The Incredible Hulk … SMASHING!

Published June 25, 2008

When I first saw Ang Lee’s HULK in 2003, I must admit … I liked it. I didn’t understand the copious dissing the film received from critics, moviegoers, and fanboys. It wasn’t until later, watching the film again on DVD, that problems made themselves evident. It was too … cerebral. Too artsy fartsy. Too worried about things like … texture (not tone, but real, organic, reptillian texture). And what was that ending all about? Nick Nolte tries to kill his son by becoming one with the clouds? WTF? The biggest problem, however, was one that couldn’t have been helped: I missed Bill Bixby.

Jump ahead five years, and we have Marvel Studios reboot of the series, entitled, The Incredible Hulk.
The Incredible Hulk
2008 has been pretty much a banner year (pun intended) for the newly formed Marvel Studios. After knocking it out of the park with Iron Man (which recently became the first picture of the year to hit the 300 million mark in domestic box office), they have smashed what could have been a sophomore slump with this new film.

Not quite a remake, definitely not a sequel, The Incredible Hulk starts out much like the beloved TV series with a quick flashback to how Bruce Banner (Ed Norton) suffered an “accidental overdose of gamma radiation that alters his body chemistry.” Cut to Bruce living in Brazil, working at a soda bottling company, getting in trouble with his broken Portugese. He is also learning martial arts as a way of controlling his temper (a smart plot point). The movie has a clever way of showing the passage of time, with periodic on-screen flash titles – DAYS WITHOUT INCIDENT: 158. Joe Harnell’s haunting Lonely Man Theme from the television series is briefly (too briefly) woven into the soundtrack – from the audience cheers during this homage, perhaps the producers will better utilize it next time. Music to hitchhike by.
Edward Norton
I do not want to give too much away, but I will say that General Ross (William Hurt) is still hot on his tail. His daughter, Betsy Ross (Liv Tyler) is still pining for her true love to come home. And Emil Blonsky (Tim Roth) is an overamped soldier who volunteers himself to the General to undergo experiments that eventually turn him in the Abomination. But you knew all that from the trailers.
Ed Norton is excellent as Bruce Banner … he even reminds a bit of Bill Bixby, albeit a might scrawnier. Norton did a serious (uncredited) rewrite of Zak Penn’s script – however, according to reports, an entire 70 minutes of this material did not make it into the theatrical cut. Norton was not happy. Look for a three-hour DVD cut to show up in stores this fall. Liv Tyler is also very good. The scenes she shares with Bruce are the very heart of this movie. The Beauty and the Beast scenes she shares with Bruce’s green alter-ego are also quite moving, and are (of course) reminiscent of King Kong. William Hurt (looking damn near unrecognizable in hair piece and push broom ‘stache) brings trademark gravitas to his otherwise stoic role. Tim Roth just got on my nerves.
Tyler and Norton
Some fans are upset that the Hulk is (again) CGI. I didn’t have a problem with it – especially since this is damn good, vein-popping, sweat-dripping, OMG! look at that CGI. Lou Ferrigno makes a very cool cameo in this, as does series creator Stan Lee. Even Bill Bixby makes an appearance … it’s better just to see it. As reported, Robert Downey Jr. also pops in as Tony Stark (aka Iron Man), just long enough to plant the seeds for The Avengers movie that will be coming in 2011. How cool is it that Marvel is cross populating these characters into their own cinematic universe? As long as they don’t screw up Thor, Nick Fury, and Captain America, this will be a fanboy’s wet dream.

Much like the new Indiana Jones film, sometimes the action and bombast drown out the all important emotional beats, but for the most part, this is a far superior film than the one we got five years ago. The cinematography is beautiful, the action is spectacular, the special effects are top notch, and Louis Leterrier’s direction is nothing if not kinetic.

I’m looking forward to more – except next time I want a climax with a little more depth than just two monsters beating the shit out of each other, even though it was pretty cool.

I’m really looking forward to that three-hour DVD cut … I will keep you posted.