THE INCREDIBLE HULK: The Movie: The Review

by Jon Quixote

Like most reviews of The Incredible Hulk you will read, I will start mine off by paraphrasing Gore Vidal. Vidal noted that writers who try to be great instead of good usually are neither. To many moviegoers, comic fans, and Marvel Studios executives, Ang Lee's vilified Hulk, with its kinetic comic-book visuals and focus on dissecting Banner's mental state, illustrates this principal.

In theatres today, The Incredible Hulk takes the lessons of the last movie to heart, and has only the modest ambition of making an entertaining movie with lots of collateral damage. Banner is chased until he turns into the Hulk, at which point he smashes. Repeat twice. Add romantic subplot. The end.

It delivers as promised. The chase scenes are fast-paced. The fight scenes are heavy on the smashing, and chock-full of both creative pounding and iconic imagery. The quieter moments are nicely quiet, which is probably the biggest one-up this one has on the 2003 version (that and the fact that the climax is comprehensible).

Edward Norton has reportedly refused to do publicity for the movie after the studio rejected his preferred cut. Apparently, he's a big fan of the comic and thought it would be truer to form if the scenes with Betty were out-and-out pornography. While I appreciate his fidelity, I don't know if there's a cut out there that would make me really happy with this movie.

Norton Smash Word of Mouth For Movie!

My big issue is that the Hulk doesn't really feel like the Hulk in the comics. I don't think this is a case of fanboy whining about how it's not like I read it when I was 10 (or, in my case, two weeks ago). I don't really care about fidelity to the source. I care that Hulk is largely devoid of personality and charm. Sure he roars when he smashes, and he looks soulful when he's alone with Betty, and he's way more heroic and cautious in his destruction than anybody gives him credit for. But that's about it for The Movie Hulk. You might remember him from King Kong. And I don't really care about him too much.

For example, the villain's (paper-thin) backstory is that he's an action-junkie who wants to get stronger so he can keep fighting. He changes and goes on a rampage because, well, he can. So when he fights the Hulk, it's a battle between the cocky Abomination and a mute-Hulk who simply wants to stop the bad guy. But, really, wouldn't it be more interesting if we got a hero who was a little pissed that somebody thought he was stronger and smarter than Hulk? One who screams "Hulk is strongest one there is" when turning the tables on his foe. I think so. I think the movie Hulk is a pretty good character, but missing some of his essence, some of his soul.

That soullessness is evident throughout the flick. Thunderbolt is simply a gung-ho douchebag, though William Hurt has as much fun with him as possible. Tim Roth is probably miscast as the ultimate warrior, Emil Blonsky (why is the one movie where he's supposed to be an action hero the first movie where I realized just how freakin' tiny Tim Roth actually is. Did they get him from K'ai?). Tim Blake Nelson's Samuel Sterns is pretty awesome, but by making him an unscrupulous scientist instead of a dummy-turned-genius, again I think they're missing a minor but significant element of the character.

In a scene from the upcoming sequel, Hulk stares down the Mole Man.

I think when the Marvel movies have been great - like Iron Man or X2 - they've kept things simple, but also connected with the things that make the characters great (which is mostly their personalities). Here, they had the right swing, but I think they only got a piece of the ball.

But I'm dwelling on the negative (bad dork with a blogger account, bad!). This is a good action movie and a good comic book movie. We wanted to see Hulk smash. We wanted to see Bruce run. We wanted a script completely devoid of discussion about nanites. And that's what we got. It's action-packed, with a good sense of humor, a strong sense of emotion, a few comic book easter eggs, and cameos by Stan The Man, Lou Ferrigno, and even Bill Bixby. It's just not great.

Of course, it doesn't have to be great. It just has to be entertaining. It is.

And provided they make Edward Norton happy again ($$$), there will be no need to reboot a second time. I'm looking forward to the next entry in the franchise. Especially because there's nothing stopping them from having a little more fun with the character of The Hulk next time. And that might be incredible.


Dan said...

As far as an overall "soullessness" to Incredible Hulk, I have to agree with you. None of it quite connected. I can't quite place my finger on any one thing though.

