Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Incredible Hulk


Growing up, my childhood superhero was, and still is, Marvel Comic’s Spider-Man. But a close second was always the Hulk.

Back in the late 70s, the television show was a big hit, starring Bill Bixby as David Banner (why they changed the name to David instead of Bruce, I’ll never understand) and Lou Ferrigno as the Hulk. It was pretty true to the comics on how Banner was inundated with gamma rays, causing him to turn into the Hulk when angered. I even bought into how they cast a body builder to be painted green and have him run around roaring at everybody in slow motion. Looking back at it now, it does look a little ridiculous, especially the TV films (Trial and Death) they televised in the early 80s.

In 2003, I was very excited when Hulk came out. It was probably the last time I went to a late night showing of a movie (I think I went to a 10 pm showing) and I really liked the film. Ang Lee gave the film an artsy feel to it, but I thought it was very well done. To me, the ending left you wanting more, even though the film went on ten minutes too long. I waited a few years for a sequel, but was disappointed when I heard another film would be made, but as a reboot.

Reboot (sigh).

Yes, the keyword around Hollywood that almost guarantees a studio’s greenlight of a production is “reboot.”

But this was different as the new film would be tied into the new Marvel Studios universe of films to intersect each other, starting with Iron Man. So, I accepted this reboot of my second favorite superhero as The Incredible Hulk started production.

The film opens with a quick montage of how it all happens, so right away everything was erased from the first film as it’s solely gamma rays that made Bruce Banner what he is. It’s a pretty cool introduction as it follows the old 70s television show more than the comics. Throughout the opening assortment of scenes, we see newspaper articles and schematics which establish Stark Industries as being involved somehow.

After the opening credits, we see that Banner is in hiding down in Brazil and working in a soda bottling factory as he's working with a "Mr. Blue" via computer to try and find a cure for his Hulk-ness. Of course, we have the typical co-worker thugs that give him a hard time, which they’ll come into play a little later in the film. Also, they’re some funny moments as Banner tries to speak Portuguese.

Before you know it, the military finds out where he’s at and makes plans to move in to try to capture Banner. Before heading out, General Ross recruits a military bad-ass named Emil Blonsky (played by Tim Roth) to lead the team into Banner’s hideout.

As expected, Banner turns into the Hulk and takes off leaving Blonsky to ask what the heck was that thing, to which Ross explains everything to him. Blonsky wants another try at Banner and Ross introduces him to a program that has been closed since World War II: the Super Soldier Program—pretty exciting for us comic book buffs who know this is a direct correlation to Captain America. Blonsky takes part and gets injected with the Super Soldier serum and waits for his chance to get another shot at the Hulk.

I don’t want to give too much away, but all this leads to a pretty awesome showdown between the Hulk and Abomination in, what appears to be, New York. The scene was actually filmed in Toronto, Canada, but facades were built to make it look like New York.

As much as I liked the first film, I felt that Eric Bana (as Banner) played the part a little dry and boring. So casting Edward Norton, I thought, was a good choice. We all know the Hulk isn’t going to be on screen the whole time, so his alter ego needs to be an interesting character and Norton gives the movie that extra appeal that the first movie lacked.
Once again, in my opinion, the love story part of the film didn’t work. As with the first film, there didn’t seem to be good chemistry between Liv Tyler (as Betty Ross) and Norton—maybe a smidge more than what we saw between Eric Bana and Jennifer Connelly, but not much. Tyler and Norton seemed a little mismatched and it showed in the film.

William Hurt as General Ross was a good choice, because he seemed more like a villain in this rendition than Sam Elliot did in the first film. Hurt showed the desperation he had to capture the Hulk a lot more and how he was solely responsible for his actions, bad and worse.

Tim Roth did fine as Blonsky, as I’ve always felt he is always on top of his game when he plays a villain.

Now, the look of the Hulk was great, a little more realistic than the last version we saw on the big screen. But the problem I have with the look of him was that it didn’t match Edward Norton’s features. In the first movie, you could recognize a little of Eric Bana in the appearance of the Hulk (as a matter of fact, it was said in an interview with the computer animators that they mixed Bana's features with Jennifer Connelly's as well as Ang Lee's to make the Hulk's face). In this one, the Hulk and Norton look nothing alike. That can be considered nitpicking, but I think it brings a little believability to the movie. For instance, Norton’s hair is kept pretty short and doesn’t move around too much; the Hulk’s hair is sort of moppy and a little longer. And let’s face it, Norton’s nose is kind of big, yet the Hulk’s nose is a little smaller. It just seems like the filmmakers and studio had the Hulk designed before they cast Norton in the part.

But anyway, don’t get me wrong, this movie is pretty awesome and I think most Hulk fans will be impressed and blown away. Instead of the TV show and previous movie where all we hear are grunts and roars from the monster, in The Incredible Hulk, we hear him speak a few lines here and there.

A cool piece of trivia: the pizzeria’s owner, Stanley, is Paul Soles. You may not recognize him or his now-gruff voice, but he has done a few famous cartoon voices over the years. He was Hermey the Elf from “Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” Bruce Banner from the 1966 cartoon run of “Hulk,” Happy Hogan of the 1966 “Iron Man” cartoon, and none other than Peter Parker/Spider-Man in the 1967 cartoon series. I thought that was a nice cameo they gave him as respect for his legacy. Let’s not forget Stan Lee in his usual cameo, this time chugging the soda that was tainted with Banner’s blood.

Anyway, my final “bit”?

Overall, the film works, regardless of my minor criticisms, and it was smart of the filmmakers to give Hulk a worthy adversary straight out of the comic book pages instead of just have him constantly running from General Ross and the military. The movie is enjoyable and you can’t help but find yourself rooting for the Hulk each and every time he appears. A very nice touch was including the musical cues from the TV show...a very haunting melody that fits in the film. I can not wait for Hulk's manifestation in the Avengers movie with Mark Ruffalo taking over as Banner. With the major accomplishments in CGI and motion-capture technology, it should be a major improvement after what we saw in Avatar (as terrible as it was) and the awesome spectacle of Rise of the Planet of the Apes. We’ve got less than a year to go and I hope it lives up to the hype we’re hearing. The Incredible Hulk is a SMASHing movie.  Yes...I said it.

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