Superhero Sundays: Planet Hulk
Matthew Turner | On 28, Apr 2019
Director: Sam Liu
Cast: Rick D. Wasserman, Lisa Ann Beley, Mark Hildreth, Kevin Michael Richardson, Liam O’Brien, Sam Vincent
Watch Planet Hulk online in the UK: Amazon Prime / STARZPLAY / Apple TV (iTunes) / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / Rakuten TV / Google Play / Sky Store
On Sunday mornings, we like to watch cartoons. So we’re working our way through animated superhero cartoons. We call it Superhero Sundays.
Between 2006 and 2011, Marvel Studios and Lionsgate Entertainment collaborated on a series of eight direct-to-video animated features featuring Marvel superheroes. Planet Hulk, based on an acclaimed comics storyline by Greg Pak and Carlo Pagulayan (which ran for 14 issues between 2006 and 2007) was the seventh in the series, and the second Hulk film, following the previous year’s Hulk Versus. Directed by Sam Liu and written by Greg Johnson (who wrote or co-wrote most of the Marvel animated features), it’s a remarkably faithful adaptation of the source material.
The story begins with the Hulk (voiced by Rick D. Wasserman) waking up on a space shuttle on its way into deep space. A video message from Iron Man (Marc Worden) informs Hulk that a collective of heroes have banished him to a distant, uninhabited planet, because he’s become too dangerous to remain on Earth. Hulk’s ensuing RAGE causes the ship to veer off course and he crash-lands on the planet Sakaar. Weakened from the crash, Hulk is fixed with an obedience disk and forced into slavery in a society ruled over by the despotic Red King (Mark Hildreth).
After meeting other slaves, including rock monster Korg (Kevin Michael Richardson) and insect-like Miek (Sam Vincent), Hulk becomes a gladiator and faces off against a variety of opponents in the arena, including an enslaved Beta Ray Bill (Paul Dobson) – a character who’s complicated to explain but is essentially a version of Thor who looks a bit like a horse. (This is one of the few key changes to the comics, where the enslaved opponent is the Silver Surfer.)
After several battles, the Hulk becomes the leader of the gladiator group and together, they stage a rebellion against the Red King, as well as fight off a race of invading parasitic creatures known as the Spikes, who can infect their hosts and turn them into vicious monsters.
Considering the length of the Planet Hulk storyline (which is, of course, available in trade paperback form), Johnson has done an excellent job of condensing the action into a mere 80 minutes. It’s particularly impressive that he managed to keep so many of the supporting cast, two of whom (Korg and Miek) subsequently graduated to big screen fame when elements of Planet Hulk were adapted into the storyline of Taika Waititi’s Thor: Ragnarok.
Incidentally, it’s worth noting that the film keeps a particularly great bit from the comics, which retcons Korg into Thor’s very first adventure (in Journey Into Mystery #83, August 1962), where he fought the “Stone Men of Saturn”, who are repurposed here as Korg’s rock-like people, the Kronan race. Creator Greg Pak has stated that Korg was inspired by Thor’s origin story, so the retcon is a nice touch and the film pays further tribute by having Korg’s flashback tale play out in a slightly different style of animation that approximates Jack Kirby’s early Thor comics. (Not entirely successfully, but at least they tried.)
However, audiences for Planet Hulk haven’t come to see Thor smash rock monsters, they’ve come to see Hulk SMASH basically everything, and on that level, the film doesn’t disappoint. Hulk’s opponents in and out of the battle arena include the Red King (in battle armour – he’s not an idiot), Beta Ray Bill, a herd of Wildebots, a giant tentacled creature and another mechanical monster called the Eggbreaker. Needless to say, Hulk smashes them all in satisfying fashion, including the film’s best moment, where he jumps down the throat of something and then punches his way out of its stomach.
It’s not all violence, though – there’s even a little bit of romance for old greenskin, in the shape of shadow warrior Caiera (Lisa Ann Beley), the Red King’s chief lieutenant. The film doesn’t take their relationship quite as far as the comics do, however.
The rest of the story is surprisingly dark in places, not least when it comes to the fate of a young child, who’s briefly rescued from a Spike attack by Caiera. Similarly, Hulk’s attack on Beta Ray Bill seems somewhat excessive (as it does with the Surfer in the comics), suggesting the Hulk has issues with other superheroes that he hasn’t quite worked out.
The animation in the film is fine, if not quite on the same level of gorgeousness as the DC / Warner Bros animated movies. Admittedly, it does feel as if the animators have skimped on the world-building a little, but that’s a minor quibble.
If there’s a larger complaint, it’s only that there’s a relative lack of humour, which is particularly disappointing if you’ve seen Thor: Ragnarok, especially when it comes to Korg and Miek. Also, while Wasserman’s general voice work on Hulk is decent enough, his growling and roaring could use some improvement. Presumably Fred Tatasciore (who voices the Hulk in several other animated properties) was unavailable.
Planet Hulk is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £9.99 monthly subscription. It is also available to watch online on Amazon Prime Video as part of a Prime membership or a £5.99 monthly subscription.