by Mel Valentin
Marvel Studiosí second release in as many months, "The Incredible Hulk" is a reboot, a sequel, a semi-sequel (or if you prefer a requel) to the 2003 adaptation of the Marvel Comics character directed by Ang Lee ("Lust, Caution," "Brokeback Mountain," "The Ice Storm"), "Hulk." Ambitious but flawed, the "Hulk" fared poorly with film critics and, more importantly, audiences. Audiences seemed uninterested in Leeís preference for psychological realism and family drama over action and humor. Directed by Louis Leterrier ("Unleashed," "Transporter I and II"), "The Incredible Hulk" rectifies that problem (or the perception of a problem) by de-emphasizing the romantic angle and turning "The Incredible Hulk" into an extended chase sequence divided into three major, CGI-heavy set pieces.Zak Penn's (X-Men: The Last Stand, Electra, Suspect Zero, X2: X-Men United) screenplay (Edward Norton provided an uncredited rewrite) mixes elements from the comic book series created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, Hulk: Gray, a comic book miniseries written by Jeph Loeb and illustrated by Tim Sale, and the TV series that starred Bill Bixby as David (not Bruce) Banner and Lou Ferrigno as the Hulk. The Incredible Hulk kicks off with a three-minute montage that serves as a new iteration of the ďorigin storyĒ for Bruce Banner (Norton) and the (all-new, all-CGI) Hulk, complete with callbacks to the TV series and ending with Banner/the Hulk on the run from Gen. Thaddeus 'Thunderbolt' Ross (William Hurt), who wants to harness the Hulkís powers into a super-soldier program and estranged from Rossí daughter, Betty (Liv Tyler).
"Everything the first film should have been, but wasn't."
Banner now lives quietly in a favela (a slum) in Brazil, works at a bottling plant doing manual labor and, on occasion, applying his big brain to keeping the bottling plant functioning when aging equipment breaks down. Between studying capoiera to help him control his rage (which in turn, frees the Hulk) and exchanging e-mails with a scientist or researcher who only identifies himself as Mr. Blue, Banner hopes to find a cure for the Hulk. He doesnít, of course, not with General Rossí extraction team, led by a Russian-born, British solider on an exchange program with an extraction team led by Emil Blonsky (Tim Roth) dropping in for a visit.
Banner decides the only way to obtain a ďcureĒ is through the data collected during the gamma radiation accident that initially led to the emergence of the Hulk. Getting that information, however, involves visiting and contacting Betty, a cellular biology professor in Virginia. Bettyís new lover, Leonard Samson (Ty Burrell), complicates their already strained reunion. General Ross, of course, isnít far behind. At a major disadvantage, agrees to allow Blonsky to inject himself with the latest version of the super-soldier serum. The best laid plans of generals and aging soldiers goes awry, with Banner forced to face Blonsky (or what Blonsky) becomes as the Hulk.
The Incredible Hulk plays out like an episode of the TV series, with Banner constantly on the run, hiding under an assumed identity, acting the hero on occasion, discovered by accident or on purpose, turning into the Hulk when heís confronted by various villains or the military, causing massive destruction, then fleeing into the night (usually), before picking up again in a different town and a new set of supporting characters. Leterrier and his producers even go as far as quoting the TV series melancholy score as one of several, obvious callbacks. Others include the similar looking lab equipment in the opening montage, Bannerís catch phrase (ďYou wouldnít like me when Iím angry.Ē), and Bannerís eyes going green moments before he turns into the Hulk. That leaves the first filmís family melodrama relegated to another, alternate universe, something most fans wonít complain about.
With such a simple throughline, Bannerís character arc is limited to searching for a cure to stop the Hulk from emerging to channeling the Hulk for the greater good (maybe). He also has to reconnect with Betty while circumventing her new relationship. To Penn and Nortonís credit, the romantic subplot feels completely organic, even reaching the occasional moment of pathos when Betty, playing Beauty to the Hulkís Beast, soothes him with her presence and calming words. That leaves General Ross, eager to duplicate and control Bannerís powers as the Hulk, as the real villain in The Incredible Hulk, but since Ross is merely human, a supervillain the Hulkís equal or better had to step in for the climactic punch-out with the Hulk. He does.
With the Hulk the center of attention in three extended set pieces, including one shot in daylight, audiences will get to see the CGI, digital warts and all. Heís big, heís mean, heís green, heís better defined than his predecessor was five years ago, but all of that gets him only marginally close to verisimilitude (i.e., appearance or closeness to the real world) and any film that depends on a CGI punch-out at the climax loses something, maybe too much, in believability and credibility (e.g., Hellboy). Although Iron Man also features a CGI-punching match for its climax, CGI does far better with mechanical objects than it does with human or human-like characters that require a heightened level of expressiveness. Sadly, thatís the case here.Like "Iron Man," the executives at Marvel Studios were smart enough to select talented actors to fill out key supporting roles (e.g., William Hurt, Tim Roth, Tim Blake Nelson), but the success of "The Incredible Hulk" hangs on Edward Nortonís performance as Bruce Banner (and the CGI Hulk, of course). Norton elevates Banner into an almost tragic figure, the eternal wanderer, fated to act like a hero, but doomed to the life of an outcast. He brings gravitas and pathos to what could have been a whiny, self-absorbed character. Itís to Nortonís credit that we donít notice "The Incredible Hulkís" slender-thin storyline (especially the Mr. Blue subplot) until well after the end credits have rolled. And in case youíre wondering, yes, a brief coda featuring a cameo from another superhero brings Banner and the Hulk into Marvelís shared universe.
link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=17027&reviewer=402
originally posted: 06/13/08 01:43:36