The Incredible Hulk [retro review]

“HULK SMASH!”

The Scoop: 2008 PG-13, directed by Louis Leterrier and starring Edward Norton, Liv Tyler, and Tim Roth

Tagline: Get ready to unleash the beast.

Summary Capsule: Mr. Orange takes on Mr. Green.

Mike’s Rating: It’s not easy being green, so Hulk will smash.

Mike’s Review: The most recent episode of Doctor Who, without giving away too much, featured appearances by a veritable cavalcade of the Doctor’s former companions, two of which were currently starring in spin-offs! Head writer Russell Davies said in Confidential that it was the kinda thing that happens in the minds of the fans, so why not just do it? Have Jack Harkness and Sarah Jane meet up with Rose Tyler and Martha Jones, and let the fans have squee-gasms of geeky delight!

This line of thinking may seem obvious seeing as how it happens in comic books frequently, but as far as motion pictures are concerned, dreams like this have been frustratingly out of reach, as projects such as a Justice League movie have remained relegated to tantalizing rumours. But now, as if an answer to comic book fans prayers, Marvel Studios is laying the groundwork for not only an Avengers movie, but also a Marvel movie universe where our favorite heroes can interact, team up, fight crime and play some miniature golf. After the magic that was Iron Man and now the overwhelming success of The Incredible Hulk, which ties directly into Iron Man, I’m going to come out and say that Marvel comics developing their own studios is the best thing to happen to movies since the birth of Peter Jackson.

For you few Amish people being home-schooled in caves in an alternate dimension for the past 35 years or so, here be the story. Dr. Bruce Banner is living on the lam after a rather disastrous attempt to create a super-soldier bombards him with gamma rays and, when he becomes too excited, turns him into a ten foot tall rampaging green beast made up entirely of sheer awesome. The military being the military, they think that this horrifying industrial accident that has cost the lives of hundreds of people and ruined the life of a mild-mannered scientist and his girlfriend, is actually a raging success if you just look at it the right way. Thus is Banner forced to walk the earth trying to find a cure for the worst case of anger management issues ever, while the military hunts him down looking to create more perversions of nature.

The stormtroopers here are led by General “Thunderbolt” Ross, proving there is nothing worse than than your girlfriends dad. Taking point is Emil Blonsky, a mercenary who gets repeatedly stomped by the Hulk and takes it more and more personally until he makes up his mind that he’s gonna make himself The Abomination, a gamma powered monster who has no problem going toe to toe with the not-so-jolly green giant.

Some of you, the reeeally unlucky ones, may remember the Ang Lee-helmed Hulk movie from a few years back. It was a mess, with an unnecessary and rather pretentious psychological sub-plot, a scraggly-looking barely coherent Nick Nolte chewing scenery for all he was worth, and Hulk poodles. When I first saw it, I managed to think it was pretty good, with decent CGI and a good spot of time devoted to the Hulk beating up tanks and helicopters. It did not age well in my estimation, however, and while I managed to enjoy it for what it got right, eventually I had to admit that it got way too many things wrong. This go-round, Marvel is definitely the boss. No illogical changes to the plot, no inexplicable endings involving giant energy bubbles and dream sequences, no effing Hulk-poodles. Just the Incredible Hulk as he was meant to be: freaking scary. The CGI is a step up from the first movie, Edward Norton does a great job channelling Bruce Banner, and portraying the desperation and depression of his situation. Liv Tyler does a pretty good job as Betty Ross and has some laugh out moments, and Tim “Mr. Orange” Roth does a nice job just getting scarier and scarier as his obsession with taking the Hulk down pervades his mind.

Ultimately, while the Hulk isn’t as good as Iron Man, it’s none the less a great addition to the new Marvel era of movies, and while Dark Knight will probably be the ultimate hit of the summer, Marvel’s one-two punch is in my mind the high point of this summer season. Add Wanted and Hellboy 2 to the mix and it’s official:

Geeks have taken over the world.

Kyle’s Rating: A really fun superhero any other year; completely overshadowed in 2008

Kyle’s Review: If Iron Man is a very solid 10 out of 10, then The Incredible Hulk rings in at a very respectable 8. The Dark Knight, of course, is about a 15. Leaving Hulk choking in the dust just a bit, yes?

