The Hulk

The Incredible Hulk

2008

Universal Studios/Marvel Entertainment

Directed by Louis Leterrier

Produced by Avi Arad and Gale Anne Hurd

Screenplay by Edward Norton (uncredited) and Zak Penn

Based on the comic book “The Incredible Hulk” created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby

For those of you who haven’t heard my yelling in the wilderness before now, allow me to yell some more: I thoroughly enjoyed the Ang Lee directed “Hulk” and still think it’s one of the best superhero movies made.  For years fanboys whined that superhero movies weren’t treated with the respect or dignity the characters deserved.  Well, they got a movie with an intelligent script, an A-list director, a top notch cast, photographed with style and imagination and what did they do?  BMW’ed that there wasn’t enough “Hulk Smash!”  They certainly can’t say that about THE INCREDIBLE HULK as there’s enough action in this one to make up for any lack of action in the first.  And it’s well directed action that serves the needs of the story and just isn’t put in there for “Hulk Smash!” value.  I enjoyed THE INCREDIBLE HULK for a lot of reasons I like “Hulk” They both share intelligent scripts, a top-notch cast and it’s photographed with style and imagination.  I don’t know if Louis Leterrier can be considered an A-list director but if he keeps on making movies this good, he will be.

THE INCREDIBLE HULK hits the ground running by giving us a condensed, reworked version of The Hulk’s origin.  In this one, General Thaddeus ‘Thunderbolt’ Ross (William Hurt) enlists the genius of radiation expert Bruce Banner (Edward Norton) to revive a World War II era experiment: The Super-Soldier Project.  The idea is to physically enhance human beings to the pinnacle of peak human perfection.  If you’ve seen “Captain America” then you know how that worked out.  Ross thinks that Bruce can speed up the process.  Well, Doc Bruce Banner gets belted by gamma rays, turns into The Hulk and in the process injures not only Ross but his daughter Betty Ross (Liv Tyler) the love of Bruce’s life.  Now, when Bruce gets angry or outraged a startling metamorphosis occurs and he changes into a seven-foot tall, thousand pound, green skinned powerhouse driven by rage.  Bruce goes on the run, hiding from Ross and the United States Army while trying to find a way to control the raging spirit that dwells within him.

We pick up Bruce working in a bottling plant in Rio de Janeiro.  He’s studying martial arts to help him control his anger.  He’s working on a cure for his condition with the help of the mysterious Mr. Blue who he communicates with via laptop and satellite uplink.  Ross finds Bruce due to a set of circumstances involving a cut finger, a soda bottle and the second funniest cameo Stan Lee has done in these Marvel movies.  Ross sends a team of Special Forces commandos to capture Banner.  They’re led by Blonsky (Tim Roth) a Russian born British black ops type of guy who’s past his prime.

The team finds Banner and they make the mistake of making him mad so you can guess what happens after that.  But Blonsky wants another crack at capturing Bruce and The Hulk and willingly volunteers to take the Super-Soldier serum himself so that he can have a fighting chance against The Hulk.  In the meantime, Bruce and Betty have reunited and decide to go toNew Yorkand seek out Mr. Blue themselves.  That plan is complicated by Ross, Blonsky and The Army showing up and in one of the movie’s really amazing battle sequences Bruce Hulks out and takes on the Army and Blonsky.  Blonsky’s able to actually hold his own for a while against The Hulk before the big green guy shows exactly why there’s ‘The Incredible’ in front of his name.

The fight leaves every bone in Blonsky’s body shattered but in a few hours he’s totally and completely healed.  This gets Blonsky to thinking: if he’s like this just from having taken the serum, what’ll happen if he gets a dose of gamma rays like Bruce Banner?  The answer leads to a simply fantastic showdown inNew York’sHarlem between The Hulk and Blonsky who has been transformed into a gamma powered Abomination.  But will Bruce be able to find a lasting cure?  Will he and Betty ever be able to have a normal life?

