Monday, June 16, 2008

The Incredible Hulk (2008)


Well, obviously it was way better than Ang Lee's version. It's not as good as Iron Man though and I'm disappointed about that. I've never cared about Iron Man, but I'm a huge fan of the Hulk and I wanted it to be the better film. It's still really good, but Iron Man is darn near perfect. Tony Stark's cameo in The Incredible Hulk made me want to go see Iron Man again.

One of my favorite things about Iron Man is Tony's character development. How he goes from being a lonely, selfish butthole to become a hero. There's character development in The Incredible Hulk, but you have to look a lot harder for it.

Bruce Banner begins the movie on the run from the government and looking for a cure to his curse. I love that they didn't try to retell the origin, but quickly covered it in the opening credits. I especially love how much of an homage that sequence was to the TV show's opening credits. But Banner spends most of the rest of the movie doing exactly what he's doing at the beginning: running from the government and looking for a cure. As an action-adventure plot there's a lot to work with there, but I wanted more story.

Yeah, there's the romance angle, but that's not a story. Betty Ross is just a love interest. Liv Tyler did a fine job with her and there were some truly touching moments between her and Bruce, but there wasn't any substance to that part of the movie either. It generated some pathos, but I'm trying to figure out how the movie would've been different without Betty and I'm not coming up with much. She was all in it, but she just wasn't that important.

I didn't care much for General Ross either. Surprisingly, that had nothing to do with William Hurt's performance, which was fine. But General Ross has always been a favorite antagonist of mine in the comics because I always knew that as abrasive and bull-headed as he was, he was doing what he thought was right for his country. The Incredible Hulk's Ross is a villain through and through. The Hulk came to be in an experiment Banner was doing on Ross' behalf and now Ross wants Banner only so they can continue the project. Of course, he justifies it because the project is supposed to create a better breed of soldiers to defend the US, but that's a lot shakier ground than the comics' (and Ang Lee's) version who just wants to defend the country against the Hulk.

You have to do that same kind of twisty justification to understand Banner's development too. I didn't even see any development in him at first, but like I said earlier, thinking more about it, it's there. I'm going to have to see the movie again to test what I think I've realized, but the final scene with Banner reveals that something's changed in him.

The last time we see Banner, he's willing himself to change into the Hulk and he smiles when he realizes he's going to succeed. That's a huge difference from the guy at the beginning of the movie who was trying so desperately to control his anger and avoid changing. I think there's intentional irony in his using the same technique to trigger the change at the end that he was learning at the beginning in order to resist it.

What I want to go back and see is how that development plays out over the course of the movie. What clues are we given that it's taking place? It seemed really abrupt when I saw that last scene, but maybe it's more gradual and I just missed it.

Apparently, it would've been a lot less subtle and open to interpretation if Ed Norton had had his way. In Norton's version of the script, the movie opens in the Arctic where Banner has gone to try to kill himself. Marvel demanded that scene be edited out of the movie, but you can see a shot from it in the trailers. Had it been left in (along with other dialogue Norton wrote), the utter misery of Banner would've been more keenly felt at the beginning and would've contrasted even more with that scene at the end. I suspect that the movie would've flowed better and been stronger with Norton's additions, but unfortunately Marvel - desperately afraid of the ghost of Ang Lee - wanted to get to the action more quickly. Hopefully that stuff will all go back in on the DVD, but it's sad that Ang Lee's version haunted the production of this one and made it a weaker film.

Even though the story's not as strong as I want it to be, there's still lots to like about The Incredible Hulk. There are lots of homages to the comics and the TV show (reporter Jack McGee even makes an appearance) and fans of the comics will be able to figure out who the villain will likely be in the presumptive sequel. I'm not sure I like Captain America's origin being so closely tied into the Hulk's, but I don't hate it either. It's interesting. And I hear that when we do finally get to see that opening Arctic scene, we should keep our eyes open for an even bigger Captain America reference.

Stan Lee and Lou Ferrigno both have cameos again, but they're actually important to the story this time around. And apparently that's Ferrigno's voice speaking the Hulk's few lines of dialogue. Pretty cool.

Also, I don't think they ever officially name Ty Burrell's (Back to You, National Treasure 2) character in the movie, but he's credited as Dr. Samson, so that's way cool. Not sure how they're going to work that out if they let the movie version go where the comics version goes though. I like Burrell a lot, but they're going to need a different actor if that happens.

The transformations and action were all great (though not as Awesome as the one scene Ang Lee nailed in his version: the fight in the desert). The Hulk's clap brought tears to my eyes and once I realized that the Hulk's design really does look the way he was drawn back in the '70s and '80s, I eased up on it for not being the Kirby version. The scenes between Betty and the Hulk were also reminiscent of a lot of classic Hulk comics. And when the Hulk got angry, I could feel his rage through the screen. Nicely done.

I'm not a big fan of the Abomination's new look, but I knew to expect that and had gotten used to it.

I may have been disappointed, but that's because I was hoping to give it a five-star rating and I can't. It was still a really good movie though and something I'll want to see another time or two in the theater.

Not sure why the very last scene with Ross in the bar came before the credits and not after. The scene right before it was obviously designed to go right before the credits with the Ross scene to go after, but they didn't do it that way. Not that I'm complaining. That means I can leave during the credits on subsequent viewings.

Four out of five Smashes.

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