Monday, May 21, 2012

The Incredible Hulk Movie Review

The Incredible Hulk has the distinction of being not the best teaser for The Avengers, but perhaps the most capable of standing alone, the most brisk in its storytelling. It falls somewhat short of Iron Man, which elevated the bar slightly by having a charismatic actor and hero in Robert Downey, Jr., who really kept those films light on their feet. Edward Norton in the Bruce Banner role is more sullen and brooding, as anyone with a Hulk affliction likely would be. He can’t risk being around anything stressful or anger-inducing lest he transform in a huge green rage monster, tearing up everything in sight and then waking up nude in another country (his first incident in the film takes him from Brazil to Guatemala).


We can’t really call it a sequel to Ang Lee’s 2003 Hulk because the entire cast has been changed, nor is it exactly a reboot. Zak Penn’s screenplay wisely excises the standard 40 minute origin introduction and director Louis Leterrier presents it in an opening credits montage of newspaper clippings, still frames and brief flashback snippets. As a result the film is a trim 112 minutes, credits included, making it more than 10 minutes shorter than both Iron Man and Captain America, but only a few minutes shorter than Thor, which only seemed interminable.

The Hulk is different from most superheroes in that his powers are not really under his control and Banner sees it as a curse in need of elimination. That is his objective during his time living in Brazil as he communicates surreptitiously with a cell biology professor initially known only as Mr. Blue. Together they try to work out a cure for Banner’s gamma radiation poisoning. An accidental blood drip in the soda factory where Banner works leads General Ross and the US military to his location. Ross brings with him a Russian-born British soldier named Emil Blonsky along to help subdue their target. He doesn’t explain to his men what they’re dealing with, so when Banner transforms into an indestructible monster most of the men are scared witless but Blonsky is intrigued by an enemy that poses a serious challenge to his soldiering abilities.

Tim Roth is up to the challenge of playing Blonsky. He brings an overall sense of good and a desire to serve his superiors well, but he reveals a covetous glint in his eye. He’s a man too easily consumed by power – exactly the wrong kind of man to give a super soldier serum to. We learn more about this serum in Captain America: TheFirst Avenger, but things don’t work out well for everyone around him when Blonsky adds gamma poisoning to his improved physique to become The Abomination, an alternate and evil Hulk-like creature. In Liv Tyler, the producers have taken a step down in their casting of Betty Ross, a role more ably filled by Jennifer Connelly. William Hurt as her General father is about equal to Sam Elliott, although his mustache is quite a step down. Tim Blake Nelson's late appearance as a wild-eyed scientist only elevates the acting.

As good as the majority of the casting and the story are, they don’t cover up for the fact that the action climax is still just a clash of enormous CGI creations. It really destroys any emotional connection to watch two green giants (neither of whom can be injured) battling it out. I’m also not quite sure I understand how the Hulk goes from being uncontrollable rage at his first transformation to a creature capable of rational decision in the end. Is this supposed to be his character arc? Penn doesn’t do enough to make it believable. And can someone answer for me what happens to the Abomination after Hulk releases him from a choke hold after Betty’s mercy pleas? And would Hulk have been able to choke Abomination to death? If bullets bounce off these creatures, can they die by asphyxiation?

But these are minor quibbles in an otherwise enjoyable comic book superhero movie. I particularly enjoy that, although it was meant as a precursor to The Avengers, that film was not yet a sure thing for production. That’s why The Incredible Hulk and Iron Man (both released in 2008) are the best stand alone films in the series.

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