Why I Watched It: I had just finished violent, heavy-handed Elite Squad and figured that a Marvel cartoon detox would be a good way to reset
Planet Hulk is based on a comic book run of the same name. After decades of Hulk’s varying degrees of helpfulness and destruction, some superheroes have banded together to capture the big guy and banish him from Earth by sending him off in a spaceship. The hope is that he will land on a peaceful planet where he can live in solitude forever without harming anyone. Naturally, something goes wrong with the ship and Hulk ends up crash landing on a desert planet called Sakaar, where he is captured, enslaved, and forced to fight in gladitorial-style battles for the amusement of the planet’s ruler, The Red King.
As far as protagonists go, Hulk is a difficult one to get invested in. He suffers from Superman syndrome in that as an indestructible, invincible, immortal being, there isn’t much sense worrying about him. Whatever happens, we know that we are going to see him come out, unscathed, on the other side. Furthermore, much of the drama of a Hulk story is in the fact that Hulk also has his human form, Bruce Banner. Planet Hulk only mentions Banner’s name in passing so we never get those satisfying moments where a timid scientist is pushed too far and turns into a giant, green abomination. Anger, the emotion we associate most closely with Hulk, is barely explored because he is redlining throughout the entire movie. Every step of his banishment, capture, slavery, forced combat, and an eventual alien invasion keeps him in a constant state of rage. His anger isn’t triggered, it’s ever-present, ranging from boiling under the surface to total eruption as he tears limbs off of aliens. Assuming the viewer isn’t also in a perpetual state of rage, there simply isn’t anything to latch on to.
On the more positive side of things, one of the stronger elements of Planet Hulk is its willingness to show violence. The movie is animated like a mid-90’s superhero cartoon but, considering the content, it would have felt disingenuous to feature such violent circumstances but fail to show the visceral consequences. Some scenes are outright disturbing and no one, except Hulk, is automatically exempt from the threat of a violent death. Despite these high stakes, the movie still suffers for its lack of sympathy. If we barely care about our protagonist and are just following him out of narrative necessity, how much empathy are we expected to have for secondary characters? Hulk makes a handful of allies along the way but they are all unfamiliar aliens, generally with no backstory. The only familiar face is a cameo by Thor which, at the time, feels gratuitous, and then, once it’s explained, feels nonsensical, as though the main goal was to include Thor and to justify it after the fact. Among the secondary characters, there are a few moments that are either upsetting or disturbing, it’s not enough to justify the entire movie.
Dylan Clark-Moore is a podcast creator and blogger at NetFlakes. You can find him on Letterboxd and Twitter.
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Planet Hulk is also available from Amazon.