“Planet Hulk” is Marvel Animation and Lionsgate’s latest full feature offering based on the Marvel Comics’ storyline “Planet Hulk,” which ran predominately through issues of “Incredible Hulk” (#92-105) published in 2006 (with prelude in Fantastic Four #533-535). If you’re reading this review hoping to find out how faithful this adaptation is to the book then you’re out of luck. Yes, I’m a geek and I read a lot of comics but for whatever reason I missed out on the “Planet Hulk” storyline entirely. While there is no excuse for not having read one of Marvel’s, not to mention Hulk’s, more epic storyline, I did however read its sequel “War World Hulk.” With that confession out of the way, let’s look on the bright side. As a result, I went into this film without any expectations, so I guess there’s always a sliver lining to everything.

I’ll end the suspense and just begin by saying that “Planet Hulk” is a great movie. Moreover, from what I am assume. It’s also very faithful to the source material. Hey, what kind of a reviewer would I be if I didn’t at least flip through the trades first right? Anyway, this is probably the best direct-to-DVD Marvel film to date. It’s a great stand alone story. You don’t need to know much about Hulk or Hulk’s continuity. It is story driven, not watered down and action packed! One of my biggest grips about previous Marvel films had always been how plotless they were. But not “Planet Hulk.”

Sure, Hulk smashes a lot of things, but it wasn’t just 120 odd minutes of Hulk slugging aliens in the face and whining about wanting to be left alone — although we do get a little bit of that.

For those unfamiliar, “Planet Hulk” is really about HULK IN SPACEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!!!! (I really wanted to say that!). Having deemed too dangerous for Earth, the Illuminati lead by some of Earth’s highest heroes (Iron Man, Dr. Strange, Mr. Fantastic, Black Bolt) decided it was a brilliant idea to send Hulk (voiced by Rick Wasserman) into space in a preprogrammed ship so he can live on some desolate planet in peace. Unfortunately, Hulk alters the destination course when he damages the ship and crash lands on what is planet Skaar. Weaken by the crash, Hulk is captured and sold into slavery to fight as a gladiator for the amusement of the people and the corrupt Red King. In bondage, he meets and fights along side fellow captive gladiators, Hiroim, Elloe Kaifi, Korg, and Miek. The group bands together and becomes Warbound (brothers and sisters in war), and eventually escapes to lead a rebellion with the Sakaarian rebels to overthrow the Red King.

Another pivotal character is Caiera, a high ranked lieutenant to the Red King who serves as his personal body guard. Born with “Shadow Strength,” Caiera was the last remaining survivor of her village after it was invaded by The Spikes, a virus that turned people into zombie savages. She was eventually discovered and rescued by the Red King, who at the time was just a child. He convinces her that he is the true savior of Skaar as oppose to the mythically one spoken about in the Skaar prophecies (We’re lead to believe that Hulk is this savior). According to Wikipedia, some changes were made with Caiera’s back story between book and film. If anything, I think the film handled it pretty well and the changes were done for the better as it cleaned up her convoluted origin. Additionally, the changes paid off making her character more sympathetic as we get to learn why she’s so fiercely loyal to the Red King despite coming off as a complete tyrant throughout the film.

Another significant change from book to film is the character swap between the Silver Surfer (Savage Surfer) and Beta Ray Bill. I can think of several reasons why Marvel felt it was necessary to make the change, but I can also think of more reasons as to why it was unnecessary at all. The plot line is virtually unchanged from the book. Beta Ray is held captive via device control and forced to do battle with Hulk in the gladiator arena. Eventually he is freed after Hulk smashes the device. In favor, he frees Hulk and his Warbound friends and then goes on his merry way. End cameo. Exit stage left.

In terms of animation, “Planet Hulk” is not the best animated film. If you’ve seen previous Marvel films, the quality is about the same, maybe a little better. Some corners were definitely cut, but it’s not completely horrible. Character designs are simple and they reminded me of designs from “Avatar: The Last Air Bender.” But it’s also painfully obvious that the quality of animation is no where near as good as “Avatar” in terms of both the regular animation and the direction of the action sequences. If I have any complaint about the style, however, it’s that Hulk himself looks rather young. I would have preferred a much more seasoned and intimidating “Green Scar.”

Overall, “Planet Hulk” is a solid and enjoyable experience. It has some smart dialogue lifted straight from the comics and enough of a storyline to not completely bore or alienate audiences unfamiliar with the comics. Action scenes are plentiful and paced well with purpose throughout the film so they don’t come across as gratuitous or pandering just to kids. The ending to “Planet Hulk” is left open for a possible “War World Hulk” sequel, although I can’t image it being made especially with its darker tone and the fact that Lionsgate may soon lose their Marvel license as a result of the Disney-Marvel buyout. Whatever case, if you’re a fan of the “Plant Hulk” storyline, the Hulk or the Marvel universe, “Planet Hulk” is a must see. While it doesn’t raise any bar, it does enough to be a faithful adaptation and comes out as one of Marvel/Lionsgate’s better animated films.