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8 reviews, 37 user ratings

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Incredible Hulk, The (2008)
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Yes, We Have No Bana!"
1 stars

When Ang Lee’s “Hulk” made its debut in 2003, it confounded the expectations of virtually everyone who saw it. Instead of presenting viewers with the kind of utterly anonymous action extravaganza that most viewers had come to expect from the comic-book-based entertainments, he gave them a visually astonishing and surprisingly personal work that allowed him to explore two of the themes that he has consistently explored in his other films--family estrangement and the consequences of emotional repression--within the context of a bold fantasy epic. The only problem is that, as it turned out, most audience members wanted more of the same-old, same-old and when they discovered that Lee refused to supply them with the cinematic junk food that they were hungry for, they rebelled against the film and despite a huge opening weekend and some rapturous reviews, it received horrible word-of-mouth from viewers and was quickly pulled from theaters and dismissed as a flop. When it was announced that Marvel was going to try to attempt another “Hulk” film a couple of years ago, the people in charge took pains to explain to everyone that the film was going to be less of a sequel and more of a total reboot of the franchise that would have virtually nothing to do with the previous film. Well, with “The Incredible Hulk,” the filmmakers certainly accomplished that particular mission--instead of giving us more of the visual poetry, emotional complexity and fascinating stylistic touches of that first film, they have instead given us a thudding dull and dunderheaded piece of product that is generally uninteresting to look at, frequently painful to listen to and a constant insult to all the things that Ang Lee accomplished in his film as well as to everyone who actually enjoyed that one for daring to be different.

On the bright side, at least the opening scenes don’t hold out any sort of false hope that this might be a worthy successor. You know how a lot of sequels to superhero movies will kick off with a brief montage of scenes from the previous films in order to bring viewers who may not necessarily live and breathe these characters up to speed? Well, “The Incredible Hulk” starts off with just that kind of montage but the queer thing is that not only does none of the footage come from the original (not surprising since none of the main actors from that one have been retained this time around) but the bits and pieces are summing up a story that is entirely different from the previous film--this time around, it seems that instead of suffering the side effects of an accidental over-exposure to gamma rays that triggered other things that were already inside him thanks to the cruel experiments of his own father, it turns out that scientist Bruce Banner (Edward Norton) deliberately injected himself with an experimental formula that transformed him into the green-skinned behemoth known as the Hulk, an Ex-Lax-smooth move that put his beloved, Dr. Betty Ross (Liv Tyler) in the hospital and put him on the run, from her father, General Thunderbolt Smith (William Hurt), who was secretly planning on using his results to help form a line of super-soldiers. Anyway, after these inexplicable flashbacks--could they have come from a previously unknown version directed by Renny Harlin?--we pick up with Bruce a few years later in Brazil, where he is working as the sole gringo in a soda pop factory, learning to keep his temper in check and secretly communicating online with a scientific benefactor who is trying to help him reverse the process so that he no longer hulks out. Bruce is so concerned with keeping his identity and whereabouts a secret that when he cuts his finger at the bottling plant where he works, he shuts the entire line down so that he can wipe up the single drop of blood that landed on a conveyor belt so that his gamma-rayed gore can’t betray his whereabouts. Alas, in his haste to clean up this single drop, he somehow manages to overlook the pint of blood that managed to actually land inside one of the bottles before getting capped and shipped out to America.

When the tainted bottle of soda is discovered (no fair revealing who does the discovering, though fans of the films based on Marvel properties can probably figure it out for themselves), General Ross sends a group of soldiers, led by the highly decorated Emil Blonsky (Tim Roth), in to bring Bruce back, a move that leads to his inevitable transformation and rampage in a sequence that is staged mostly in shadow--a bit of an odd move since everyone going into the film pretty much knows exactly what the Hulk looks like. The pursuit continues in America but before going into battle again, Blonsky wants a better idea of what he is up against and Ross, who has apparently retained nothing, decides to inject him with material left over from those previous experiments that allow him to become stronger, faster and more alert. Meanwhile, Bruce reunite with Betty--I won’t go into details except to note that the circumstance do involve a kindly old Italian pizza vendor who seems convinced that he is the reincarnation of Jack Warden--but before he can get away, Ross and his men ambush them on the grounds of a local college in a wild battle that results in Hulk heading for the hills with Betty in tow, a newly powerful Blonsky pushing his luck a little too far and becoming gravely injured (at least temporarily) and enough explosions and property damage to the campus to inspired a double-CD of protest songs from Neil Young. Our heroes make their way to New York to visit a scientist (Tim Blake Nelson) who seems to have devised a cure for Banner’s condition but wouldn’t you know it, the minute that he undergoes it and seems to be all better, he is captured by Ross; men and Blonsky suddenly mutates into the jumbo-sized mutant Abomination and goes on a rampage on the streets of Harlem. Whether Banner manages to retain his powers in order to save the day is something that I will leave for you to discover, except to note that if this movie didn’t climax with two CGI creatures whomping the stuffing out of each other, audiences would most likely been even more peeved with it than they were with the first one.

