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Iron Man & Hulk: Heroes United Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy Review

Iron Man & Hulk: Heroes United Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Iron Man & Hulk: Heroes United

Video Premiere: December 3, 2013 / Running Time: 72 Minutes / Rating: PG

Director: Uncredited / Writers: Henry Gilroy, Brandon Auman

Voice Cast: Adrian Pasdar (Iron Man/Tony Stark), Fred Tatasciore (Hulk), Dee Bradley Baker (Dr. Cruler, Zzzax), Robin Atkin Downes (Dr. Fump, Abomination), David Kaye (JARVIS)

1.78:1 Widescreen (DVD Anamorphic)
BD: 5.1 DTS-HD MA (English); DVD: Dolby Digital 5.1 (English, Portuguese); Both: Dolby Digital 5.1 (French, Spanish)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, French, Spanish; BD only: English; DVD only: Portuguese
Some Extras Subtitled; DVD Closed Captioned
Two single-sided, dual-layered discs (1 BD-50 & 1 DVD-9)
Blue Keepcase with Side Snap in Embossed Cardboard Slipcover
Suggested Retail Price: $39.99
Also available as standalone DVD ($29.99 SRP) and Amazon Instant Video

Buy Iron Man & Hulk: Heroes United from Amazon: Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy DVD Instant Video

With their standing as one of the hottest brands in the entertainment business right now, it would be irresponsible of Marvel Studios not to be exploiting their popularity in every way possible. They seem well aware of this fact, as there isn't a medium in which Marvel isn't presently active or a demographic they're underserving. The centerpiece of the empire appears to be the steady stream of movies,
whose all-audience appeal has generated nearly three billion dollars at the worldwide box office from just two of the most recent outings, Iron Man 3 and The Avengers. The recently-opened Thor: The Dark World won't soar as high, but it's already cleared its production budget domestically and doubled it internationally.

Why stop there? The comic books on which all this was founded continue to be made. Characters so popular also lend to virtually every kind of merchandise imaginable. The obvious bases (toys and figures, Halloween costumes, video games, clothing, bedding, party supplies) are covered, as are less obvious ones (toothpaste, bath sets, vitamin gummies, Duck Tape, digital cameras, mini candy cane coin banks, USB drives, iPhone cases, wall decals, fabric). Furthermore, movies and television are certainly able to accommodate more than just one or two event films a year. Again, this isn't news to Marvel, which currently has three ongoing animated series running on Disney XD plus the well-performing "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." on ABC.

Tuesday brings Iron Man & Hulk: Heroes United, a new direct-to-video movie seemingly tailored to young fans without digital cable or the willingness to commit to a full series. Two of Marvel's most super-sized personalities sharing a movie practically sells itself, especially at this time of year, when most have already gotten Iron Man 3 and Thor 2 won't be available to own for another few months. Heck, together they even make Christmas colors.

A vision-impaired Hulk gives Iron Man in exchange for some direction in "Iron Man & Hulk: Heroes United."

The movie bears an Avengers Initiative logo on its cover, but its meaning is not immediately clear. Does it connect in some way to the different phases being defined in the Marvel Cinematic Universe as culminating with Avengers movies? Does it relate to Avengers: The Initiative, a Marvel Comics series that ran monthly from 2007 to 2010? Is it affiliated with the identically-titled "episodic series built exclusively for touch screen devices"? I've researched the matter and can't answer those questions, except to say that it doesn't seem to matter. If anything, this movie appears to launch a new series of direct-to-video movies that will pair up Avengers characters but not the whole dream team.

Chronologically, Heroes United seems to predate the Avengers' assembly. Hulk and Iron Man begin the film as adversaries, who engage in battles of one-liners and one-upmanship. HYDRA has the Abomination take down Hulk, only to get them both placed in containment units. In the process, HYDRA creates a ball of electrical power that feeds on energy. Comic buffs will recognize that entity as Zzzax, a potent force that will come to assume a more anthropomorphic identity. After occupying one of Iron Man's many suits and getting into his arc reactor, that foe is formidable enough to require the two titular heavyweights to team up.

Wrestling with their common enemy wreaks havoc on Hulk's eyesight and Iron Man's mobility. Accordingly, Iron Man becomes the green monster's eyes and Hulk his legs as the two do graveyard battle with the supposedly mythical Wendigoes. This of course leads to a climactic showdown with the Zzzax (two of whose Z's are silent).

Zzzax forms in front of duplicitous Hydra agents. Wendigoes are real, son! This foggy graveyard attack proves it.

Heroes United sports TV-quality writing from two scribes with 25 years of cartoon credits between them. The computer animation resembles a video game, which appears to be the specialty of its makers, Brain Zoo Studios. The visuals are slick enough but not quite right, featuring insufficient lightning and shading, crude geometric sets, and limited motion.
Our few glimpses of Tony Stark's face somehow approach Uncanny Valley but without the realistic detail of motion capture animation. It's clearly an economic production, which relies on a small cast of characters and lean storytelling. We're barely past the one-hour mark when end credits begin rolling. Those slim end credits omit a director while extensively featuring video game consultation credits that suggest this movie is simply the tie-in of a related video game. If so, though, it isn't clear when that game will be coming, if at all. It doesn't seem to be reaching stores this holiday season and the movie doesn't seem like something that anyone but Marvel's most die-hard fans remember well into next year.

