June 17, 2008

The Incredible Hulk (06/17/08)

Lettergrade: C-ish

Several reviews favorably compare The Incredible Hulk with last month's Iron Man, and declare it a great improvement over 2003's Hulk movie directed by Ang Lee. I thoroughly disagree on both counts: Iron Man earned way more respect from me as a smart, fun summer superhero flick than this picture, and although I know I'm in the extreme minority on this, I thought Ang Lee's Hulk was dark, sophisticated, and excellent in ways that this movie doesn't even get close to.

Alas, Lee's movie also didn't make enough money for Universal CEO Ron Meyer to wipe his dick with, so while it may be surprising that The Incredible Hulk was green-lit at all, it's perhaps not surprising that pretty much every facet of the 2003 movie has been discarded. Gone is Lee (replaced by The Transporter 2's Louis Leterrier), the original film's cast (with Edward Norton, Liv Tyler and William Hurt stepping into the roles played by Eric Bana, Jennifer Connoly, and Sam Elliott in 2003), and the moody script dealing with childhood psychological damage and biological identity. What's left is a pretty straight-forward sci-fi action movie. It's alright, I suppose, but after stellar film adaptations of Marvel properties like X Men 2, Spider-Man 2, and this film's predecessor, its hard for me to get too excited about pictures which do exactly what you might expect them to do and not a whole lot more.

Curiously, The Incredible Hulk could be seen as a "sort of" sequel to Lee's film, but with a slightly rewritten origin story. At the end of the 2003 movie, Bruce Banner goes into hiding in South America, and that's where he is where this one starts. He's been living with the gamma-poisoning that causes him to Hulk-Out occasionally for about five years, and as he did in the 70s TV show starring Bill Bixby, Banner lives off-the-grid, desperately searching for a cure while being pursued by the insidious General 'Thunderbolt' Ross (Hurt). Regrettably absent is the character of David Banner, the Hulk's father, who was previously played by Nick Nolte in 2003. Since they were recasting everyone anyway, I was secretly hoping that Gary Busey would take over the role for this one, but I guess dreams don't always come true.

Nevertheless, despite the vague sense of continuity every now and again, the movie proceeds pretty much as an independent entity. General Ross manages to track Banner down (a big fucking surprise there), and enlists a new character played by Tim Roth to tranquilize and take him into custody. When Roth sees the Hulk, he wants to be genetically modified too for some inexplicable reason. I don't want to give away all the subtle plot nuance here, but the end of the movie has the surprisingly articulate "Abomination" squaring off against the Hulk in downtown NYC ala Superman squaring off against General Zod and company in downtown Metropolis at the end of Superman II. Also like Superman II, both cities look a hell of a lot like Toronto.

The best scenes in the movie center around Norton and Tyler's relationship, but they're not really enough to keep everything cookin'. Another bright point is Tim Blake Nelson, blissfully overacting as a helpful scientist who corresponds with Norton via a secure instant messenger while trying different solutions in his own lab.

Again, everything is pretty straight-forward and economical, and in a way that's part of the problem. There are three Hulk-based action scenes in the movie, but apart from the first one (which includes a nifty chase through Rio de Janerio) none of them are especially inspiring, nor are they particularly engrossing. Will the Hulk get caught or won't he get caught? Either way, it doesn't really make much difference.

I never read comic books with any frequency when I was younger, so perhaps my perspective is misguided here and this is exactly the kind of Hulk movie that Joe Marvel would want to see. I'll take the layered complexity of the Ang Lee movie. I completely understand why it didn't do well financially (and why the public, at large, seemed to generally despise it), but speaking for myself, I'd rather see a movie like that than something wafer-thin like this.

No comments:

Post a Comment