Movie Reviews

Half Ass Movie Review: The Incredible Hulk (Jun 23)

All along, it hasn’t really been clear whether The Incredible Hulk was a sequel to Ang Lee’s 2003’s Hulk, or whether it was a Batman Begins-style reboot of the franchise. In general, if a superhero movie has me confused, you’re not off to a good start. It turns out, the new movie picks up roughly where the ill-received original left off, with Bruce Banner hiding in South America and covering the origin as a montage during the opening credits. Still, the origin has been tweaked, and many of the first movie’s more regrettable elements (Banner’s daddy issues, Hulk dogs) have been ignored completely. So while it’s mostly a sequel, it’s certainly not the opposite of a reboot.

Unlike the first movie, which took approximately forever to give us even a glimpse of the Hulk, Incredible Hulk give the people what they want to see in a Hulk-themed movie. Which is to say, the Hulk. And when Hulk is not onscreen, everybody’s talking about what the Hulk is going to do and how long before he comes back. (Note for any further movies: Hulk should be louder, angrier, and have access to a time machine.)

While I didn’t actively dislike the first movie the way some people did, it was much more boring than a movie about the Hulk should ever be. 45 minutes on his origin is cruel and unusual punishment, when it takes all of 15 seconds to expose a scientist to gamma radiation. No, they had to spend time convincing us that it was rooted in actual science so it seemed plausible. And really, it just isn’t. But if you’ve paid good money to see a movie about the Hulk, you’ve already bought into the premise.

Edward Norton makes for a compelling Bruce Banner, and he’s always fun to watch. Personally, I feel like Banner should be a little more of a nerd, possibly even a little creepy – more like Steve Buscemi. Norton seems like a hero, rather than a victim. That’s not to say I didn’t like him, he just doesn’t match the Bruce Banner in my head. William Hurt takes over Sam Elliott’s role as General Ross, and even if the guy from Broadcast News isn’t the first name that comes to mind when you’re thinking of kick-ass military machismo, he’s really very effective.

Tim Roth stands out as Emil Blonsky, head of the platoon assigned to take out the Hulk. I actually wish he’d had a different name, though. As soon as he introduced himself, I knew he was becoming the Abomination which ruined the surprise. I really liked his character – not especially evil, just a guy with a job to do. On the other hand, Tim Blake Nelson’s witty turn as scientist Samuel Stearns makes me happy because that name means that if there’s another movie, he’ll be back as the Leader.

Liv Tyler takes over for Jennifer Connelly as Betty Ross, Banner’s love interest. She doesn’t get much to do, really. Her basic plot function is to look dewy and be present so the Hulk has an emotional connection to somebody. She does both of those things, and very little else.

Unlike the recent Iron Man, which took time out for humor and character development, Incredible Hulk is mainly concerned with getting from Point A to Point B, which frankly, is a perfectly valid storytelling approach with Hulk. Ideally, a Hulk story should begin with Bruce Banner trying not to get angry, then getting angry, and then beating everybody else to a pulp. My love for the Hulk is far more shallow than my love of most other superheroes. I really just want to see him jump and smash things. Now, there are perfectly good stories dealing with Banner’s psychology, but that’s not really what you should hang a movie on. I mean, there are hundreds of Batman stories involving time-travel, but that doesn’t mean a Batman movie should feature Batman visiting the Revolutionary War.

I liked the CG Hulk much better in this movie, but he still looks a little weird. Darkening the color made him look less cartoony, and while the first version was supposed to resemble Eric Bana, the new Hulk looks more like a proper Hulk. I can’t put my finger on why the effect is not completely successful, though. It’s just not entirely believable. I think it’s the movement – to me, the Hulk shouldn’t move like a really large person. Maybe his body language should be more simian. I’m not sure, but it doesn’t quite click.

The movie is packed with nerd references, which made me happy. The names Rick Jones and Nick Fury pop up in the opening montage. A couple of student reporters are named after supporting characters from the Hulk’s past, SHIELD (last seen in Iron Man) and “Mr. Blue” make appearances. Lou Ferrigno, TV’s Hulk, has a cameo and provides the voice for the monster. And I was probably way more excited than I should be about the appearance of a psychiatrist named “Leonard”. (Note: If you ever see a comic book-based movie with me, you should expect me to poke you and point out in-jokes repeatedly.)

As Marvel Studios’ second production, there’s already a continuity being built-up. The aforementioned SHIELD carries over from Iron Man, and Robert Downey, Jr. pops up as Tony Stark. (And can I say how much I love living in a world where an entire audience instantly recognizes Tony Stark?) Incredible Hulk helps set up the upcoming (2010! Mark your calendars!) Captain America movie, with Hulk’s origin retconned to have Banner working on the Super-Soldier Project. Of course, now that they’ve teased The Avengers in two separate movies, Marvel pretty well has to come through on that, or they’re going to look like boneheads.

While it’s a little simplistic, Incredible Hulk is plenty of fun, packed full of Easter Eggs for longtime Hulk fans. (He actually says “Hulk Smash!” This is what I pay my nine dollars for!) In a lot of ways, it’s just going to fill the space between Iron Man and the forthcoming awesomeness of The Dark Knight, but it’s a well-acted, fast-moving story with plenty of smashing.

Seriously, the Hulk tears a Humvee in half and then wraps the pieces around his fists so he can punch more Humvees, one of which he then throws at a helicopter. These are the kind of things that are happening in my head all the time.

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