Monday, June 23, 2008

FanBoyWonder Film Review—The Incredible Hulk

Here’s The Upshot from Marvel Studios and Universal Pictures: “Scientist Bruce Banner (Edward Norton) desperately hunts for a cure to the gamma radiation that poisoned his cells and unleashes the unbridled force of rage within him: The Hulk.

“Living in the shadows, cut off from a life he knew and the woman he loves—Betty Ross (Liv Tyler)—Banner struggles to avoid the obsessive pursuit of his nemesis—General Thunderbolt Ross (William Hurt) and the military machinery that seeks to capture him and exploit his power.

“As all three grapple with the secrets that led to the Hulk’s creation, they are confronted with a monstrous new adversary known as the Abomination (Tim Roth), whose destructive strength exceeds the Hulk’s own.”

FanBoyWonder has had decidedly mixed feelings since we saw The Incredible Hulk.

Overall, The Incredible Hulk was a good, not a great, but a good comic book movie. When compared to it’s predecessor film—Director Ang Lee’s HULK from 2003, The Incredible Hulk was at the same time much, much better than yet also not quite as good as 2003’s HULK.

Incredible Hulk did everything that both a comic book film and an action movie should do—advance the hero/protagonist (along with viewer) through the adventure—sometimes a break-neck speeds.

Yet we also have a greater appreciation of Ang Lee’s HULK—that is to say what Lee was trying to and ultimately failed to accomplish.

Ang Lee’s HULK—I think, therefore me HULK.
Edward Norton’s Incredible Hulk—Hulk SMASH!

HULK had nuance and character development. Incredible Hulk has action, action, action. This is not to say that HULK was action-less or that Incredible Hulk had zero hints of character or feeling.

Take the best part of both Hulk films and Marvel would have had the Ultimate Hulk experience—think chocolate and peanut butter together.

However, even if one takes 2003’s HULK out of consideration, The Incredible Hulk is still not without its problems. It’s essentially a chase film. It’s also the victim of its top-notch first act in which Bruce Banner is hiding out as a day-laborer in the crowded slums of Rio de Janerio, Brazil.

It’s a beautiful, original setting for an action film and chase sequence. For all our talk of character development in HULK, Norton gives us a great glimpse into the loneliness of Bruce Banner as he struggles to eek out a living working in a bottling plant.

As the only gringo in the joint, Banner is not universally welcomed by his co-workers but we see that despite his deliberate efforts to maintain calm and not lose control of his heartbeat and trigger a transformation, our boy Bruce is NOT a pushover.

The Brazil location was such a beautiful setting (despite the overcrowding and abject poverty) that we wouldn’t have minded the whole film taking place there.

Without much dialogue devoted in terms of character development, Norton does a great job of adding little character bits his Bruce Banner—such as trying to learn Portuguese while with an English/Portuguese dictionary in front of the TV.

It’s here where we get a cute cameo of sorts by Norton’s television predecessor—the late Bill Bixby in a clip of the Courtship of Eddie’s Father—in Portuguese.

When General Ross (William Hurt) finds Banner in Brazil, he sends a black ops team but the our boy Bruce isn’t a genius for nothing and he has an escape plan read to go and off starts one of the best chase sequences we’ve seen on film in years.

Of course, Banner cornered—by local street toughs who get more than they bargained for when they trigger a Hulk-out. The creature in shadow makes short work out of the thugs and he doesn’t take much longer against the black ops team led by Captain Emil Blonsky (Tim Roth) who finds himself both frightened and fascinated by the most powerful thing he’s ever seen.

Unfortunately, the film can’t sustain its strong first act and it slowly deflates. That’s not to say it wasn’t entertaining but there was a promise of a better film that went unfulfilled.

The film did manage to avoid a common cliché by avoiding having Banner—now barefoot and nearly naked but for a pair of tattered, too big for him pants, panhandling on the streets of Mexico enough Samaritans gave him enough pesos to purchase half-way decent clothes.

Another running gag through the film was Banner’s efforts to avoid wearing purple pants—often the only color that stretch pants came in.

With his efforts for finding a cure and his data lost following Ross’ Rio raid, Banner is making his way North to see his long lost love Dr. Betty Ross—The General’s daughter and Banner’s former lab partner. But it’s the data he needs, as much as he wants to see her—she’s moved on and he knows he’s radioactive to her life.

Of course the do encounter each other and before you know it there’s another military attempted snatch up Banner, which goes wrong and triggers a Hulk-out and suddenly there’s a REALLY big man on campus.

Here we get to see in full view a look at this Incredible Hulk. It didn’t look bad but to us it looked no more or less fake than Ang Lee’s HULK. Once one suspends disbelief, you can see pass the CGI.

What made the battle interesting was not Hulk vs. the Hardware but Hulk vs. a new Super-Solider serum enhanced Blonsky—the closest to a Captain America cameo that we get in the film.

Still it’s interesting to see Blonsky greatly out run the other soldiers and use his new found agility to play cat and mouse with the Hulk…until Hulk swats him across the campus.

Still craving more, Blonsky wants what Banner has…he wants to be the Hulk….and then some. And he gets wish thanks to Dr. Samuel Sterns (Tim Blake Nelson) the scientist that Banner has been communicating with to find a cure…or so Banner thinks.

Sterns injects Blonsky with Banner’s gamma blood and the Abomination is born…and perhaps so is the Leader in time for the sequel.

This sets up the climatic battle of the third act. It’s was okay but nothing to write home about…especially as the longer the battle went, the more CGI it looked.

To Ang Lee’s credit, his HULK actually conveyed a sense of overwhelming power….especially with those 3 miles high, five miles long leaps of his. This Incredible Hulk fell short in that regard.

In the end, the movie ends where it starts, with Banner on the run in hiding and ready to Hulk out for a sequel.

Other notable cameos included Lou Ferrigno as a university security guard with whom he and Norton’s Banner share a moment—all the while winking for the audience. Stan Lee of course has his cameo—this time as an ill-fated customer who drinks a bottle of pop contaminated with Banner’s blood. Excelsior indeed!

Roth’s Blonsky wasn’t given much to work with in the script but he carried it by force of personality. Ironically, he became much less interesting when he transformed from man to (computer generated) monster as the Abomination.

William Hurt’s General Ross was little more than an anti-military stereotype—but he was true to the comic as that’s how Thunderbolt Ross was played in the comics—shoot first and if you ask questions later, you must be a pantywaist.

Liv Tyler as Betty Ross we liked as she had some spark and she wasn’t just the screaming Vicky Vale of the picture. Unfortunately, she and Edward Norton had absolutely zero chemistry as Betty and Bruce.

The much-talked about cameo of Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark same at the end of the film—so no one need sit through the credits waiting for an “Easter egg” such as with Iron Man.

As we said, we consider The Incredible Hulk good but not great yet much more watchable than 2003’s HULK.
However, five years and two films later, the same basic story of the Rampaging Hulk has been told—it’s time for filmmakers to move on beyond this well trampled ground.

In a sequel, let’s see the Grey Hulk—the version of Hulk that’s smaller and weaker yet smart and mean. He’s not evil but he’s not very nice at all. And or let’s see an intelligent Hulk or heck…let’s go all in and let’s see the Maestro—the older, stronger, evil and just plain crazy version of Hulk from an alternate future—as first seen in Peter David’s classic Future Imperfect graphic novel.

Next time, let’s see Hulk smash into new storytelling territory


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