Monday, September 29, 2014

Recap: Iron Man & Hulk: Heroes United

So. You may have noticed that there was no kind of update to celebrate reaching 50,000 views. You may also have put together that this was a direct result of not having a functional computer during that time. You may have also noticed that I have since acquired a new computer and have also since resumed updates. You may have also noticed that I'm typing this without pants on, and that just raises questions as to who you are and what you're doing in my house. Do some dishes before you leave.

Home invasion aside, I have utterly wracked my brain trying to figure out just what in the heck to whip up for you guys to retroactively celebrate this occasion. As such, I stumbled upon a short animated film that was going to be released April 13th, 2013 (a week before Iron Man 3) to generate some general interest in Marvel. But audience reaction to the trailers for this movie was so bad that Marvel pushed back the release date to December 3rd, in the apparent hope that they could fool people into thinking this was a hot gift for the Marvel fan in your life. As of the time of this writing, the movie’s DVD/Blu-Ray sales haven’t even reached anywhere near $100,000.

Ultimate Spider-Man is more well-loved than this movie. Pff, Hulk and the Agents of S.M.A.S.H. has more fans than this movie. People will Google the web for “She-Hulk Farting,” but no one can spare even a smidgen of love for this movie. Unlike the majority of people who have stayed away due to awful word of mouth, I subjected myself to this movie. My verdict? It’s… complicated. Very complicated.

Let's begin this not-quite 50,000 Page View Celebration with something that's not quite a movie. I present to you... Iron Man & Hulk: Heroes United.  

Brace yourself, we're in for a long one.

The film begins strangely. We see holographic… um, holo-graphics of the Hulk with data, and information, and whatnot while two similar-sounding bad guys tell each other what they already know about their evil plan to send the similarly-mutated Abomination to retrieve the Hulk. The dialogue can literally be summed up as…

Bad Guy 1: “The Hulk is perfect for our evil schemes!”
Bad Guy 2: “Yes, he is. It’s a good thing we sent the Abomination after him!”
Bad Guy 1: “Too true.”

Okay, that’s not entirely fair. They also explain to each other the Hulk’s origin. …Which they both already know. After this utterly useless intro (because everything we learn here will be reiterated during the beginning of the movie proper), we get the opening credits sequence. As someone who appreciates a good superhero intro, this is actually pretty great. The intro features graphics of the Hulk and Iron Man in action, but rendered in a very Jack Kirby-ish style. While it is a little jarring to see Iron Man’s armor from the film drawn in a Kirby style, this intro is probably the best part of this movie. It’s nice to look at, it gives Jack Kirby fans a little wink, and it respects the source material. The same cannot really be said of the rest of the movie.

The movie fades from the Kirby-style Abomination from the intro sequence into the film’s own visual style. This is where we get our first look at not only the characters, but the visual style.

I will admit, I do like the glowy lines. But not much else.
It’s underwhelming, to say the least. This is one of those moments that has me thinking to myself, “You know, I wish Blip hadn’t turned down my video pilot for this blog.” Because honestly, still images from this movie look surprisingly good. We’re not talking Pixar, here, but not bad. But at the same time, it’s completely terrible. I’ll do my best to explain. The animation of this movie is actually pretty revolutionary. The animators created a process they refer to as “2-D Wrap.” They start with traditional 2-D animation, scan it into a computer, and combine it with 3-D models to blend the mediums. They are painting on a 3-D computer model in the most literal way possible. You get the benefits of having a rich 3-D environment with the added bonuses of having the crisp colors, designs, and shading of traditional animation.

"Squirrel!"
Does it look good in stills? Yeah, kind of. Does it look good in motion? No. But that's the fault of the 3-D animators, not the 2-D Wrap. The textures? Amazing. The 3-D animation? PS2 era motion capture. That bad.

Anyway, Abomination is trashing a small city to get the Hulk’s attention.

Hulk: “Your ugly mug scared off everyone, Abomination. But you don’t scare me.”

Which conveniently means the animators don’t have to animate bystanders.

As the two green monsters trash talk each other, the limitations of the 3-D animation start rearing their ugly faces in a new way. I keep feeling like I can pick up a PS3 controller and skip this cutscene. That’s honestly not a joke; their banter gives me the feeling like I’m going to have to fight a boss battle in a second. But Hulk does the fighting for me. There’s really nothing to mention, other than the bad guys from the opening infodump radio up Abomination and tell him to hurry up.

