June 14, 2008

Movie Review: The Incredible Hulk

Back in 2003, Marvel was on a role with adapting their properties to the big screen, with their initial success of Blade, followed by Spider-Man, X-Men, and Daredevil (well, maybe not so much with that last one). Their next character turned out to be the Incredible Hulk. It was an interesting choice as Hulk is not your traditional superhero, not based on his early years anyway. Bruce Banner is a character searching to rid himself of the curse. It is more of a Jeckyll and Hyde relationship, with larger scale destruction. To bring this story to life, they brought in Ang Lee, hot off the success of the Oscar winning Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.

Lee brought an interesting art film meets comic book approach that won some fans over while turning many others away. I liked the film, the way that many scenes were composed as if they were panels in a comic book, and the way it presented itself as mature, science fiction film, that happened to have some action elements. Unfortunately, the film failed to ignite audiences as the studio hoped. This brings us to now.

Seeking to show that the Hulk character can be an interesting in a more action oriented setting, Marvel regained some of the characters film rights and have produced a film under their Marvel Studios banner (which debuted with Iron Man). The film is essentially a reboot, not connected to the Lee film. The lead roles were recast and Louis Leterrier (from the Transporter films) was brought in to direct. The goal was to make it more of a "comic book" movie, amp up the action and make it more of a ride than the serious, drama minded take in the 2003 film.

So, how does the film fare? To compare this film directly to the prior one would be unfair. They are two different films with different approaches, whose only commonality is that they both offer an interpretation of the same character. That said, The Incredible Hulk is quite a good film, one that stands on its own, is fun to watch, and feels true to the origins of the big green hero.

As the film opens, we get a montage chronicling Banner's (Edward Norton) experiments, the gamma ray overload, subsequent reveal of the monster, and his fleeing the scene. We pick up Banner's trail some years after the initial incident. He is hiding out in South America doing work as a day laborer while working on a potential cure out of sight of General Ross (William Hurt) and the military that has pursued him. Unfortunately, an accident puts Ross back on th scent and the chase is on.

To aid General Ross in his pursuit, Russian born, British raised special forces agent named Emil Blonsky (Tim Roth) is enlisted to head the team. After their first encounter with Hulk, Blonsky knows something is up and insists on being given the full story of the situation. This leads directly to his becoming the next human guinea pig to experiment with a super soldier serum. In turn, this leads to Blonsky becoming the Hulk-like Abomination.

While Ross and Blonsky work towards gaining control of the beast within Banner, Banner is actively seeking a cure with the aid of Betty Ross (Liv Tyler). This leads them across the country, in search of a certain doctor, with the military hot on their tail.

The Incredible Hulk is an adrenaline filled ride from start to finish. The action is well thought out and nicely executed, while the special effects look quite good. Hulk and Abomination do not quite blend perfectly with the real settings, but they are a step up from the 2003 film and do not distract all that much. Also, I like the Hulk design here, his muscles are straining to be contained, the hair is a little longer, and he just looks meaner and stronger.

From the acting perspective, Norton does a better job than I had expected as Banner. He brings a grounding to the role. When he says something, there is a certain gravitas, some weight that goes along with it. There are moments throughout the film that take you a bit deeper into what it is like to be on the run, hunted like an animal, cursed with the big green guy, and I think it is all due to Norton's strong work. Hurt and Roth make a formidable pair, Hurt being the man behind the curtains, pulling the strings, while Roth takes on the guise of a man willing to do whatever it takes to gain more power. Overall, the performances are solid.

Something that was fun to do while watching the film was to pick out the references to the Incredible Hulk television series, and a few references to the larger Marvel universe. A couple of examples to look for are the use of the television series' theme, purple pants, other characters, and the "You won't like me...." line. They are sly and blend well with film.

While I enjoyed the film, it is not a perfect one. I would have liked some more character development. Norton and Roth do great with their moments, but I would have liked some more. The story is a personal one, but I would have liked it to have been a bit more epic. How that would be achieved, I do not know.

One last note before closing, does anyone else think the last scene should have been a post-credit cookie?

Bottomline. This is a fun movie. It offers a good dose of action blended with some decent character development, while also helping to build a new Marvel universe on the big screen. The recasting works and while Leterrier is no Ang Lee, he knows how to put together an action film. This is well worth seeing on the big screen.



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