A film review by Craig J. Koban
THE INCREDIBLE HULK
2008, PG-13, 117 mins.
2008, PG-13, 117 mins.
Bruce Banner/Hulk: Edward Norton / Betty Ross: Liv Tyler / Emil
Blonsky: Tim Roth / Sterns: Tim Blake Nelson / Gen. Ross: William
Hurt / Voice of Hulk: Lou Ferrigno
I grew older I think that my tastes in comic book heroes graduated into
ones that had more emotional and psychological weight.
Batman and Spider-man appealed to the maturer reader in me because I
saw them as spandex clad personas that had introspective and well-written
alter egos. There was
depth to these heroes underneath their masks, which is what consequently
allowed for them to resonate with me that much more.
Comics’ The Incredible Hulk has always tapped into the inner, less
demanding child reader buried within myself.
This near fifty-year old Stan Lee and Jack Kirby creation was always one of my favorites as a very young reader because his stories
were less intricate and demanding. Some
of my greatest pleasures as a tyke were grabbing my issues of Hulk and
seeing just how much damage this gigantic, gamma ray induced monster could
unleash in all of his monstrous, smashing glory.
course, as a much older reader I was able to discern that this otherwise
one-note “hero” (let’s face it, Hulk never emoted much, nor did he
have much of a personality) had
some sophistication in inception: He was a curious Pop Art-aged blend of the
stories of King Kong and Beauty and the Beast, while maintaining the
disturbing turmoil of Jekyll and Hyde.
Yet, as much substance as I would later read into Dr. Bruce Banner’s
gruesome, green skinned half of his duplicitous personality, I will
forever remember Hulk as a startling brute force hero that rampaged his
way through his adversaries.
Leterrier’s THE INCREDIBLE HULK understands this implicitly.
His film version of the character harkens back to my pre-adolescent
days of marveling at the comic book panels of the Hulk annihilating villains
and causing unparalleled destruction in his path.
To label this new adaptation of the comic source material as being
“mindless” in its approach and handling of the character is a bit redundant. Those critics miss the point entirely.
film version understands the more simplistic, rudimentary and satisfying
foundations of the character, which has always been steeped in bold and
exciting spectacle and larger-than-life action set pieces.
Individual moments in the film made me fondly reflect on a more
innocent time when seeing the sight of this behemoth smash his way
through…everything….was just about the most gratifying fixation
Leterrier’s HULK is bombastically noisy, visually chaotic, and crushingly
a result...it shows its keen understanding the source comic.
my appreciation here for this Hulk’s more tantrum-heavy and pulverizing-centric behavior in the film should not be considered a sleight against
the first major HULK film,
directed by Oscar winner Ang Lee. That
2003 effort was profanely chastised – and very unfairly so – by a
majority of Hulk fans, maybe because, deep down, they did not want an
inquisitive and multifaceted expose on the character that felt more
comfortable with looking at the psychological foundations of his dual
personality. That film also
had its share of wholly satisfying Hulk devastation, but Lee took a daring
approach and invested more of his time diving into origins of the
character, which also manifested itself into a fairly touching and tragic father/son tragedy.
HULK’s prominence with its brooding and melancholic focus of the hero
– bringing the character to untapped dramatic gravitas and poignancy –
made it a very memorable and welcome change of pace for an otherwise
summer popcorn flick. That,
combined with Lee’s ingenious usage of split screen editing (this film
is still one of the better ones to capture the visual grammar and syntax of
comic books), made Lee’s HULK marvelously stand apart, despite its unfair
moniker as a “failure” (most critics loved Lee’s version, and the
film grossed $250 million worldwide, which stretches the definition of
“failure”, I guess).
I think the bad taste that Lee’s efforts permeated in the mouths of Hulk
fans was that his Hulk didn’t capture the more straightforward essence
of the comic books. That’s
where Leterrier’s version comes in. It should be noted that THE INCREDIBLE HULK is not – I
repeat, not – a direct sequel to Lee’s version.
Instead of continuing Lee’s unpopular aesthetic choices and style
and the film’s story, this new Hulk is essentially a one-shot, a reboot, a drastic redefining of the character
(it’s no where near a sequel to 2003’s HULK as BATMAN BEGINS
was a sequel to BATMAN AND ROBIN). The
film maintains most of the same characters, but has recast all of them,
and the underlining premise of the military wanting to capture Dr. Banner
is still here. Yet,
everything is decidedly different here.
the I-HULK (as I will abbreviate it from here on) does not waste time by
telling another origin story. Amazingly, it does completely provide a whole new origin for
how the Hulk came to be (which bares striking resemblance to the old 70's Lou
Ferrigno/Bill Bixby TV show) and it does so in a nifty three-minute
credit montage sequence. This
is both a blessing and a small curse, in a way, seeing as by avoiding
honing in on the origin allows for fast forward momentum in the story, but
it also negatively deters from any serious and tangible character
development. Compared to
Lee’s HULK, the people that populate I-HULK feel pretty sub-standard
and weakly defined.
this HULK is a slim, trim, and fairly well oiled action film that does not
stop and look back. After that neat credit/origin sequence we are transported to
South America where we see Dr. Banner (Ed Norton, in fine form) who is in
hiding from the US military after his experiments with them to create
better soldiers went disastrously wrong and created one big green menace.
that he just can’t keep hulkin’ out every time he gets upset or excited (in one sly scene, even foreplay could transform him from
mild-mannered scientist to green giant…damn!), Bruce desperately tries
to stay in hiding so he can find a cure for his rather large problem.
