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The Incredible Hulk Isn’t Amazing, But It’ll Do

The Incredible Hulk (Universal, 2008)
Directed by Louis Leterrier
Written by Zak Penn

First off, I love how Marvel has been trying to convince everyone that while this is not another origin film since another Hulk film was released in 2003, it is also not a sequel. Fuck that! It’s a sequel. They even go so far as to ape the Spiderman sequels where in the opening credits we see essentially the same basic sequences from the first film, but with the new cast.

As the credits roll, we see Bruce Banner (Edward Norton) testing the gamma experiments on himself while his lady-love, Betty Ross (Liv Tyler) watches on. We see the transformation into the Hulk and some destruction that he causes. We see General Ross (William Hurt), Betty’s father, giving angry stares and trying to track down and capture Bruce. There is also a slew of various newspaper clippings flashed at us with stories of Hulk sightings and government cover-ups and what not.

After the credits, the film opens up on Bruce in Brazil; a subtitle reads that it has been quite a few days since the last transformation. Bruce is working at a bottling company to try and make ends meet. After hours he is still looking for a cure to hopefully rid him of what he considers a curse. He wears a watch that measures his heart rate, so he knows when he needs to relax; he has an instructor giving him tips on breathing exercises; he’s communicating with a mysterious Mr. Blue via the internet who is also trying to help Bruce with a cure.

Bruce cuts his finger at work, and some of his contaminated blood finds its way into a juice bottle packaged with many others and heading to the states. General Ross and his team soon learn of another person contracting the gamma virus (The best cameo this person’s ever made in a Marvel film) and tracks the source back to the bottling company. So, it’s off to Brazil.

General Ross isn’t alone; he has contracted a worthy adversary in Emil Blonsky (Tim Roth), a mean and ruthless Russian soldier, who is more than up to the task to track down and stop Banner. To make him even more effective, Ross injects Blonsky with a Super Soldier serum that many thought was just an urban legend. This makes Blonsky stronger and faster than anyone else.

However, Blonsky wants more and more of the serum after he realizes how powerful it makes him. The side effects become noticeable when Blonsky turns into a beast even bigger than the Hulk known as the Abomination. Then we get a monster on monster fight in New York City; Godzilla, eat your heart out.

There is a little more to the story than that which I will get to, but essentially these are the driving factors. Everything I’ve read about the making of this film is that the one thing Marvel felt that Ang Lee’s orginal film was missing was the action. If you’ve seen the original though, I don’t know how you could say there was no action in it.

Lee’s film is looked at as being more of a mood piece, more of an Ang Lee type of film I guess you could say. I’ve never understood exactly how that’s a bad thing. I found Lee’s version of the Hulk to be a unique look at the superhero genre. And considering the Hulk in comic book form is also a unique look at the superhero genre, Lee’s vision worked for me. There was plenty in it I didn’t like; the fight with the CG dogs, whatever the hell was up with Nick Nolte’s transformation at the end of the film. However, overall it was a good film.

The Incredible Hulk is directed by Louis Leterrier, who is most well known for The Transporter movies which are nothing but wall-to-wall action, and if that’s what you are looking for in a Hulk film, then worry not because that’s what you get.

And that’s fine in theory. There are some great action set pieces in this film. The final battle between the Hulk and the Abomination is a lot of fun to watch, and I love the way Leterrier handled the transformation sequences. Even though you know what’s coming, there is a lot of added suspense that was more than welcome.

However, outside of the action, Leterrier is obviously uncomfortable. This is more than noticeable with just about every scene between Norton and Tyler. The first problem is that Norton is a great actor, and Tyler is barely above average, and the fact they have no chemistry on screen whatsoever. I’m not sure Jennifer Connelly is a much better actress than Tyler, but she worked well with Eric Bana in the original film. Tyler and Norton just flat out do not work in this film as a believable couple.

Zak Penn’s screenplay is partly to blame as well. Granted, I guess I should know more about other people’s influences while the film was being shot before I jump on the writer. However, I can’t understand parts of the story such as Mr. Blue’s identity being presented as such a mystery and then when we meet him it’s just some random guy.

It’s also been known that Edward Norton was not happy with the outcome of this film; he at one point said he wouldn’t do any press for it; he has since changed his tune. Most of this talk was built around the idea that he wanted to use an edit of the film that he approved of which had more character development and didn’t focus as much on the action. I’d be a little curious to see what that film looked like, but I don’t think it would improve much because most of the time Norton feels out of sorts, and doesn’t even seem to want to have anything to do with the film. It’s not so much that he just shows up for the paycheck; he’s obviously trying to create a character, but it’s almost like he gives up on his ambitions half way through the film and just starts handing in his line readings.

Marvel has also come out and stated that Iron Man along with this film and a few other ones coming out in the near future (Captain America, Thor, Ant Man, etc.) are leading up to a big Avengers film. As it’s already been shown in the T.V. ads, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) makes an appearance in this film. This is fine, but where Iron Man still felt like its own film, The Incredible Hulk feels more like a preface.

This all sounds like I’m trashing the film, and partly I guess I am. However, I can’t say I wasn’t entertained. This is a fluff piece, but it’s a pretty damn good one at times. Tim Roth is quite a bit of fun as the baddie, and I think William Hurt is the one actor who improves on his character from the original; Sam Elliott played him previously. Norton and Bana are kind of a toss-up, and Connelly was quite a bit better than Tyler mostly because of what I’ve already mentioned.

And for the most part, I felt the first half of the film worked pretty well. I enjoyed Bruce in Brazil. There was one funny sequence where he’s trying to help out a female co-worker being bugged by some sleazy dude. There’s a good variation on the famous line, “You won’t like me when I’m angry.” Let’s just say it gets bungled in Bruce’s translation. And the first transformation sequence is well executed along with the action that follows. In fact it’s so well handled that the next couple of action sequences before they get to the big showdown feel more repetitive than anything else.

The special effects are also a little better here than in Ang Lee’s film, although that has a lot more to do with the advancement of technology. Still, the CG looks almost flawless which is an achievement in my mind because CG usually just bugs the hell out of me. I can’t think of another way you could show the Hulk though, so well done.

When you break it down, The Incredible Hulk works just fine as a mindless, summer action film. However, I guess going in I was hoping for more Iron Man and less, dare I say it, Transformers. I was so excited after watching Iron Man about the direction Marvel was going by taking over their characters and guiding their translation to film. And I can’t think of anything to call The Incredible Hulk except a step back.

But the average person that watches this film will probably never have picked up a comic book and will just be looking to be entertained. I think this film will fit the bill, but I really wanted a little more, so I was a tad on the disappointed side when all was said and done.


Sam Loomis

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