Yet for not being anything innovative or particularly memorable, Hulk does manage to not totally suck outright, which arguably gives redeems the character from his 2003 tarnishing. I’ve heard reasonable arguments that the Ang Lee movie deserves a bit of a re-examining, but that isn’t enough motivation for me to sit through it again. Gah!

As many have noted already, the amazing thing about The Incredible Hulk is how much it seems to strive to be a continuation/remake of the television adaptation. A quick on-television-screen cameo of Bill Bixby makes the connection abundantly clear if you didn’t get it already, as does an obvious musical ode to the ‘Lonely Man’ theme that accompanied Bixby’s Banner pretty much everywhere and dogs Edward Norton’s Banner for a while as well. It isn’t necessarily a bad thing: the television show (repeats of which are fairly easy to find on cable) was a solid piece of entertainment, which is to say that I have sat through several episodes recently and enjoyed them whereas airings of that 2003 Hulk go ignored in favor of something, anything, else. Sorry, Ang Lee and Eric Bana.

Other than a strange origin/setting for how Banner becomes cursed with his dual existence as the Hulk (was he doing a gamma-powered eye exam?), the details of the film will slot into place just as your average layman might expect: scientist whom you wouldn’t really like when he gets mad, tortured lonely existence on the run from military officials who want to exploit Banner’s condition, long-lost love-of-Banner’s-life having moved on with her life but willing to drop it all when Banner randomly pops back up, Hulk being willing and even enjoying fighting nameless soldier guys while shrugging off the worst weaponry the military has to throw his way. Fun superheroics you don’t have to risk seeming like a loser for, because it’s very societally-acceptable to watch superhero movies but still somewhat iffy to read the comic books upon which they’re based. Go figure!

There are plenty of easter eggs throw into the film to keep the hardcore fans happy: some are pretty cool, like the vague indirect Captain America references (all about that super-soldier serum, baby!), and others are pretty whack. I’m torn about the (spoiler!) Tony Stark cameo, not in terms of whether or not it was cool but because Robert Downey Jr. is on such an higher atmospheric level compared to everyone else that he manages to steal the entire film with only seconds of actual screen-time. Only Christian Bale could compete with the Downey Jr., and such an on-screen face-off could herald the end of the world as we know it. Do we want that or not? I’m not sure either!

The Incredible Hulk tries to get our enthusiasm up, and that’s commendable. But while it doesn’t exactly misfire, it doesn’t really blow our skirts up in a memorable way. Hulk is kind of a weird character anyway, full of innate contradictions: he wants only to be left alone but will stay and fight because he’s literally made of rage, he’s not really heroic yet is thought of that way because he’ll try not to smash those who don’t deserve it and if something heavy to about to fall on an innocent, Hulk will catch it. Recent comic books have treated him as he should be used: either as a guided missile of destruction (The Ultimates, which gets referenced in that stupendous Hulk bomb moment) or as a slightly-smartened-up powerhouse using the threat of his strength to demand things from the world at large (World War Hulk). But as a cinematic hero, he sort of leaves something to be desired.

But The Incredible Hulk does what it can, and that’s fit Banner/Hulk in a fairly typical loner-with-golden-heart action movie. Hulk must be stopped until a larger threat (Tim Roth is simultaneously awesome and completely wasted as a career soldier with a weird body even before they start screwing around with it) makes the Hulk our only hope. Put this out last year, and there would be legitimate Hulk-mania sweeping the world. But it is all about Iron Man and Batman in 2008, and the best Hulk can hope for is a really snazzy DVD release to remind us of the good times.

Although Hulk did get its own Slurpee flavor, and it was pretty darn good. Yum!

This may be a tad risque for MRFH, but… what happened to the Abomination’s junk?

Intermission!