Meanwhile, elsewhere, Tony Stark has his own helicarrier. This will never be explained. Inside Tony’s airship, we hear a copyright-infringement-dodging not-quite-Back in Black song as JARVIS (an AI, like in the films) tells Tony Stark what he already knows about his Iron Man armor while graphics that are similar to the ones from the very beginning are shown. This segues into the actual scene, which is an odd one.

Apparently, Iron Man has just invented a new, big ol’ suit of armor (any comic fan will recognize it as the “Hulkbuster”). He’s going to test it by fighting it in his current Iron Man suit. “But wait!” you ask me, “Who’s piloting the Hulkbuster?” First of all, manners. Second of all, JARVIS is. No, JARVIS is not going to go evil while in an Iron Man suit. That’s what Ultron will be for next year. But the trailers for this movie would have you believe that JARVIS goes nuts and ties to kill Tony. For example, this bit from the trailer.

JARVIS: “In battle, power overcomes speed, sir. Please surrender.”
Iron Man: “Next time, I’m programming less backtalk, ya big ape!”

This dialogue is nowhere in the movie. At least, not like that. It’s actually pieced together from different lines Frankenstein-style (which accounts for the odd vocal inflections in the trailer).

“Next system update, I’m programming less backtalk.”

“I’ve completed my calculations. Your armor may be faster, but the Hulkbuster suit is far stronger. And in a one-on-one battle, power overcomes speed 69% of the time.”

“You are incapable of escape, sir. Please surrender.”

The trailer seems to try to give the impression that JARVIS is the villain. I can safely say that he’s not. In order to get to that point, I’m going to feel free to condense this part. Iron Man wins by blasting the Hulkbuster with an EMP. Back with the Hulk, the Abomination is playing dead, and Hulk complains that he’s hungry.

Abomination: “Why don’t you chew on diiiiiiiiiiiis!?”

Hulk gets punched so hard that he goes flying into a dam. Robots float over and gas the Hulk, knocking him out, but not before he recognizes them as being HYDRA technology. Abomination shows up and goes to drag him inside the dam, which just happens to be the villain’s lair. For some reason, there are monsters on top of the dam watching. Just watching.

Abomination: “This place need dog catcher.”

Once inside, he presents the Hulk’s body to the bad guys from the beginning, Dr. Fump and Dr. Cruler. These two hazmat-suit wearing mad scientists are like Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd mixed with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Or for those of you versed in neither James Bond nor Shakespeare, Pyg and Toad. There’s a certain charm to their bromanceful team-up, which is both hindered and helped by the fact that I can’t tell them apart. The identical outfits and voices aren’t helping. Their evil plan is to create a ginormous energy generator to provide evil energy to their evil HYDRA technology. As such, they’ve reverse-engineered a Stark arc recator based on the one powering the Iron Man suit, and they plan to somehow make it more powerful by sucking the Gamma radiation out of the Hulk.

Hulk gets put into the machine along with the Abomination in an act of betrayal (what a shock), and the bad doctors suck the Gamma radiation out of them. Said Gamma radiation bears a hilarious resemblance to the health power ups from The Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction. Unfortunately, some kind of SCIENCE-y bad stuff happens.

Hulk: “You’re gonna cause a meltdown!”

Of… what? There’s not much to meltdown. There’s a big hula hoop-thing, and it’s being filled with green and lightning. But somehow, their attempt to create energy has backfired so spectacularly, it’s actually draining electricity from the power grid and causing nearby blackouts. Like many Doctor Who episodes before, this is chalked up to “reversing the polarity.” The failsafe shutdown fails, as well, because this is a comic book universe. The failsafes never work.

Back with Iron Man, JARVIS informs him about some kind of Gamma-induced blackout, so Tony goes to investigate, with his airship right behind him. Yes, JARVIS is piloting an airship now.Piloting airships, using Iron Man armors... why do we even need Tony Stark again?

Back at the evil experiment, Hulk escapes containment with the Abomination right before the experiment goes kafoom. After the big green burst, a ball of energy starts floating around. Naturally, Doctors Fump and Cruler realize that they’ve created an energy-based life from. Stupidly, one of them tries to touch it. The result is exactly what you’d expect.