Yet, he has another problem in the form of gung ho General Ross
(William Hurt, displaying a grizzled charisma with an otherwise bit part),
who tries to hunt down the fugitive doctor and capture him.
Ross feels the Banner is now the property of the US government and has
more diabolical plans to use his research to create an army of super men
(although, how having a whole squadron of rampaging hulks would be a
practical benefit is beyond me).
has an ace up his sleeve, of sorts, in the form of the tough and immoral Emil
Blonsky (Tim Roth, snarling his way effectively through this black and white
bad guy role). Blonsky and
company do discover Banner in Rio, which leads to a sensational montage of
shots showing Banner evade perusing military men on the roof tops of the
city. Predictably, they make
Banner “angry” (don’t they know that this is a no-no?), and all hell
breaks loose, which leads to Bruce/Hulk escaping back to America. While there Bruce re-connects with his former love, Betty (Liv
Tyler, adequate in the minor love-interest damsel in distress role), whom
helps him evade capture. This
is complicated by the fact that Betty is the estranged daughter of the
The dynamic of their bitter relationship is mournfully undeveloped,
compared to the one presented in Lee's HULK.
The dynamic of their bitter relationship is mournfully undeveloped, compared to the one presented in Lee's HULK.
Blonsky is mighty p-oed at his failure, seeing as he does not like to
lose, but General Ross gives him a boost in the form of a top secret 'Super
Soldier' serum that has been placed in cryogenic freeze since WWII (even
lay comic fans can connect the dots here: Captain America was spawned in
the comics from this serum). Further
plot developments – and more genetic manipulation – lead Blonsky to
become the viscous Abomination, a scaly and even more savage beast than
the Hulk himself. This
culminates, of course, with a full-on beast versus beast showdown in the
Big Apple, which demonstrates, especially after the intense carnage the
city suffered in TRANSFORMERS, that New York is the most physically abused
city in the movies.
level of sheer, unapologetic slam-bam intrigue and visceral thrills,
I-HULK is a rousing entertainment. The film has two fantastic action sequences, the first
occurring earlier in the film with Blonsky and Ross’ army trying to stop
Hulk at a university campus with pitiful results and the final climatic
showdown between Abomination and the hero, which is a giddy, fun-filled,
CGI-laced rumble that manages to destroy most of Harlem in the process. Leterrier is no stranger to incredulity-stretching action
films (he made the two gloriously silly and enjoyable TRANSPORTER movies)
and here he uses his decent instincts to bring life to the improbable by
infusing I-HULK with a noisy and visually kinetic punch.
Rhythm and Hues replaced Industrial Light and Magic this go around
in creating the pixelized Hulk, and the results are slightly more
polished. Leterrier’s Hulk
is more agreeably similar looking to his comic book cousin (Lee's Hulk
always looked disagreeably pudgy): There are
shots that do favorably look like Dave Keown’s (one of the greatest of
the recent Hulk artists) splash pages brought to life. Sure, the battle scenes still look cartoonishly artificial,
but the energy of these scenes – and the wallop they create – will
leave comic geeks wetting their collective pants.
anything, I-HULK’s biggest failing is, ironically, its predilection at
showcasing intense action and thrills first and character interaction and
development second. There has
been a very public controversy regarding the film’s running time and
story. Ed Norton, not liking
Zak Penn’s first draft, was given the go-ahead to re-write the draft
altogether, destroying all ties to the 2003 version.
The film released was under two hours, but the film Norton
apparently wanted to release was over 130 minutes, which he claimed had a
nicer balance between character dynamics and drama with Hulk-inspired
mayhem. Marvel Studios, not
wanting to have a fan response relapse that plagued the first film,
pressed for a shorter, more action jammed film, much to Norton’s
chagrin, who later refused to do any publicity for the film.
He later – perhaps as a result of his artistic insolence – was
denied a credit as screenwriter.
seen the film, it’s clear that Norton’s hunch was the right one.
Although I-HULK is resoundingly fun to sit through on the basis of
its titanic, grand-scale escapist thrills (fans of the comic books will
applaud those elements), the film is nevertheless a bit underwhelming on
the basis of its story and characters.
The actors all do solid work in their respective characters, but
some, like Roth’s Blonsky, seem hastily defined and cultivated, and the
film could have honed more in on the troublesome relationship between
Banner, Betty, and her father. I-HULK also seems to speed its way towards
the end credits with perhaps too much hurriedness.
A 135-minute HULK – Norton’s preferred running time – would
have, no doubt, alleviated some of these deficiencies.
However, a future blu-ray release, it has been revealed, may sport
both the theatrical and the Norton-approved versions.
of the film’s inconsistencies, THE INCREDIBLE HULK will undoubtedly
appease comic book fundamentalists that felt that Ang Lee’s reflective
and thoughtful 2003 version was prohibitively wasteful (I am in the
minority for feeling that it was one of the better comic book films of the
current decade). The wiser
and more astute film viewer in me appreciates Lee’s HULK more, but there
is the uncontrolled, hyperactive, and hormonal 12-year-old in me relishes
Leterrier’s choices with this new version, which does a reputable job of
encapsulating the more visceral elements of the classic Hulk comic
stories. Lee’s film is the
better of the two in terms of final product, but Leterrier’s is a closer approximation of the comic.
His HULK resoundingly smashes…and how!