I don’t know if superhero team-ups have ever been in such high demand as they are now, following the box office smash of Marvel’s The Avengers in 2012. Even DC is looking to cash in on the movie’s success with the upcoming Man of Steel sequel featuring both Batman and Wonder Woman. But Marvel, having succeeded so incredibly with The Avengers, is not about to be outdone. They just keep the cinematic team-ups coming! Iron Man & Hulk: Heroes United, the latest entry in Marvel’s line of straight-to-video animated features (most of which have in fact featured such team-ups), brings together two of Marvel’s most popular characters in one fast-paced, action-packed movie. And it’s out just in time for Christmas at that (that’s a hint for you parents)!
The story, thin though it may be, finds a pair of Hydra scientists inadvertently creating a sentient life form made of pure electricity when they try to harvest the gamma radiation stored in the Hulk and the Abomination’s cells. The new life form, calling itself Zzzax, threatens to destroy the world and only the unlikely duo of Iron Man and Hulk can stop it. That is, if they can stop fighting on another long enough to fight Zzzax.
And fight they do. Heroes United is brawling from end of the film to the other. And when Iron Man and Hulk aren’t sticking it to Zzzax, they’re bickering amongst themselves as their massive egos clash. While Heroes United will surely appeal to kids and the errant Marvel devotee such as myself in spite of any shortcomings, I have to admit that the characterizations of Iron Man and Hulk are as tragically thin as the plot. Beyond their bickering and predictable late game acceptance of one another, Iron Man and Hulk appear here as little more than a pair fighting machines facilitating the unrelenting action—albeit a pair of totally awesome fighting machines. I would have loved to have seen this feature spinning off of the relationship Marvel developed between Tony Stark and Bruce Banner in The Avengers, but alas Heroes United finds the characters meeting for the first time and Bruce Banner never even makes an appearance, despite the fact that his vast intellect would have come in handy in strategizing their assault on an energy being.
Still, the CG animation is quite cool (reminiscent of the animation in the Iron Man: Armored Adventures series) and the action is thoroughly engaging. In that, most viewers will get something out of it and kids with even a fleeting interest in Marvel heroes will absolutely love it. So it’ll make for a terrific stocking stuffer!
Heroes United is now available in a Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy combo pack from Buena Vista Home Entertainment. By way of special features, it includes a discussion between Joe Quesada and Ryan Penagos about Marvel team-ups throughout the years and “Marvel Mash-Ups,” which feature comically redubbed clips from older Marvel animated series of The Incredible Hulk (1982) and Iron Man (1994-96). Although the humor is somewhat hit-or-miss, they certainly kept me laughing. Unfortunately, ten minutes of “Marvel Mash-Ups” can only be accessed using the Marvel “Inter-Missions” feature, which is another one of those annoying features that prevents you from legitimately pausing your Blu-ray. When you hit pause to, say, take a phone call or something, the disc begins a countdown that gives you ten seconds to play the movie again before it plays the “Mash-Ups.” You can disable it, but if you don’t do it before you play the thing, you’re scrambling to do it when you pause it later, unless you’re pausing it specifically to watch the “Mash-Ups” that is. Because the “Marvel Mash-Ups” alone are almost worth the purchase.