Maybe it was due to my inability to hear Edward Norton as anyone but The Narrator in Fight Club when he was talking about "There are aspects of my personality that I can't control. And when I lose control, it's very dangerous to be around me" for two hours.

The General said...

After reading Jon's article, I actually sort of want to see the Hulk more, despite the slightly mixed review. I think that Jon's got an interesting point about how just subtle differences can really tweak who the Hulk is.

Jon Quixote said...

I will say that they did do something with the Hulk they depicted. There's an actual character arc, as both Betty and Banner realize that he's still in there when he's the Hulk, and that the Hulk is not quite the out and out menace that both he and the army think he is.

Thus, at the beginning of the movie, Banner is terrified of the Hulk, trying to avoid transforming into him, trying to cure himself. By the end of the movie, he uses the Hulk to stop the Abomination. And there's a hint afterwards that he's starting to enjoy the transformation.

It is interesting and it's clear that they put consideration and thought into it. Is it worth sacrificing the Hulk's personality so that they could have that arc, or would it have been impossible to have the Hulk with a personality AND still maintain that arc? I don't think so.

gfscott said...

I LOVED it. So help me, I loved it. In fact, I thought it was better than IRON MAN: I found the action scenes more gripping, and perhaps more importantly, I found the relationships more engaging.

Translation: I dug the two big monsters beating the crap out of each other, and I swooned at the romance. And Greg is a big girl.

Let's look at a small scene, where Banner says goodnight to Betty at her house when she puts him up for the night. Here he is, finally reunited with the love of his life, so much to say, so much longing for so long, and yet the mandate is still to protect her at all costs, and yet here he is, putting her in jeopardy. He's at war with himself here, and in the end, there's nothing he can say. Meanwhile, Betty wants him to say anything. I thought so much was conveyed with that scene, and with such little dialogue, the actors really gave more than what was on the page.

And there are moments like that throughout the movie, and not just with Norton and Tyler, but with the rest of the cast too. Ross was written 2-dimensionally -- it would have been nice if he'd been giving a scene that made him out to be more than a standard military jagoff, and perhaps someone standing up to be responsible for the Hulk -- but Hurt sold it all the same.

And I've been reading a lot of flack thrown towards Liv Tyler for giving a one-note performance, so let me underline this: I disagree. She brought every ounce of compassion and love that the role needed. Like Norton, there was a lot going on through her face, through her gestures, and I really believed in her as a character. When she ran outside the pizza place desperate for Banner, I felt something there.

Speaking of characters:

I care that Hulk is largely devoid of personality and charm. [...] You might remember him from King Kong. And I don't really care about him too much.

I think you might be being a little harsh here. True, I haven't read 200+ Hulk comics in two weeks; I've read a handful plus watched the TV show. But in a lot of ways, isn't the Hulk kinda like King Kong, only smaller, green, and talks?

And I think that last item might be where the deficit really is: the Hulk really doesn't talk. I think if he'd maintained the same personality he does in the movie, but maybe verbalized a bit more, you might have been happier about things. Aside from that, I don't see too much movie Hulk versus comic Hulk difference.

I saw an arc for the Hulk character in the story as well: he begins the story as a force of nature, we see what appears to be him learning, and by the end, he's a hero. That's something that the Ang Lee version didn't get close to.

So again, big ups from Greggers for INCREDIBLE HULK. And I know a lot of people say this about Ang Lee's version (and so far, it hasn't really come to pass), but I think it will hold here: History will be kind to this movie. Right now, it's not only fighting with the stink of the Lee version, but also with the initial adrenaline wake of IRON MAN. Down the line, perhaps in the glow of a TV screen, we'll discover that it holds up even better than we might have initially expected.

Jon Quixote said...

I too really liked Liv Tyler as Betty, Greg. Sure they downplayed her nymphomania (though props, they nodded to it), but her quiet, verge of tears demeanor was pitch-perfect for the movie. (What do I know though? I liked Katie Holmes in BATMAN BEGINS.)