“That’s IT! No more workout advice from Carrot Top…”
As part of my Father’s Day I went to the movies to see “The Incredible Hulk“, a film I was hesitant to buy all the way into. I had heard some of the bad press about star Edward Norton‘s displeasure with script changes and non-changes, was unsure of some of the acting choices and in general didn’t much like the look of the new Hulk.
I was pleasantly surprised in many ways. It was no “Iron Man“, but I enjoyed the film quite a bit. This review will contain no plot spoilers, although the plot isn’t exactly full of spoiler potential. It’s a lot more of the “run, Hulk out, destruction” formula than it is any heavy story development.
I had heard this “reboot”, which was supposed to resurrect the character for film after a convoluted and hard-to-watch earlier movie by Ang Lee, was going to be slightly reminiscent of the popular 70’s TV show starring Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno. It was a lot more than reminiscent. In fact, it borrowed heavily from it, shooting past the point of homage and nearing the land of laughter. It was the visuals that caught me off guard, including scenes right from the TV show where Banner is strapped into a rotating, futuristic dentist’s chair with the green “X” panning across his forehead. A clever working of Bixby onto the screen and another by Ferrigno where nods to be expected, but using the actual TV theme song also caught me off guard. I’ll admit I was wondering if I was suppose to laugh at that point. However things settled down, and the only thing they really borrowed from the TV show after was the “misunderstood man on the run” plot, with the TV reporter replaced by General “Thunderbolt” Ross trying to track down David Banner. The entire film is really a long chase scene, with Banner on the run and trying to both learn to control his emotions to keep the Hulk in his cage and to find a cure. The military’s lust for the Hulk’s secret to use as a weapon drives the pursuit.
Of course, that isn’t really the plot of the TV show, it’s the plot of the original comic book, and that’s where this film gets it right. It doesn’t try and be a campy farce or a drudging Freudian manifesto. The creators recognized the source material has been popular for over 40 years for a reason… because it’s a good tale with plenty of action and excitement, some humor, great characters and some surprisingly deep themes. Banner is constantly at war with his alter ego, ridden with guilt over the destruction he creates while he tries to deny that the Hulk is a part of him, and he of it. Ross is a power-hungry megalomaniac who will stop at nothing to get what he wants, his daughter included. these are not new story lines or themes to comic book readers. It’s refreshing that some film makers can make a comic book movie without feeling the need to reinvent the mythos to make it more “real”. It’s a movie about a guy who turns into a 9 foot tall destruction machine! Go with it!!
And they do.
The performances are uneven, but the important ones are very well done. Norton makes a great Banner, at once believable emotionally and intellectually… I easily buy into the fact that he is a super scientist without needing to get hit over the head with it. As General Ross, William Hurt infuses him with little sympathy and gives us a good villain. Tim Roth as Emil Blonsky/The Abomination is particularly terrific, really getting the drug-addict like desire for the Hulk’s power across as he begins to sample the strength and wants more. The one bad performance was Liv Tyler as Betty Ross… she came across as a cutting edge bio-scientist as convincingly as Danny Devito would playing an NBA center.
The action and effects were as good as you would expect. However I still disliked the look of the new Hulk. While the Ang Lee film had a lot to dislike, I didn’t mind the actual Hulk in it. In this new film they gave him a weird, distracting skin texture that frankly looks like a plastic action figure’s shiny hide. I liked the darker green color and the more aggressive looking face and proportions (except the bizarrely shrunken pecs), but that skin really bothered me. Otherwise I did like the fact that they did away with the 100 mile leaps… that was something I never liked in the comics. The fight scenes both against the military and against the Abomination were great.
One thing I came away with from seeing both this film and “Iron Man” last month was this inescapable truth: Marvel gets it. Since they secured or re-secured the film rights to their own characters, they have figured out how to bring all that is great about the Marvel Universe from the comics to the big screen. One of the principal things about Marvel that DC never really got was the seamless interaction of the characters within the same, “real” world. In the DC comics world, Superman and Batman and Wonder Woman and the rest of them all lived ont he same planet, but they were like little isolated islands that seldom convincingly crossed paths. Worse, most of them lived in mythical cities. They never really seemed like they were in the real world. Marvel, on the other hand, had their heroes living in the world we all knew, complete with their real world problems and very convincing interaction.
Marvel has figured out what works in the comics can work in the theaters, and they are showing signs of creating a Marvel Universe on celluloid just like they did on the comic’s page. “Iron Man” started it with Nick Fury’s cameo after the credits rolled, but there were several more obvious signs in “The Incredible Hulk” Witness the subtle hints at “Captain America” with the super-soldier program references, and of course the Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark cameo near the end. Best of all, the very last scene with the wry smile on the face of Norton as his green eyes blaze… hinting the Hulk is about to become less mindless and more under control? I can only imagine a series of films that establish the greatest Marvel characters and actors and directors who continue their roles in and out of other films as well as combining in “Avenger” and other team up movies. That would be something.
Back to the Hulk… good movie, well worth seeing in the theater and I’ll reserve a spot for it on my Blu-Ray shelf. Let’s hope “The Dark Knight” keeps the 2008 superhero movie batting average at 1000.
753 My cover art for the next issue of MAD, exclusive sneak peek from @entertainmentweekly website
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