As someone who really loved Ang Lee’s take on the story--in fact, I would put it up there with “Batman Begins” and “Spider-Man 2” as the best of the recent wave of superhero epics--I went into “The Incredible Hulk” resigned to the fact that the things that I treasured most about that film (the surprisingly emotional core story, the method in which Lee managed to evoke the panel-to-panel storytelling style of the old comic books and that defiantly strange finale, arguably the most bizarre climax to a big-budget mass entertainment since “The Black Hole”) were not likely to crop up this time around as they were the exact things that most audiences rebelled against back then. That said, I still went into the screening with some degree of anticipation based on the fact that the B-team assembled this time around wasn’t exactly shabby--Edward Norton, Liv Tyler, William Hurt and Tim Roth are all reliable performers and while director Louis Leterrier may seem like a huge step down from Ang Lee, the action spectaculars that he previously directed for Luc Besson (the “Transporter” films and “Unleashed”) contained plenty of style, energy and goofball charm. However, that anticipation began to slip away right at the start with the advent of those ridiculous and revisionist opening flashbacks (apparently harkening back to the film that Universal Pictures wished they had released in hindsight) and it completely disappeared once I realized that the story was going to be nothing more than a more elaborate version of the crappy old 1970’s TV series (even going so far as to deploy the show’s familiar musical theme as well as a bit of film footage of Bill Bixby in action and Lou Ferrigno in a dual cameo role)--Banner turns up in some far-flung locations hoping to lay low and/or find a cure for his sickness, transforms into the Hulk and busts stuff up after either getting into a scrape or being discovered by Ross’ men and then mournfully takes off to begin the cycle anew. Maybe I’m crazy, but with all the talent and resources that were assembled here to make a “Hulk” film, don’t you wish that screenwriter Zak Penn (whose previous stabs at superhero screenplays have resulted in the less-than-memorable likes of “Elektra” and “X-Men: The Last Stand”) could have come up with something slightly more inventive than yet another run through the template of the old “Fugitive” TV show? (It is especially ironic to discover that Norton has been claiming that he deserves credit for co-writing the film since this is the kind of screenplay that most self-respecting writers would be fighting to keep their names off of)

Then again, it is hard to completely fault Penn for slacking off in his department since no one else involved with the film seems to have made much of an effort either. The performances are universally grim and joyless and lacking even the vaguest signs of life or energy. Norton hasn’t turned in a performance this uninteresting since “The Italian Job” (and that was at least partially excused by the fact that he was apparently doing that film under duress), Tyler goes through the entire film with the same expression of dull surprise that suggests that has been studying at the Kathy Ireland School of Acting, Roth seems so disinterested with the proceedings that he seems to be occasionally winging in from another movie and all of the laughably miscast Hurt’s character development seems to have been channeled into his silly moustache, perhaps in an effort to distract viewers from questioning the wisdom of any military branch addled enough to promote the likes of William Hurt to a position of high command. The special effects are also wildly unimpressive as well. Perhaps the one legitimate complaint of that first film was that the CGI used to bring the central character to life was somewhat dodgy but even with several years to work on improvements, Hulk 2.0 is even less convincing that the original model--he always comes across as a cartoon instead of as a real thing sharing space with the flesh-and-blood actors. Even the big action sequences seen here come across as surprisingly puny and uninteresting--of the three major rampages, the opening warehouse fracas is shot in such darkness that you can barely discern what is going on, the campus battle is a chaotic mess in which we never get any real sense of where anyone is in relation to anyone else and the finale in which Hulk and Abomination clash on the streets of Harlem is long and noisy and so devoid of any real excitement (unless you thrill to the sight of two poorly-rendered CGI characters slapping each other around) that I found my attention wandering from the various explosions and exertions in order to focus on the question of why the version of Harlem portrayed here didn’t seem to have any black people in it. (Were they all relocated after the post-”Cloverfield” reconstruction a la New Orleans?) The failure of the film to even work as eye candy is especially surprising since Leterrier has shown a flair for staging beautiful action sequences in his previous films. Of course, with those films, he had Luc Besson looking over his shoulder all the time--if “The Incredible Hulk” does nothing else (and believe me, it doesn’t), it at least stands as proof by default of the high level of artistic control that Besson evidently maintains even on the films that he isn’t officially directing.

