is taking advantage of
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