There goes a stupid, stupid man.
Dr. Fump: “We also have a living energy weapon. We must capture it!”

This reboot of Pokemon is weird.

Outside the dam, the sun has come up on the Hulk and the Abomination. Seeing as how the Hulk just saved his life, Abomination returns the favor with a backhand. In retaliation, Hulk throws Abomination into an electric fence. Iron Man swoops in and grabs Hulk’s shoulder to get his attention, but it seems that Hulk is going for "consistent" rather than “nice” today, and does the same to him.

Iron Man, it seems, has put two and two together and come up with Hulk. I mean, Gamma radiation-induced black out? And the Hulk’s nearby? Well, that’s like trying to figure out which of the X-Men put slash marks on a guy’s face. (Not pointing fingers, but I think it was Professor X.)

Hulk tries in vain to explain about the Abomination and stuff, but the radioactive Russian has scampered off. Hulk wants to be alone and tries to walk away as politely as the Hulk can, but gets a face full of repulsor blast. As you can imagine, this leads to the obligatory hero-on-hero fight that Marvel law stipulates must happen before every team-up. Honestly, there’s not much to talk about with this fight scene in terms of the punches thrown, the attacks tried, et cetera. The 3-D animation in this scene has awful pacing, and the fight isn’t any more spectacular than anything we’ve seen so far.

Hulk manages to bear hug Iron Man and give him a surprisingly well-articulated talking to about how just because he likes to play superhero, it doesn’t mean he’s automatically in the right. Also, he tells Iron Man that HYDRA was behind the blackout.

Iron Man: “HYDRA? Those guys are always trying to take over the world.”

Said with a tone of voice like they’re the rowdy kids next door. Terrible acting, or is HYDRA just that nonthreatening? You be the judge!

Iron Man scans the place, and calls a truce while Hulk explains that HYDRA was draining his Gamma radiation.

Iron Man: “Why didn’t you just tell me that in the first place?”

Tony, you’re quickly crossing the line from “lovable jerk” to “plain ol’ jerk.” They go inside and investigate, finding Doctors Fump and Cruler trying to capture the lightning ball with what appear to be the Ghostbusters’ proton packs. This just makes it mad. Hulk and Iron Man watch as it zaps the scientists, and JARVIS scans it and confirms that it’s some kind of living energy sphere. The sphere dissipates into the HYDRA robots, and they attack our heroes. After some nifty aerial fighting that finally showcases the 3-D in a good light, Iron Man saves the day. First he shoots half the robots to death, then Hulk uses him as a flail to smash the other ones. Teamwork! Also, Iron Man should be very dead from blunt force trauma.

More robots come along, and levitate the heroes with electricity. Tony readies his EMP, which is a terrible idea. EMP’s are bursts of electromagnetic radiation. Tony’s plan is to use this on something that absorbs radiation. Now I know how my DM felt when I tried to attack that Hellcat with flaming fists. While in Hell. Long story.

Iron Man: “Maybe we can give it a stomachache.”

He tries it, and it seems to work, shutting down the bots. Tony goes over the machinery wreckage and figures out the problem: Gamma radiation is too unstable to use for both science and SCIENCE. The Hulk is living proof of that. JARVIS shows up in the airship, the living lightning hitches a ride in Tony’s armor, and the heroes go inside the ship. Tony starts forming a plan to use his own arc reactor to solve the blackout (deploying his robot drones called “Mandroids”), and Hulk demands food.

Iron Man: “You can have dessert when you finish your chores. I need you to clear the debris down there.”

Hulk, meanwhile, is more preoccupied with scratching his butt and looking for food.

Someone got paid to animate that.
Hulk rips some computer bits out of the wall looking for the fridge, and the two end up having a moment comparing their own methods of isolating themselves from the world. This could be a deep moment, but it’s only a couple lines before the movie forgets about it. As they talk, the energy being zaps into the exposed wall circuits, corrupting the system. Tony tries to get the system shut down, but…

JARVIS: “I’m sorry, sir. I’m afraid I can’t do that.”

If JARVIS starts singing Daisy Bell, then I think we know where this is headed.

Voice: “Hyooo. Man. Creatures.”

What, no “ugly bags of mostly water”?

Voice: “I. Am. Zzzaxx!”