Adrian Pastor and Fred Tatasciore voice Iron Man and Hulk, respectively, having done the same for the characters' recent animated incarnations including "Avengers Assemble", "Ultimate Spider-Man", "Hulk and the Agents of S.M.A.S.H.", and the LEGO Marvel Super Heroes video game and TV special. For those like me who aren't versed in all those ventures, it's a bit of a challenge to accept anyone other than Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark. Tatasciore, whose vocal weight is presumably artificially enhanced, does have that Hulk quality. Still, each actor is saddled with some unfunny comedy here in this PG-rated, kid-oriented, Disney XD-ready production.

In typical Marvel fashion, you'll want to stay through the end credits for a scene that seemingly sets up another movie. Possible spoiler alert: it features Red Skull and implies that Captain America and Iron Man will unknowingly be doing his bidding in the next adventure.

Heroes United hits DVD, Blu-ray combo pack, and digital download on Tuesday from parent company Disney's Buena Vista Home Entertainment.

Watch a clip from Iron Man & Hulk: Heroes United:

VIDEO and AUDIO

Aside from the animation shortcomings addressed above, the Blu-ray's 1.78:1 visuals are as perfect as they can be, having clearly been given direct digital transfer from the computers on which they were made. The transfer is kind of impressive in a way, particularly in the atmospheric graveyard scene, even though the often monochromatic animation is a far cry from the likes of today's Pixar, DreamWorks, and Disney features.

On the other hand, the 5.1 DTS-HD master audio is unequivocally dazzling. The film leans heavily on sound design to make up for the sort of lackluster imagery and the aggressive mix does not disappoint at all. The track delivers music, effects, and dialogue with the impact and directionality of a Marvel Studios live-action film.

Joe Quesada and Ryan Penagos geek out about classic Marvel issues at Los Angeles' Meltdown Comics. She-Hulk just really wants to say hi to Hulk in this Inter-Missions Marvel Mash-Up.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

Though the rear cover's claim that this is "Super Loaded with Extra Content" is a bit of an overstatement, the Blu-ray Disc in this set does supply three different bonus features.

First up is Marvel "Inter-Missions", the latest application of Disney's favorite new Blu-ray technology. With this activated by default, ten seconds after you pause the movie, you will be treated to some content. The content is 10 minutes and 55 seconds worth of "Marvel Mash-Ups." What's a Marvel Mash-Up, you ask? Well, it's footage from old Marvel cartoons that has been re-edited and re-voiced to entertain in a way other than originally intended. Somewhere in between "YouTube Poop" and Fensler Films' redone G.I. Joe PSAs,
these shorts feature things like Iron Man discussing his mullet and Hulk being angered by She-Hulk just wanting to say hello. Far more entertaining than the feature presentation, these irreverent bits are creative and display a contemporary sense of humor. Undoubtedly, some out there will wish the Blu-ray included complete, unedited episodes of these '70s to '90s cartoons lampooned, but I suspect the target audience for this release will get more enjoyment out of this. (Heroes United seems destined for similar treatment some day.) The Inter-Missions mode plays the clips in random order and returns you to where you were in the movie whenever you want.

Next is "Marvel Team-Up with Ryan Penagos and Joe Q" (11:37), a chat between Marvel Entertainment CCO Joe Quesada and Penagos, Marvel Digital's executive editorial director. In L.A.'s Meltdown Comics, they talk about specific classic Marvel comics and how they made the Avengers more popular with creative character pairings. Unlike the disc's other content, this piece seems aimed at the more serious comic book buff.

Iron Man worries about his blue hair in this bonus Marvel Mash-Up. Iron Man soars among high-tech graphics on the animated Heroes United DVD main menu.

Finally, we get three additional Marvel Mash-Ups, each running 2 minutes and 2 seconds. These bits, two featuring Hulk and one with Iron Man, are not included in the Inter-Missions reel, but are created in the same witty mold.
It's disappointing that those ones aren't viewable on their own, with direct access, subtitles, and ordinary rewind and fast-forward function.

The DVD, the same one sold separately, includes "Marvel Team-Up" and the three Marvel Mash-Ups, but not the "Inter-Missions" Mash-Ups unfortunately.

The discs open with trailers for Iron Man 3, "Hulk and the Agents of S.M.A.S.H.", "Avengers Assemble", and the video game LEGO Marvel: Super Heroes. The Sneak Peeks listings repeat those, but not before playing trailers for Frozen and The Jungle Book: Diamond Edition.

The main menu plays clips and graphics in circles while score plays. The Blu-ray remembers where you left off unfinished but doesn't resume playback or let you set bookmarks.

Topped by a snazzy embossed slipcover, the side-snapped blue keepcase holds the two plainly-labeled discs and a booklet with a unique code which not only unlocks the downloadable digital copy included with your purchase but a free digital comic. There are no Disney Movie Rewards points, but you can also get an Iron Man MiniMate action figure for just $2.59 shipping and processing.

Though they don't get along at first, Iron Man and Hulk come to unite as advertised in "Iron Man & Hulk: Heroes United."

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Characters as iconic as Iron Man and Hulk deserve better than Heroes United, a cut-rate animated movie that stands as an unfortunate anomaly in this ongoing golden age of Marvel Entertainment. Though watchable enough, this production opts for underwhelming visuals and a threadbare narrative, knowing the brand is strong enough to attract an audience with even such modest effort. While it seems designed to start a new collection, a single viewing should suffice even fans of the franchise's current animated series.

The Blu-ray combo pack adds definite value with its entertaining mash-ups, geeky comic book chat, and three redeemable inclusions. That's still not enough to justify this set being sold at the same price as one of Marvel's far more satisfying, rewatchable live-action blockbusters.

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Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy / DVD / Instant Video

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Reviewed November 30, 2013.



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