If you’ve been reading this blog or listening to the podcast for any length of time, you know that The Incredible Hulk is one of my favorite super heroes. In fact, he’s one of my top two all time favorite super heroes. So it was with great hopefulness and bated breath that I devoured every piece of news and every little spoiler that came about as this movie went through production for the past couple of years. I did my best to defend HULK, Ang Lee’s attempt at an Incredible Hulk movie, but I always knew that the movie wasn’t all that it should be. I just wanted it to be a great Hulk movie so bad, I hated that it wasn’t.
Flash forward a few years to today.
As I write this review I am a happy, happy man. I should warn you that this could potentially be a spoilery review. I will attempt to not be too spoiler heavy, but I make no promises.
What makes a good comic book adaptation? Respect for the source material? The right actors? A solid director? Amazing special effects? A good story?
I submit that it is the right combination of all of the above. In recent years, we’ve seen great actors in terrible comic book adaptations. We’ve seen great stories marred by terrible acting and mediocre special effects. We’ve seen directors who have a love for the material they are adapting fall flat in their delivery of the adaptation. We’ve seen movies where the characters are adapted in name only. We’ve seen special effects feasts for the eyes and been disheartened by a lack of attention to decent stories.
But there have been (more often than not since the first X-Men movie) some bright and shining moments in comic book to film adaptations. Studios have by and large actually learned that what has appealed to readers on the page for so many years actually can appeal to general audiences.
The Incredible Hulk had the daunting task of pulling off a good story coupled with great special effects along with moving past the first outing of The Hulk to the big screen and meeting the expectations of fans who only knew the Hulk from the television show of the seventies and eighties. I honestly believe that this movie had more stacked against it than any other movie in recent memory. BATMAN BEGINS may have had a similar task, but I think that most people enjoyed the character of Batman enough and Warner Brothers was able to (more so than Universal with THE INCREDIBLE HULK) market BATMAN BEGINS really well. I’ve gone to the point of rambling, now let me get to the point of THE INCREDIBLE HULK.
I was completely blown away by this movie. I thought I knew what to expect, but I had no idea. In fact, at this point, I’m not sure I really know where to start. So, let’s start with the story.
The plot of this movie moves quickly and if you blink you may miss something. This is good and bad. I’ve seen the movie twice today, and the first time, I missed a few little moments that were somewhat key. The biggest thing I missed was the naming of the Hulk. (Ironically enough, he was named by the same person who named him in the television show, more on that in a moment.) It happens in a newscast that if you worry too much about watching and not listening, you’ll miss the moment. However, the fast pace works to help mount the pressure that is on Bruce and Betty to avoid the army, and the intensity that Blonsky has when it comes to actually becoming what he needs to become to be able to face the Hulk one on one. However, I guess that’s due more in part to the editing than the actual plot.
The plot itself is a classic Hulk plot. Bruce Banner is on the lam avoiding the U.S. army as led by General Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross. This time, he is in Brazil working at a soda bottling plant. He’s been doing menial day labor, and has been able to lay relatively low. He’s also been learning a bit of Brazilian Judo and techniques to control his anger and pulse. After cutting his finger, a drop of blood finds it’s way into a bottle of soda, Stan Lee drinks it in the US and dies of Gamma poisoning. (Yes, you read that right.) From that point on, it’s on. The story follows Bruce as he travels to America in hopes of meeting up with a mysterious accomplice known only to him as Mr. Blue. Mr. Blue has been trying to help Bruce, as Mr. Green, find a cure to his problem. His travels cause him to cross paths with the love of his life Betty Ross, and of course Blonsky and the army. Emil Blonsky is a soldier “on loan” from Britain and he has become so intrigued by the Hulk that his only desire is to be able to take him down. His quest to defeat the Hulk causes him to subject himself to some experiments that transform him into a bigger, stronger monster that can only be the Abomination. Banner realizes that he is the only one that can stop this monster and a battle between the two behemoths ensues. It is a great story with all of the comic booky goodness geeks love and all of the action and pathos that general audiences enjoy. It works, and it works very well.
The acting in this movie cannot be ignored. While 2003’s HULK had some of the big screen’s best actors, they apparently were all directed to whisper and emote as little as possible. Not so here. Edward Norton plays Bruce Banner as a man tormented by the monster that dwells within him, but not completely defeated by it. He has a nobility about him that leads him to do the right thing, even when he knows it could lead to trouble. He is scared of being captured, but driven into danger by the search for a cure. He is brilliant and clinical, but passionate at the same time. This is a Bruce Banner with a personality, and Norton plays it well.
Liv Tyler’s Betty is a woman who has been through a ton but hasn’t been defeated by it. She is deeply in love with Bruce and all it takes is a glimpse to turn her world upside down. But it is her love of Bruce that helps her see through the rage of the Hulk and befriend the jade giant. I have to admit I have a total crush on Liv Tyler, when she tears up, it hurts a little to watch. I just want to hug her, and not in a weird stalkery kind of way. So, I totally believe everything she does in this movie.
Tim Roth, William Hurt, Tim Blake Nelson and the whole cast do outstanding jobs of bringing these characters alive on screen.
Then there’s the special effects. Specifically, there’s the CGI work on the Hulk. I have to be honest and say (and you will hear this thought repeated on the podcast) I have never seen a digital character that did NOT look digital. EVEN GOLLUM. We’ve come a long way in the realm of what computers are able to do in movies, but no company has been able to make a completely convincing all-digital character to me. Yoda came as close as any character has in REVENGE OF THE SITH, but he’s still digital, and I can still tell he is. So the question becomes, how well does the digital character interact with the real environment, and how do the real life characters interact with the digital characters. THE INCREDIBLE HULK does a great job in the look of the digital characters and how well they fit into the environment. No matter how digital the characters look, they interact with the environment well enough and the movie is solid enough that you are never jarred out of the experience because of the way they look. In fact, when The Hulk is facing the army on the college campus, a handheld camera is used. It had to be utter heck for the animators to make The Hulk fit in to the somewhat shaky shots just right, but they did and adds an air of realism to that scene that is very cool.
Then, there are all the throwbacks. I knew we’d get the obligatory Stan Lee cameo, and I was glad to see that Lou Ferrigno’s cameo wasn’t just him walking past camera, he got to do a bit of acting and even kind of pass the torch to Ed Norton. What I was not expecting though, was a cameo by Bill Bixby. I’m not being crass or callous. Bill Bixby makes an appearance in the movie and if for nothing else but this, Louis Leterrier and the makers of this film deserve some adulation. Well done friends, well done.
There is so much more to talk about and so much more to be said, but I will talk about it all in depth on the podcast early in the week.
To sum it all up, this movie works. It works well. It’s fun, it’s intense, it’s action-packed, and it even tugs at the heart strings a bit. I give it a solid 5 smashes out of 5. Go see it and have fun.