Saturday, May 16, 2009
I just got around to watching last Summer's smash film, The Incredible Hulk starring Edward Norton. Hulk got a redo after Ang Lee's family counselor version of Hulk a few years back. The arty film focused on childhood trauma more than big green rage, neutering the Hulkster (I did like the overt comic book visual style of that one). Though the movie seemed successful at the box office, it left many fans wanting more. Or to be more accurate, fans wanted to see Hulk the way they remembered him: big, dumb and angry.
So when Marvel commissioned a second Hulk movie, they clearly set out to erase the memory of Ang Lee's version. This Incredible Hulk takes a direct route to the fanboys hearts, combining the favorite parts of the comic and television series. Bill Bixby's face even appears near the beginning of the film to help build a link to the character's pop culture history (Lou Ferrigno also makes a cameo and is still built like a Mack truck).
Without the repressed memories and boring hoo ha of the Ang Lee version, The Incredible Hulk is free to be fun again. To make sure they have the necessary gravitas, the deck is stacked with weighty actors. Edward Norton, who excels at playing tormented loners, makes for a good Bruce Banner. William Hurt is as good as ever showing the different shades of patriotism, selfishness and emotional neglect towards his daughter as General Ross. Tim Roth's knack for slick duplicity comes in handy as well. The only performance that was questionable was Liv Tyler as Betty Ross, unless she's shouting something like "Look Out!" she whispers everything. A touch wispy in her performance.
The story about Banner having a gamma radiation accident by experimenting on himself and General Ross' determination to create an army of Hulks is classic Hulk lore. A little too classic actually, the whole movie felt like it's main drive was to deliver exactly what was expected: a little "man on the run", a little "evil government", a little "Jeckyl & Hyde", a bit of "Beauty and the Beast" and a build up to a big fight against the Abomination (in this case Tim Roth as a man determined to beat the Hulk through Gen Ross' various experiments to create a super soldier).
CGI Hulk is nicely rendered but it's still a CGI Hulk. Most full on CGI characters fall flat when next to live action for me, it was a flaw with the prior Hulk as well. The excitement of the movie's willingness to revel in Hulk's destructive abilities helped make the fake look more forgiveable, still I wasn't completely sold on the realness of the character.
The Incredible Hulk does a fair job of creating an amalgam of the comic book character's best known pieces, but that's all it does. It is exciting and fun with a bit of humor (the days between Hulk-outs are recorded on screen like a workplace accident board) though it never exceeds it's basic structure. Like Bruce Banner himself, the movie is split in two trying to control it's wilder instincts. Hulk smash! Hulk no like control! Puny man think Hulk is just OK!