The Incredible Hulk (8/10)

A big green monster stomping around smashing into things means absolutely nothing if the viewer can’t identify with what lies beneath the surface of that monster, and in the new, bigger, better, badder Incredible Hulk, Edward Norton gives us the perfect performance with which to identify before he goes into rage mode. It’s the strongest thing about an already strong movie, one that successfully continues this superhero summer after the homerun of Iron Man.

I was one of the few people who really appreciated what Ang Lee tried to do with the original Hulk back in 2003. He wanted to give us a superhero movie that was as much about the human drama as it was about the superpowers. Unfortunately for him, it got caught up in some rather bloated acting scenes, and way too little smashing. Let’s face it – when you go to see a movie entitled, “Hulk,” you want to see one or two things being tossed around, and possibly even the Hulk breaking a police car in two and using them as boxing gloves, but no, we didn’t get that.

Louis Leterrier, the director, whose previous credits include the Transporter films and Jet Li’s fumble, “Unleashed,” didn’t exactly have me all fired up with excitement. I was looking forward to it with a tinge of apprehension, and thankfully, Leterrier more than outdid himself, easily surpassing anything else he’s ever done and placing himself squarely alongside Iron Man’s helm-meister Jon Favreau as a superior superhero director. The Incredible Hulk is more gritty and rough around the edges, as opposed to Iron Man’s sleekly polished shine, but that suits its central character perfectly, and the result is a smash-fest that will leave viewers excited for more.

Any relation to the previous movie is done away with, as we learn, through a series of flashing images, that an experiment went horribly wrong and forced Dr. Bruce Banner to flee the US army and take refuge in South America, where he’s been hiding for the past five years, perfecting calming techniques so as to never let the Hulk take over again. The plot details are kind of hazy within the first half hour – Leterrier doesn’t take us the traditional route of superpower origin story, and refuses to lead his audience along like a poor puppy dog on a leash – this is a fast and brutal story and within fifteen or twenty minutes we’re treated to our first Hulk sighting as the army discovers Banner’s location and sends in a team after him.

Because so little time is spent before we see the big smashing green thing, we need a solid central character around whom the conflict can be centered, and, with marvelous conservation of energy and a minimum of scenes, Leterrier gives us that in the form of Edward Norton, whose earnest belief that he must never again let this green monster overtake his body succeeds in pulling the audience with him through these episodes of anger. When we see him transform into the Hulk, our heart breaks along with his, because we know how hard he has worked to never let the Hulk overtake him again. There’s finally an energy and heart inside this big lug, and the superb CGI overtakes Ang Lee’s version by leaps and bounds (pun intended). Leterrier makes the Hulk a much more realistic character (as realistic as any ten foot tall green muscular beast can be), who bleeds, gets cut, and has rippling biceps that would make Ah-nold salivate with envy. He is one bad-ass mother, but he’s centralized around Dr. Bruce Banner’s trials and tribulations, and it works.

Obviously, because one of the main complaints of the first film was not enough action, Leterrier makes sure to gives us plenty of what we crave, and some of the action scenes in this movie rank among the best in Marvel movie history. Leterrier manages to take what could essentially be a giant green galoot randomly smashing things and transforms it into a two ton ballet of fists and metal crashing into each other to ridiculous results. Moreso than the miminalistic and futurustic Iron Man, the Hulk is a true summer movie, complete with liberal explosions, monsters crashing into each other to spectacular, literally earth-shattering results, and a strong central story thread running throughout.

The film is not without its weaknesses. The central love story between Dr. Banner and the general’s daughter, Betty Ross (Liv Tyler), is seriously malnourished, and though Norton and Tyler share nearly electrifying chemistry in a scene or two, it’s not enough to save what often comes off as contrived cheese. At one point the Hulk actually says the name, “Betty” out loud, and I had to struggle not to laugh. William Hurt as the general who is pursuing the Hulk, as well as Betty Ross’s father, is competent and admirable, and he brings some much needed heart to the side story of the struggle between Betty and her dad. Tim Roth as the increasingly depraved villain (an army commander who becomes jealous of the Hulk’s powers and tries to find ways to achieve superhuman strength), unfortunately never comes off as anything more than a caricature, but damn, what a caricature! He’s deliciously creepy and his developing insanity throughout the film is pulled off masterfully, but the script he’s handed is just not much to work with. This movie is clearly about Bruce Banner, and it doesn’t waste much time developing the humanity of others.

In the future, the first decade of the 21st century might come to be known as the comic book movie decade, and rightfully so. This is a great time to be alive if you’re a comic book fan, and this new Hulk continues the successful trend of superhero movies. That, and Marvel is clearly dropping hints into their movies about a potential mash-up movie in the future, and if, like me, one of the things you miss in comic book movies is how, in the original comics, Spider-Man talked to Daredevil while chilling with Johnny Storm, then it’s even more thrilling. This is a comic book movie for comic book fans, and chances are if you liked previous Marvel movies, you’ll love this one. It has its frayed edges and gritty exterior, but that’s part of its appeal, and as long as a few hundreds tons of concrete, glass, and metal get destroyed as a result of this big green dude’s antics, who really cares?

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One Response to “The Incredible Hulk (8/10)”

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