The Incredible Hulk (Movie) Review
As far as Hulk movies go, I’m in the minority that enjoyed Ang Lee’s 2003 “Hulk.” I’m also likely in the minority as someone who enjoyed the Ang Lee version more than the current Louis Leterrier-directed “The Incredible Hulk”currently in theaters.
It isn’t that this version of The Hulk is bad, per se. There are two problems with it: a certain hollow feeling while watching it and some lackluster special effects.
To the hollow feeling, well, let’s be honest. A lot of the original Hulk comics aren’t a whole lot more than “Hulk see strange monster,”followed by “Hulk Smash!” There was a lot of “monster of the month”in the old Hulk comics and a lot of the more interesting material was when issues of psychology and personality were raised, much later on in the series. Ang Lee delved into that quite a bit, creating a strange hybrid of art house flick and action movie.
Leterrier, almost certainly at the direct request of Marvel Studios, goes action first with this film. There are, however, empty spaces where a little more character development and psychological exploration look like they could have been omitted. While watching the film, I recalled the media accounts of star and rumored co-writer Ed Norton pitching a fit that various scenes weren’t included. Indeed there are already rumors swirling of cut scenes and an extra 20 minutes or so earmarked for the DVD. It makes me wonder if character development was sacrificed to bring the film in under two hours.
Then there’s the CGI. Computer graphics have done amazing things in the 5 years since the first Hulk movie came out. Peter Jackson’s made very good use of such things with the Lord of the Rings Trilogy and King Kong. With those films setting the bar for a computer animated character, the Hulk, himself, fell flat to me. The texture of the creature didn’t seem real enough, in the context of actors and heavy equipment. More like a slightly more three-dimensional player from Roger Rabbit. It also didn’t help that there wasn’t much work done on the character of the Hulk. The Hulk has had several personalities over the years. Sometimes he’s essentially a big kid, sometimes a wild beast, occassionally he has Bruce Banner’s intellect, once he was an enforcer for the Vegas mob. Here, it’s either the wild beast or big kid, but you’re not quite sure which. A little more personality is more interesting.
The Abomination fared much the same, though at least someone had the good sense to make that monster green, rather than the pale flesh color from the trailers. Amusingly, there’s a line where a soldier asks which monster they’re trying to help only to be told they’re siding with the green one. Oops, they’re both green in the final print.
Worse, the animation is lack luster. The Hulk spends too much time striking a pose and howling in anger. Yes, that’s nice the first time, but anything past 3 times and it’s a yawn. The inclination of the hulk to smash machinery into some sort of combination shield/boxing glove is confusing the first time and boring the second. What makes for an exciting fight between two gamma-radiation powered creatures? How about them charging each other? Kinda boring. A little more imagination in choreographing the final battle would have raised my opinion of the movie a lot. The best action sequences in a Hulk movie should be Bruce Banner running from an army hit squad (though those were very well done).
Then there’s another bit from the Batman Begins template Marvel seems to be using, where they have to foreshadow the villain for the next film, but I’ll get to that after spoilers. Getting. Predictable.
Don’t get me wrong. Much of what was left, that being the parts with live actors, was perfectly enjoyable. William Hurt stood out, especially, as General Thunderbolt Ross. It just felt like there had been a bit too much trimmed. Worth a matinee. Maybe full price if you a lot of things blowing up in your movies, but personally, I’d wait for the extended DVD.
The most interesting part of the film, however, is the world-building going on, as Marvel continues to weave the tapestry of their comic book universe into a universe shared between their films, but to discuss that, we must first leave a little space for those who wish to avoid spoilers…
When last we left the Marvel film universe in Iron Man, we’d been introduced to 2 re-occurring characters and a concept. Iron Man/Tony Stark, Nick Fury superspy and head of the intelligence agency SHIELD, which would be the reoccurring concept.
As the film opens, we see the military interfacing with SHIELD computers to track down the missing Bruce Banner. No Nick Fury, but a reasonable amount of SHIELD references.
Then there’s the Captain America Easter Eggs. In this version of the Hulk, the government project that spawned ‘ole green eyes is linked to the super-soldier serum/project from World War II. Comic book readers will recognize this as the origin of Captain America. Indeed, when Emil Blonsky is injected with the super-soldier serum, not only is their a tag on the canister identifying it as coming from Dr. Reinstein, the scientist in the Captain America comics, Blonsky starts jumping around like Captain America.
Supposedly, there’s a rumored deleted scene where Banner is in the artic contemplating suicide and meets Captain America. If so, perhaps that will show up on the DVD. No two ways about it, they’re definitely laying teasers for the upcoming Captain America movie.
The final bit of world building is the Iron Man cross-over, where Tony Stark (yes, Robert Downey, Jr.) turns up and tells General Ross that they’re putting together a team, further establishing inter-film continuity and foreshadowing The Avengers movie a few years down the road.
Speaking of foreshadowing, a device in danger of being overused in the super hero genre, just as Batman Begins foreshadowed the coming of the Joker, and Iron Man foreshadowed the appearance of The Mandarin, this film foreshadows the presumptive next Hulk villain, the leader, showing the mutation starting but then cutting away to save it for next time. Samuel Sterns, yes, you knew that was coming. Just like you knew something bad was going to happen to the blood sample when you saw the Mr. Blue and Mr. Green computer chats, lifted from the Bruce Jones run on the comic.
This begs the question, when the Punisher film comes out, who can they possibly foreshadow as a villain for Punisher 3?
As long as we’re in the spoiler section, its also worth mentioning the hoops the writers jumped through to take the Hulk out of the cold war. Banner was originally working on a better version of a nuclear bomb, now he’s working on a variation of the super soldier serum and put in a chair reminiscent of the Bill Bixby/Lou Ferigno TV series. Blonsky was originally a Russian spy, now he’s British special Forces, but born in Russia. It works out well enough, but the change is fairly drastic in dynamics.
As the continuity builds up, it looks like Marvel Studios is doing a good job setting up an actual shared universe between the characters in their various films. That’s something that could easily be botched, but so far, the interconnectedness has been spot-on.