…really? You’re naming yourself Zzzaxx? I mean, have it named after the buzzing sound it makes, or a scientific acronym. Having it name itself like this is lame, stupid, and dumb. Also, lazy writing.

Zzzaxx: “Zzzaxx. Must. Feeeeed. On en-er-GEEEEEE. Aaaaaaallllll. En. Er. Geeeeeee.”

Tony tries to politely talk to the developing intelligence, telling it that humans need energy too, but Zzzaxx doesn’t care. Zzzaxx wants energy. It’s the Rocket Raccoon logic of “I want it more, therefore it’s mine.” Tony tries to give a Captain Picard-style “humans are imperfect, but we’re trying to improve ourselves” speech to the thing, while Hulk just smashes the screen, forcing Zzzaxx to float off into a nearby Mandroid suit. Fighting breaks out, as per usual.

They chase the Mandroid through the helicarrier, and eventually find it. Unfortunately, Zzzaxx has just taken over all the Mandroids.

Iron Man: “Maybe I shouldn’t have built so many Mandroids.”
Hulk: “You think?”

More fighting, and the Mandroids gang up on Iron Man while at least one of them makes the transforming sound from Transformers. I don’t know why, but it happens. Hulk grabs a nearby fighter jet and takes some of the Mandroids out, following it up with a shockwave clap. With only one left, it runs through the ship some more. Well, that fight was pretty much pointless.

Zzzaxx, having now discovered that he can inhabit several robots at once, then enters the Iron Man Armory while mumbling about needing power. Iron Man zaps it, so Zzzaxx escapes the Mandroid. JARVIS comes back online and manages to put energy shields over the armors. Unfortunately, Zzzaxx manages to get into the Mark II armor before the shield goes up all the way and escapes containment. Zzzaxx dizzily flops around more than my cats did after the vet gave them some painkillers, and the chase is on. Again.

Tony surmises that Zzaxx is after the arc reactor and has JARVIS turn on the forcefields. Hulk smashes through the floor to make a short cut, and more fighting breaks out. Tony and Hulk work together to destroy the armor, and Tony concludes that Zzzaxx is destroyed, having apparently forgotten that energy can’t be created or destroyed. The armor’s hand, still containing Zzzaxx, manages to crawl over and touch the reactor. Despite Hulk’s best attempts to break the thing, Zzzaxx manages to use the resources of the arc reactor to grow a body. As Tony notes, it’s copying them by creating a Hulkishly-proportioned arc energy body. Also, it’s like 20 feet tall and smacks down the Hulk like it was Randy Savage. It shrugs off Tony’s repulsor blasts and ends up splitting into three bodies.

A group of three blue men. Nope, can't think of a joke for that.
JARVIS, having scanned it, explains to Tony that it’s “pure energy” and has no weakness. I choose to ignore the fact that "pure energy" is not actually a thing because this is already running long. Tony changes the frequency of his repulsors to match Zzzaxx’s energy signature, and zaps him, which seems to work. One down, two to go. The other Zzzaxxes retaliate with electric bursts, so Hulk leaps in for the save. The Zzzaxxes merge and attack Hulk, damaging his eyesight and blowing a hole in the helicarrier and our heroes fall out and land in a graveyard.

Remember those monsters at the beginning? When Abomination said the dog catcher thing? That was foreshadowing. The monsters, which turn out to be Wendigoes, attack our heroes. There is no point to this scene. Like, in all honesty, the Zzzaxx plot is now on hold for no reason other than to have the temporarily-blinded Hulk defend Iron Man and create a bond between our heroes. What, was an unstoppable energy monster not enough for our heroes to bond over? Though I will admit, the stark lighting (no pun intended, I swear) looks really good.

"There is no Dana, only Zuul."
Moving on from this utterly pointless scene which takes up too much screen time, Iron Man notices that Zzzaxx is piloting the helicarrier to a nearby power plant so he can suck up power from the power grid. Iron Man asks the question as to why Zzzaxx doesn’t just come down and suck it up himself, without the ship. Hulk, in a rare moment of insight, realizes that Zzzaxx is mainly electricity. When lightning hits the ground, the energy dissipates into the Earth. So logically, so would Zzzaxx. I like this; it’s a nice moment for the Hulk, and a genuinely clever plan to beat an apparently-unstoppable villain.

Iron Man: “Hulk, you’re a genius! Er… Well, definitely smarter than you look.”

