What was wrong with the last Hulk movie, the Ang Lee version? It is a cerebral film about Bruce Banner and his inner demon. It was made by the artist who would go one to win an Oscar for Brokeback Mountain. It is a true comic book movie, using actual panels to tell the story. But it is about Banner, not about The Hulk. The movie is about a man anguished with the inner turmoil of a second personality he cannot control. It is a great story, but it was not what people wanted to see.
How does Marvel fix this perceived failure? First, they hire the guy who directed The Transporter for this version. Then they recast every character in the movie, so there is no trace left of the previous movie to sway audiences into believing it is anything like that attempt. Finally, they pump up the fighting action and lessen the story of the man behind the monster. It’s a simple plan – ignore the story and have a lot of scenes of a monster destroying everything. They created something so different that the audiences who hated the last movie have something they can enjoy – brainless popcorn fare and nonstop action.
The results of this endeavor are as far removed from the last movie as you would expect. And the movie kicks all kinds of ass.
I am a fan of the Ang Lee movie, as I feel it is a rare intelligent comic film that expects the viewers to use their brains instead of turning them off like most summer flicks. This movie takes that other more travelled road and presents a movie where we can sit back with a big dumb smile on our face, check our brains at the door, and watch the carnage as it unfolds on the screen. It is a good companion piece to the Lee film because between the two, you get both Banner’s story and the action expected from a movie starring the Hulk.
The opening credits give a quick rundown of how Banner became the Hulk and then explains that Gen. Ross wants Banner back to dissect him to figure out what makes The Hulk work. He wants to use this knowledge to create a new super weapon. Replacing Eric Bana is Edward Norton. It is a nice step improvement. Although Bana is a fine actor in his own right, Norton is just on another level from the mere mortals that surround him in Hollywood. Gen. Ross is recast as William Hurt, although I would take him or Sam Elliott in the role. It’s a no-lose situation when choosing between these men.
The only real downgrade in acting talent comes in the casting of Liv Tyler as Betty Ross. While The Dark Knight is getting kudos for replacing the amateurish acting of Katie Holmes with the star talent of Maggie Gyllenhaal, The Incredible Hulk goes in the other direction by replacing the wonderful Jennifer Connelly with Tyler. However, Tyler is the only downgrade in talent. The always fantastic Tim Roth rounds out the main cast as Emil Blonsky, a soldier under Ross’ command who is chosen to face the Hulk.
The action this time around is ridiculous. The film opens with Banner in Chile, where he is communicating online with another scientist trying to help him find a cure for his gamma poisoning. He has gone months without an incident and has undergone training to control his anger. However, he will not be allowed to live in peace as Ross eventually finds him and sends in a team to capture and arrest Banner. Banner becomes the Hulk and the movie kicks into high gear.
Highlights include an all out battle between Hulk and Ross’ military forces, where they bring out all the firepower you could ever imagine and still can’t stop the behemoth. The crazy battles and fight scenes that viewers of the previous movie wanted were delivered in this movie as the Hulk would go face to face with Blonsky’s Abomination. The fight was very similar to the one between Iron Man and The Iron Monger in last month’s hit film, as The Abomination was much larger and stronger than The Hulk. It was a great end to a fun, rollercoaster ride of a movie.
The animation was a step up from the Ang Lee film. The Hulk seemed more realistically rendered this time around, and less like the video game character that the last movie presented. The Abomination was also well done, almost a phlegm colored prehistoric creature. The battle scenes were shot in the haphazard, dizzying style that seems to be the fashion these days, although I find the quick camera movements make it hard to follow the action. The fight between The Hulk and The Abomination in the streets of New York City was incredible. I have to give kudos to the animation team, who stepped up and delivered in a big way this time around.
For geeks, there were so many cool things to pick up on. Mentions of S.H.I.E.L.D., Nick Fury and Dr. Sampson were peppered through the film. The music from the classic television show even plays at one point. There is the normal Stan Lee cameo, as well as a character named Stanley. Lou Ferrigno has the same cameo as the last film, as a security guard, but in a really nice touch he also voices The Hulk. Yeah, you read that right, The Hulk speaks and it is his best known catch phrase. I am sure most of you are aware of the cameo at the end of the movie, similar to the one that came after the credits of Iron Man. I won’t mention who it is with, for those who have not seen it yet, but I loved it.
Edward Norton is said to be unhappy with the final cut of the movie. I would assume the reason is because the movie ended up being about a big green monster and not the man behind the mask. Banner gets little character development, a very small amount of dialogue, and is there only as a backdrop to the main story. This is a less cerebral film than the Ang Lee version, but that is what they were aiming for. It’s not as good as Iron Man, but for a summer blockbuster about a giant green monster, it is about as good as you could ever expect. With this movie, Marvel is two-for-two.
Now the long wait is on for the next chapter in the story that will eventually lead to The Avengers. I’ll mention here that this film introduced the Super Soldier Serum, which for those out of the comic loop, is what created Captain America during World War II. With Captain America coming in 2011, Marvel continues to tie its movies together. It’s a great time to be a comic book fan.