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Wednesday, July 16, 2008

REVIEW - "The Incredible Hulk" (2008)

In 2003 Ang Lee’s “Hulk” was released to the world with mixed reactions. Some felt it was a smart movie that took the character to a more believable height. Others felt it was a massive insult to the character and a poor comic book adaptation. Regardless, Marvel felt it was necessary to hit the restart button on the Hulk. The result is not a massive film that will blow people’s minds, like “Iron Man,” but it does give the Hulk a little more direction than the previous movie. Unlike Ang Lee’s film, this movie gives the Hulk some intelligence and a character of his own. The result leaves a prominent question within the film: Does Bruce Banner still exist within the Hulk? Or is the Hulk a completely separate being using Banner as a host?

The movie is hardly an origin story. It only shows brief flashback’s to Bruce Banner’s initial transformation and escape. Banner, played by co-writer Edward Norton, is shown hiding from the U.S. military’s darkest and most secretive division. General Ross (William Hurt), the person behind Banner’s alter ego, is obsessed with finding the man he considers “property of the U.S. government” and prodding the secrets of the beast out of him. The hunt forces Banner in to desperation and his search to get rid of his “Hulk” leads him back to ex-love interest Betty Ross. It’s a race for General Ross to find the Hulk, and for Banner to get rid of it.

Rather than using the Hulk as an uninteresting, soulless piece of CGI, (i.e. Ang Lee’s film) the big guy takes on a personality of his own. He even says a couple of words! (Fans will dig that.) Although, with the advent of a distinct Hulk there’s still an uncertainty that Banner is conscious within. He notes it feels like he’s experiencing an acid trip during the transformation— He remembers very little. Betty believes there’s still an inkling of Banner when the Hulk takes over; from there the possibility of controlling the beast is mused over until the very last shot of Norton. Does he end up controlling it? It’s an interesting cliffhanger and worth exploring for any future installments.

In the meantime we have Banner, a man struggling to keep the beast caged and scouting the world for a way to get rid of it. The Hulk is seemingly mindless and destructive in contrast, but his care for Betty indicates the possibility that Banner may have some influence over the beast. It’s important to treat Banner and Hulk as two characters in this film because that’s how the script treats them. It’s absolutely riveting the way this movie portrays the main character(s). The way it works makes them so much more interesting; I just wish it were explored further.

Betty’s character is decidedly underused in this movie compared to the version in Ang Lee’s film. Though it’s a disappointing move, she’s onscreen enough to make a difference. One of my favorite scenes is when she sees Bruce at a restaurant for the first time in years. The way the scene is shot is so shockingly well done that I have to wonder how many takes it took to get the perfect reaction from Liv Tyler and Edward Norton. These two never seem to lose chemistry with each other. Yes, there are a few cheesy scenes concerning the couple, but nothing unhinges the belief that they love one another. (No matter how unrealistic their irrational decisions are in this movie.)

Of course the big difference between this film and Ang Lee’s is the villain. While Tim Roth always makes a good villain, I felt that his inclusion is where the movie falls to pieces. Why did General Ross decide to test the super soldier serum on him? He hardly knows the guy. And while the character’s physical transformation throughout the movie was interesting, his obsession with becoming stronger was poorly fleshed out. It’s not like William Hurt didn’t do a fine job as a heartless General Ross anyway. But of course it’s way more fun to watch two Hulk-like monsters slugging the crap out of each other and I must admit that if there is an action sequence to see this summer it is Hulk vs. Abomination. It’s not too long, it’s not too much, but it’s a lot of fun!

In the end that’s what it really comes down too; “The Incredible Hulk” is fun. I enjoyed the look in to Banner/Hulk’s characters a lot, but the jokes, the action and the characters’ mingling personalities are what make this thing. Hulk’s battle against military vehicles, including helicopters, was astounding. And Banner’s free fall to the final battle is as exciting as it is funny. (Although the CGI isn’t top notch, it doesn’t really distract from the film either.) I also might as well mention Robert Downey Jr.’s cameo as Tony Stark. Just as I predicted, he alluded to the Avenger movie slated for a 2011 release. Marvel fans rejoice.

“The Incredible Hulk” isn’t incredible, but it’s quite good. I’ve heard a lot of stuff was cut from this film and the DVD will feature a director’s cut of some sort. It’s just a rumor, but an exciting one as far as I’m concerned. “The Incredible Hulk” is a very fun, and thoughtful, piece of summer action. It’s no “Iron Man,” but it’s proof that Marvel knows what they’re doing.

*** out of ****

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