Still, I miss Bruce Banner.

Hulk puts on Iron Man like a backpack and leaps up to the helicarrier with Iron Man’s trajectory calculations. After some trial and error, they land successfully enough. Tony tells Hulk to go 100 paces left. His other left. Yes, they really did use that joke. Folks, we are scraping the bottom of the barrel. After Hulk drags his guide into the armor room, Tony manages to talk him through plugging the power cable into his chest socket. So that subplot about working together lasted... a few minutes.

Hulk: "Stark... can you fix my eyes?"

And this movie, while you're at it?

Meanwhile, Zzzaxx is busy reconfiguring the helicarrier to absorb energy. And starts doing so.

Later, Stark has a new suit of armor on which should be immune to Zzzaxxification, complete with weapons tuned to Zzzaxx's exact frequency. Tony starts to attempt to perform laser-eye surgery on the Hulk with his repulsors (which, long story short, are concussive blasts that would be like doing heart surgery with a sledgehammer) but the Hulk understandably refuses. This trigger's the standard "we got off on the wrong foot, but we need to work together speech."

"Oh, so now the guy who locks himself away from the world is the expert on teamwork?"
He shines his expository hologram into Hulk's face and explains that Zzzaxx is turning the helicarrier into an energy drainer. The mission: crash the ship and make Zzzaxx touch the ground. Tony shows off his Hulkbuster to the Hulk, as Zzzaxx redoubles his drainage efforts. We are then treated to a pointless scene of watching energy flow though the power cables, causing a blackout. I didn't mention this before, but there are a lot of scenes like this. Zzzaxx floating around, establishing shots that take far too long, etc. There are so many pointless shots that exist for no reason other than to pad out the run time.

After we watch Zzzaxx absorb energy for a while, a repulsor blast hits him in the back, as our cue the the plot (such as it is) is resuming. From off the side of the helicarrier flies Iron Man, followed by Hulk wearing the Hulkbuster as armor. Well, some of it.

"It's no car-fists, but it'll do."
After what basically amounts to Hulk attacking it over and over in different ways after Tony goes after the engines, they manage to sabotage the ship by blowing three engines up one by one. You know how people say that CGI-fest movies are "like a video game"? This actually is. Blow up the targets one by one, defeat the final boss, and every time an engine is blown up, it gets harder and there are more missiles being fired at you.

Hulk manages to use the last engine to steer the ship away from crashing into a dam, and Iron Man saves him from the burning wreckage. Iron Man then scans around for signs of Zzzaxx, but Hulk finds it and smashes it into the ground.

Hulk: "You're grounded!"

That's not so much a one-liner as it is a statement of fact.

With some assistance from Iron Man, and a lot of smashing, the plan is a success. As the sun rises over the nearby city of... wherever the Hulk fought Abomination, Tony tells Hulk how he's going to resupply their energy for free until things get back to normal.

Tony: "Teaming up with you made me realize I can't always rely on tech."

Yeah, I bet that lesson will stick.

But Hulk's mind is on a different topic.

Hulk: "I've been trying to say I'm hungry! I want! Food!"

...well, there's that punchline. Was it worth the setup?

They head off to a diner, and the credits begin to roll with the not-quite version of Back in Black from earlier playing. After the credits, we get a scene where Fump and Cruler finally show up again. They get chewed out by a HYDRA superior, only for their boss, the Red Skull, to gloat about his plan to defeat both Iron Man and Captain America. Apparently, he's not holding a grudge against the Hulk.

And we're done! Ugh, finally. I'm not gonna lie, that was a long slog of nothing. Now let's review this... thing.

4 comments:

  1. "Meanwhile, elsewhere, Tony Stark has his own helicarrier. This will never be explained."

    It's Stark. He probably just woke up one day and felt like having a Helicarrier.

    Plus it gives the writers a Helicarrier to crash without needing to animate a 'carriers worth of SHIELD personnel...

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    1. Cliches and shortcuts, basically. Not surprised.

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  2. You know, I actually watched it. And as with any current Marvel cartoons, my reaction is the same: At least Newt will make a fun recap of it.

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    1. It was pretty much a herculean effort to get anything resembling "fun" to come out of this thing. You can only say "scenes of nothing happening that go on far too long" so many times, you know? Thanks for the compliment, though; I guess putting myself through this paid off.

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