There is only one thing about “The Incredible Hulk” that works and it doesn’t come until the very last scene--since it has been long rumored among the fanboy contingent and is being featured in the TV commercials, I feel comfortable in mentioning it, though anyone who hasn’t heard about it and still foolishly wants to see this film is advised to abandon the review at this point. In the scene, a character is sitting in a bar drowning his sorrows when he is visited by none other than Robert Downey Jr. as billionaire industrialist Tony Stark, a.k.a. Iron Man. The scene is fairly inessential--while my knowledge of comic book mythology is admittedly shaky, it appears to be setting up some kind of spin-off or sequel--but even in this short little bit, Downey injects the proceedings with the kind of off-beat energy and humor that his superhero tentpole had in spades and which this one completely lacks and the difference between the two is palpable. When I walked out of “Iron Man” when it was over, I immediately found myself anticipating the all-but-inevitable “Iron Man 2.” When I walked out of “The Incredible Hulk”--okay, “staggered” is probably more like it--I immediately found myself wanting to see “Iron Man” again.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=17027&reviewer=389
originally posted: 06/13/08 00:20:46
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User Comments

3/24/18 morris campbell solid imho better than the 2003 version 4 stars
3/13/16 Charles Tatum Meh, but a good meh. 4 stars
5/04/15 Jack Just awful. Boring and idiotic at the same time. 1 stars
10/18/11 Magic Bland and uninteresting. The first of many Avengers lead-in movies. 3 stars
9/07/11 Ryan if you like this movie,then you have horrible taste,and you'r an idiot 1 stars
9/24/09 george webster Great fun! E. Norton was wonderful! 4 stars
9/23/09 Dr.Lao Enjoyable, but the numerous "in the know" references got eal annoying real fast 4 stars
7/01/09 Jonathan Birch I felt more emotionally attached to Stan Lee's CGI Hulk. He just felt more real. 3 stars
3/16/09 zenny good semi-mindless funzers 4 stars
3/09/09 KingNeutron Liked this one better than Ang Lees version but it could have been edited more. Lots of FF 4 stars
1/07/09 Shaun Wallner Intense Action! 4 stars
10/26/08 VMANIC1 The (Hulk Character) and the fight scenes still look too "cartoonish". 3 stars
10/17/08 AshleyRockO Well made comic book film. Better than the first. Less Story. More Hulk Smash! 5 stars
9/16/08 Oiman wasn't THAT bad, but not very entertaining. 3 stars
8/27/08 Cathy We liked it -- interesting to watch 4 stars
8/05/08 E K Zimmerman Still awkward on the screen, but pretty damn good. 4 stars
8/02/08 markgse I am so glad it's not like the first Hulk movie. This was a winner. 4 stars
7/28/08 Christ Only mentally retarded people will enjoy this piece of crap 1 stars
7/25/08 MCM A nice combo of the comic & the tv show. 4 stars
7/10/08 L. Slusarczyk A LOT better than the first one, but I still miss the TV show! 4 stars
7/07/08 mary m I wasn't sure I wanted to see this and I almost wish I had saved my money. 2 stars
7/05/08 Quigley A further reminder of why the Hulk is a lame character. 3 stars
7/04/08 mr.mike It was good. 4 stars
6/25/08 FJ Entertaining movie. The final fight scene ended too abruptly though. 4 stars
6/24/08 Paviv Delivers the fun/excitement/script that the last one missed. 5 stars
6/24/08 Ole Man Bourbon This was surprisingly entertaining. Better than most other hero movies. 4 stars
6/23/08 damalc NOT the best Marvel movie, about even with IM, step below SM2 4 stars
6/21/08 Dan Great adaptation, on par with Iron Man. I can't understand the criticism. 5 stars
6/21/08 steve awful and boring.stan lee's was better 2 stars
6/20/08 David V Way better than the first, Hulk's actually exciting this time. 4 stars
6/16/08 johnnybgoode Much better than the first Hulk. Better action / acting, and he isn't Shrek anymore 4 stars
6/14/08 Sam The movie was horrible and this critic is right about everything he says. 1 stars
6/13/08 jcjs33 fun 4 stars
6/13/08 action movie fan very good action good ideas could have been better developed 4 stars
6/13/08 Darkstar 100 times beter than the first one 4 stars
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  13-Jun-2008 (PG-13)
  DVD: 21-Oct-2008


  DVD: 21-Oct-2008

Directed by
  Louis Leterrier

Written by
  Edward Norton
  Zak Penn

  Edward Norton
  Liv Tyler
  Tim Roth
  William Hurt

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