Blu-ray Review: Iron Man & Hulk: Heroes United

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Billed as “the most unexpected team-up in the universe,” Marvel’s Iron Man & Hulk: Heroes United is a digitally-animated feature film that arrives on Blu-ray just in time to be an in-demand stocking stuffer for young fans. Despite the PG rating (for sci-fi action violence and brief mild language), this workmanlike adventure is aimed squarely at kids. Running for a tight total of 71 minutes, Heroes United doesn’t boast much of a plot. Its animation goes well beyond that of a motion comic, but it remains relatively simple, with very limited textural variety.

HYDRA is the impetus for what scant plot exists here. They’ve set up an epic throwdown between Hulk and Abomination, with the goal of harnessing both the beasts’ gamma radiation for the creation of what could possibly be an unstoppable electrical energy monster. This is our introduction to a Marvel Comics’ foe first introduced in The Incredible Hulk back in 1973, Zzzax. Once Iron Man joins forces with Hulk, despite a fair amount of initial reluctance between the two, Heroes United becomes an extended series of action set pieces.

Hulk alone (380x253).jpgFor the record, Hulk stays Hulk for the film’s entirety—no Bruce Banner here. But this is a more articulate Hulk than we saw in the live-action movies, skillfully voiced by Fred Tatasciore, no stranger to the character (he’s voiced Hulk, and a variety of additional comic book characters, many times). We even get to see the big guy don a partial Iron Man suit. At one point, due to entanglements with Zzzax, Hulk is temporarily blinded, while Iron Man’s mobility is reduced. It offers sort of a turning point for the duo to begin working together more effectively, warding off an out-of-left-field wendigo attack. Adrian Pasdar reprises his role as the voice of Tony Stark, having played the character previously in the Avengers Assemble and Ultimate Spider-Man animated series.

Iron Man foreground (380x214).jpgThe Blu-ray presentation is basically flawless, displaying the colorful animation in as vivid a fashion as possible. From the wispy dust clouds stirred up by collisions to the electricity generated by Zzzax, everything is crystal clear. No macroblocking or other visual anomalies to report. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix is surprisingly intricate given the simplicity of the film itself. Dialogue, music, and effects are well-balanced, with a good amount of rear channel activity and overall pleasing directionality. The technical presentation goes some ways toward making up for the lackluster scripting.

Iron Man vs (380x214).jpg“Super loaded with extra content” is what we’re told on the back of the case, which translates to a 12-minute featurette and a handful of “Marvel Mash-Up” shorts. The featurette is a discussion between Marvel’s executive editorial director Ryan Penagos and Joe Quesada, Marvel’s chief creative officer, about superhero team-ups. The “mash-ups” are clips from vintage Marvel cartoons dubbed with zany new dialogue. Some of these are accessible when pausing the main feature, while others are available via the special features menu.

Iron Man Hulk 1 (380x214).jpgIron Man & Hulk: Heroes United is ultimately a pretty middling affair, but it might hold some rewatchability for younger Marvel fans. The action is serviceable and there’s a lot of it. Hopefully future feature-length adventures (watch for a teaser scene post-credits, à la the live-action films) will exhibit a bit more creativity in the storytelling department. As for the visuals, it’s easy to pick on the obviously budget-conscious, basic animation style. But once I got used to it I appreciated the clean, straightforward look.

The Blu-ray combo pack includes a standard DVD and a code for an iTunes-compatible digital copy.

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Chaz Lipp writes for The Morton Report.

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