Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The Incredible Hulk

Refusing to pay exorbitant movie ticket prices in NYC, I finally got around to seeing The Incredible Hulk yesterday. The short review - I liked the parts without the CG best. Above average for a comic book movie, but only slightly.

The Incredible Hulk
Director: Louis Letterier
Starring: Edward Norton, Liv Tyler, William Hurt

Director Louis Letterier (Transporter and its sequel) turned this movie into a crisp, action-packed version of what Ang Lee's 2003 Hulk never tried to be. That previous film was a more introspective piece that most people hated because it didn't feature enough action and Hulk-Smashing. Letterier and Co. set out to rectify those problems in this movie, which is a completely unattached film that has no bearing on its predecessor - meaning you don't have to see the "first one" because this one isn't a sequel.

Action-packed though it was, The Incredible Hulk was too driven by CGI in my opinion. The Hulk isn't one of my favorite superheroes (by a long shot), so I'm automatically slightly biased against him. I also didn't really like Ang Lee's Hulk because the CG was too ridiculous (not to mention the fact that his Hulk fought a giant cloud in the final battle and he leapt across states as a method of travel). That being said, if I was a ten-year-old kid, I would have LOVED The Incredible Hulk. There was a LOT of smashing and destruction and explosions and all the things that one would assume would make this movie great. Surprisingly, however, these parts of the movie didn't really do it for me. I don't know if it was because everything was so blatantly CG that I couldn't get any real enjoyment out of it, or if was all too dependent on imagery from other films (King Kong and Cloverfield come to mind) - but something was a little off for me. [Note: I loved Transformers, which was full of CG destruction, so I'm not quite sure what the difference is with this. Hmm...] I'm fully aware that its near impossible to make a Hulk movie without heavily relying on special effects, but that's what I wish they would try to do next time (if there is a next time).

Anyway, the acting was pretty good from Norton, who was a great Bruce Banner. He was awkwardly gangly and nerdy enough that you believed he was a scientist. Liv Tyler, aside from her sometimes-creepy resemblance to her father, was a great Betty Ross. William Hurt wasn't the best General "Thunderbolt" Ross I've seen on film (that would be Sam Elliott from the 2003 flick), but it would be hard for anybody to follow Elliott's performance. Stan Lee and Lou Ferrigno's cameos were well-done and funny. I do admire Marvel's ability to lock down high quality actors for superhero movies, a genre which was once laughed at but is quickly becoming Hollywood's go-to moneymaker. Ed Norton, Robert Downey, Jr.? These are really good actors here, folks. I hope they continue with this trend for their upcoming releases.

I didn't know anything about the villain, Abomination, before going in. Tim Roth was OK as the power-hungry bad guy. His character, however, was bent on destroying Hulk for no reason other than he feels that Banner doesn't deserve the power he has. Kinda lame, but whatever - no need to dwell on the bad. I did that enough in my Indiana Jones review.

My favorite part about The Incredible Hulk (just beating out the Brazil chase scene) was that they didn't obsess over the origin story. They showed the gamma radiation accident that turned Bruce Banner into the Hulk during the opening credits, and then jumped straight into the action-chase through Brazil right after that. There was no excessive hour in the beginning before we got to see Hulk in action, and I loved that the filmmakers recognized the recent trend in comic book movies and tried to distance themselves from it.

So how was the plot/story for The Incredible Hulk? Here's where we get into the interesting stuff. As some of you may have heard, when Ed Norton signed on to be a part of this movie, he was told that he could contribute creatively as well. So he took Zak Penn's (X-Men 3) script and rewrote it from page one, knowing that most of the sets and things had already been built. He added a lot of dialogue, changed more dialogue, and fleshed out the Bruce Banner character more with extra scenes and character motivation. Marvel then agreed to film this newly-written version of the movie.

So they did. When it was all filmed, they put the whole thing together in a rough edit and Marvel decided they wanted to go with a quicker, more action-oriented film that deleted a lot of the character pieces that Norton had written. He got pretty pissed, because they told him he could have this control and then they took it away from him, and somebody leaked it to the press that this controversy was brewing. Now that this was all out in the open, there was no chance of Marvel and Norton negotiating reasonably without people following their every move. Worried about his already-notorious reputation for being a control-freak-pain-in-the-ass on set, Norton conceded to Marvel's decision to make a more commercial version of the movie.

So what did the studio cut that Norton wanted to remain in? A suicide attempt scene at the beginning of the movie caused a little bit of unease because this was supposed to be a family-friendly movie and suicide is a bit heavy for that. Also, the scene featured in the trailer with Banner talking to the psychiatrist was Norton's, and they cut that along with some more flashbacks that Ed had worked into the script. Fear not, though - the Blu-Ray release will feature 70 minutes of footage that we didn't get to see in the theater. Read that again - that's over an hour of stuff! I guess we'll have to wait a few months to see which version is "better."

I love all the stuff that Marvel is doing with all of their cross-promotion between films and dropping references to things yet to come. Not to ruin anything (since it's been shown in the TV spots for the movie), The Incredible Hulk features a scene with Tony Stark (Iron Man) and General Ross talking about forming a team. This, coupled with the bonus post-credits scene from Iron Man, obviously leads us toward the planned 2012 release of The Avengers movie. Also, this version of the Hulk features multiple references to super-soldier serum, which should incorporate into Marvel's Captain America movie scheduled for release in 2011. Cool.

As far as comic book movies go, I'd place this just above the middle of the pack. It was better than Elektra and Fantastic Four, better than Ghost Rider and 2003's Hulk, but not nearly as good as Spider-Man 2 or X-Men 2. Take that as you will - but if I were you, I'd wait to see some other summer movies in theaters and not give up money that you could be spending on a Dark Knight IMAX ticket. Until next time...

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