  • When Bruce first changes, you can hear the Hulk grumble “Leave me alone”.
  • Inevitable Stan Lee cameo!
  • During one scene, a television is playing an episode of “The Courtship of Eddie’s Father” starring Bill Bixby, who starred in The Incredible Hulk TV Series.
  • All the other references to the show including: The sad music playing as Bruce walks along the road, the Lou Ferrigno cameo, the ways Bruce’s eye’s turn white, almost identical to shots from the show, the original experiment that turns Bruce into the Hulk look exactly like the experiment from the show, the college reporter named Jack McGee.
  • Mr Blue is The Leader!!
  • When Blonsky injects the super soldier syrum, the cannisters that it’s kept in read ‘Reinstein”. Dr. Josef Reinstein was the alias of Dr. Abraham Erskine, the scientist who created the original super soldier syrum that created Captain America.
  • Betty pulling out the stretchy purple pants.
  • Ty Burrell plays Dr. Lennord Samson a psychiatrist and Betty’s rebound boyfriend. “Doc” Samson is a charater in the comics who was dosed with Gamma rays and given superhuman strength.
  • Seriously, what does the Army think is going to happen when they start shooting tear gas at Bruce Banner? He’s gonna change and cause millions of dollars worth of damage! Morons.
  • Hulk throwing boulders at the lightning was a nice touch.
  • The Incredible Hulk joined Toronto’s Green-Screen initiative, to help cut carbon emissions and waste created during filming. Edward Norton had fun using a hybrid vehicle on set.
  • Edward Norton, who had previously rewritten films he starred in, wrote a draft of the script which Louis Leterrier and Marvel Studios found satisfactory in establishing the film as a reboot of Hulk. As Norton explained, “I don’t think that in great literature/films explaining the story’s roots means it comes in the beginning. Audiences know the story, so we’re dealing with it artfully.” Norton’s rewrite added the character of Doc Samson and mentioned references to other Marvel Comics characters. He also wanted to put in “revelations about what set the whole thing in motion” that would be explained in future installments.
  • In the comics, Emil Blonsky was a KGB agent who takes on a scaly reptilian appearance, becoming the Abomination. Louis Leterrier felt that while that was cool, it made no sense considering there was no reptile mix in his origin. So in this film Blonsky’s appearance is redefined substantially to have his skin/muscles/bones exaggerated and sticking out all over his body. Leterrier describes Blonsky as “an über-human, just like the Hulk, but a human who was injected with something in the wrong places and these places are growing differently.”
  • It took the VFX artists over a year to construct a shot where Dr. Banner’s gamma-irradiated blood falls through three factory stories into a bottle.
  • The Hulk, as portrayed in this film, was created through a blend of animatronics, make-up and CGI (by Rhythm & Hues) with motion capture by the title actor Edward Norton.
  • Edward Norton and Tim Roth filmed their Hulk-Abomination fracases on a stage, using motion capture and 37 digital cameras. Roth enjoyed using the motion capture technique because it reminded him of fringe theatre.
  • According to Tim Roth, Edward Norton rewrote scenes every day; Norton and Liv Tyler also spent hours discussing their characters’ lives (especially before the Hulk appeared).

Groovy Quotes

Bruce Banner: [in a poor Portuguese] Don’t make me hungry. You wouldn’t like me when I’m hungry.
Tough Guy Leader: [in Portuguese] What the hell he is talking about?
Bruce Banner: [in English) That’s… not right, is it?

Betty Ross: The subway is probably quickest.
Bruce Banner: Me in a metal tube, deep underground with hundreds of people in the most aggressive city in the world?
Betty Ross: Right. Let’s get a cab.

Tony Stark: You know I don’t really want to say ‘I told you so,’ but the super-soldier project was put on ice for a reason.
Gen. Thaddeus ‘Thunderbolt’ Ross: Mr. Stark. You always wear such nice suits.
Tony Stark: …Touché.

Gen. Thaddeus ‘Thunderbolt’ Ross: As far as I’m concerned, that man’s whole body is property of the U.S. army.

Emil Blonsky: We didn’t lose him. I had him in my sights and something hit us. Something *big*, hit us. It threw a forklift truck like it was a softball. If Banner knows where that thing is, I’m gonna track him down. I’m gonna put my boot to his throat.
Gen. Thaddeus ‘Thunderbolt’ Ross: That WAS Banner.

Emil Blonsky: If I could take what I know now and put it in the body I had ten years ago, that would be someone I wouldn’t want to mess with.
Gen. Thaddeus ‘Thunderbolt’ Ross: I think I can arrange that.

Bruce Banner: I can’t do this. I can’t get excited.
Betty Ross: Not even a little excited?

Emil Blonsky: Genral, you send these guys in cold, and you’re gonna have a lot of professional tough guys pissing in their pants… sir.

Emil Blonksy: Let’s even the playing field a little.

Bruce Banner: You know, I know a few techniques to help you manage that anger.

Abomination: Any last words?
Hulk: HULK SMASH!!!!

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1 Comment

  1. Pingback: Justin does The Avengers « Mutant Reviewers From Hell

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