A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

The Incredible Hulk (2008)

October 20, 2010

The Incredible Hulk

Back in 2008 Marvel started a bold experiment. They decided to stop licensing their properties so other studios could make movies based on iconic Marvel characters and started their own movie studio. The future of this grand endeavour relied on a pair of big profile summer movies that combined well known Hollywood talent with the best special effects that money could buy. One featured the slightly lesser-know character of Iron Man and was a smash hit which launched a new franchise and is being leveraged even now to create an entire new continuity in the Marvel universe. The other was an attempt to re-launch the film career of one of Marvel’s biggest (no pun intended) characters.

It’s important to remember that this movie is not a sequel to the 2003 Ang Lee Hulk. It might seem to be since the same characters are in this movie and this one takes place later in the continuity of the Hulk story. This movie chose to forgo the origin story and covers most of the same ground as the 2003 Hulk with a sort of visual presentation of “last week on Hulk” during the opening credits. The big distinction between the two films is that here Betty appears to have been wounded during Bruce’s first major Hulk episode at the lab, which might have provided some good fuel for a sympathetic bent on General Ross if the movie had chosen to go that route. (It doesn’t.)

Instead of taking cues from the first movie (which I have already said I feel is a pretty good movie and doesn’t deserve all the bad press it gets) this movie tries to cater to fans of the old seventies television show. During the opening credits they use the shot of Bruce Banner with the green reticule on his face from the TV show opening credits. At one point as a dejected and destitute Bruce walks down a city street the Bruce Banner theme from the TV show plays. They even work in a cameo by Lou Ferrigno and a very brief television appearance by the late Bill Bixby. The first half or so of the movie is just a big budget episode of the old show. Bruce befriends a comely factory worker who is set upon by loutish thugs and tries to protect her from them. Ross shows up and tries to capture him. He Hulks out and beats up the louts and the army but eventually has to leave behind the tenuous new life he has found for himself. I’m pretty sure I saw that episode at least two or three times on TV in the eighties. There’s also his search for a cure. I remember seeing the episode where he thinks he’s found a cure but needs to abandon it so he can give in to the Hulk and save someone he cares about a few times too.

What this movie tries to add to that formula is the presence of Emil Blonsky, an army thug who gets hopped up on some leftover Captain America serum and then on some Hulk blood and becomes a sort of anti-Hulk Abomination. It’s all telegraphed from a million miles away and lumbers, Hulk like, towards its inevitable conclusion. The Abomination is bigger and meaner than the Hulk and wants only to fight and destroy things. I know that the film makers were just looking for a suitable foe to pit the Hulk against, and I appreciate that they kept mostly to comic book cannon in their choices, but the whole movie just ends up feeling flat for me. Eventually it devolves into all-digital WWE style fisticuffs between the Hulk and the Abomination. There’s a whole lot of noise and thrashing and two huge meaty guys beating savagely on each other and I’ve just stopped caring.

There’s a whole lot of interesting subtext to work with in these characters. Ross could be trying to stop the Hulk because he cares about protecting his daughter – even though his every act just enrages her and makes her distrust him more. The tortured character of the doomed Bruce Banner is the stuff of great stories. This movie even has some moments that feel drawn from Bride of Frankenstein with the monster Hulk showing some tenderness to Betty. But none of that is where this movie wants to go, and I think it’s lessened because of it. (I don’t even like the design of the Hulk in this movie. From his stupid haircut to his overly-muscled and veign covered physique I feel he’s more of a warning about the dangers of steroid use than a legitimately unstoppable force of nature and manifestation of long-contained rage like he was in Lee’s Hulk.)

It should be noted that Edward Norton made a lot of noise before the film came out about how disappointed he was in it as well. Apparently he had a vision of how his performance as Banner would work in the scheme of the film and didn’t feel that it worked in the cut of the movie that made it to theaters. I hold out hope that someday years from now there will be a radically different “Norton Cut” of this movie like the “Donner Cut” of Superman II.

I feel like I should say something about the cast they brought together for this movie, but I don’t quite know what. Liv Tyler is adequate as Betty Ross, but she’s just not as powerful an actress as Jennifer Connelly and feels like she’s got less to work with anyhow. William Hurt is one of my favorite actors but seems totally wasted on the single-minded warmonger they’ve made General Ross into in this movie. Edward Norton is fantastic, and as I said I’d really like to see the movie he thought he was making. Tim Roth as Blonsky delivers probably the most passionate performance in the film and makes a pretty compelling bad-guy until he is replaced by a digital muscle man.

I don’t hate this movie. It’s okay in its own sort of lumbering way. I just don’t feel like it had anything original to say or any compelling reason to exist except to put cheeks on seats in movie theaters one summer. It’s a competently made cookie-cutter PG rated summer action movie. On a level, say, with the G.I. Joe movie for example. But it doesn’t capture my imagination or inspire me or even interest me much. It kept me awake for a couple hours tonight and that’s about it. Kind of sad, considering the talent involved in making it. Thank goodness for Iron Man.

October 20, 2010 - Posted by | daily reviews | , ,

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