The really fun thing about THE INCREDIBLE HULK is that it follows the old school formula of storytelling that Marvel did so well way back in the 60’s/70’s: a healthy dose of plain ol’ superheroics with just enough soap opera elements to give the characters and the story the illusion of being something more than just the opportunity to have guys with bulging muscles whomping the piss outta each other.  But it’s done so well and with such respect for the source material that like “Iron Man” and “Fantastic Four: Rise Of The Silver Surfer” it’s elevated out of just being just another superhero movie and is A Good Movie, period.

I liked Edward Norton a lot in this movie.  He’s one of the best actors working today and his Bruce Banner really isn’t that far from the way Eric Bana played Banner in the 2003 movie.  Norton’s Banner is less repressed and more proactive but five years on the run from the government will make a man come out of his shell real fast.  I liked how even General Ross had to admit that Banner isn’t to be underestimated and not just because he can turn into The Hulk.  This is a Bruce Banner who in his own way can be as dangerous as his monstrous alter ego.  And speaking of General Ross, William Hurt did a far better job of playing ol’ ‘Thunderbolt’ than I thought he would.  It’s almost a shame he had to follow Sam Elliot’s definitive performance as General Ross because I think if William Hurt had done it first, we all might be saying that his version of Ross is the definitive one as William Hurt is just that good.  And saying Tim Roth is a terrific actor is as obvious as saying water is wet.  It’s just a given that in any role, Tim Roth is going to do his usual excellent job.  The only acting disappointment in the movie was Liv Tyler.  Not that she’s terrible as Betty Ross.  Far from it.  She’s quite good.  Just not as good as Jennifer Connelly.

The CGI Hulk in this one is an improvement over the 2003 version.  He’s way more muscular and it looked to my eyes as if the CGI guys tried to find a medium between the gray and green versions of The Hulk in that there are some scenes where he looks greener and others where he looks grayer.  In any case it’s a more natural looking green and this Hulk is a truly terrifying creature.  I’ve always considered The Hulk’s arch enemy to be the entire United States Army and in the comics The Hulk had some truly epic battles with them and so he does in this movie.  And the final fight between The Hulk and Blonsky/The Abomination is jaw-droppingly awesome in its sheer savagery.

So should you see THE INCREDIBLE HULK?  Chances are you probably already have. I’m not even going to get into which is better, this one or the 2003 “Hulk” I like and enjoy each of them for what they are.  Both are extremely well made movies with valid interpretations of the source material.  There’s a whole lot of references and nods to the comic book, the TV show starring Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno as well as the animated ‘Hulk’ series from the 80’s and 90’s that will give long time fans a chuckle and there’s more than enough action and character drama to ensure a good time at the movies will be had by all.  Enjoy.

114 minutes

Rated PG-13

Hulk

2003

Universal Pictures/Marvel Enterprises 

Directed by Ang Lee

Produced by Avi Arad, Larry J. Franco, Gale Anne Hurd, James Schamus, Stan Lee, Kevin Feige

Screenplay by James Schamus, Michael France, John Turman

Based on “The Incredible Hulk” created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby

 

Comic book fans.  God bless ‘em.  Somebody better bless ‘em ‘cause they most surely need it.  For me to amplify on that statement we have to go back to the 1970’s.  All the way back to when all there were was TV movies, cartoons and shows based on my favorite Marvel characters like The Hulk, Captain America, Dr. Strange and Spider-Man.  The Dr. Strange TV movie actually wasn’t that bad but the two Captain America movies were pretty poor.  The Spider-Man TV series boasted a Spider-Man that wore a belt and one webshooter on the outside of his costume.  The Hulk TV series actually was very good at times and is still fondly remembered.  When you mention The Hulk to the average non-comic book fan, it’s the TV show they’ll probably remember.

But ever since those dismal days of Made-For-TV movies that looked they were filmed in somebody’s backyards or highly unconvincing sets with actors who clearly were doing this for the paycheck, comic book fans have been bitching, moaning and whining.

They gnashed their teeth, tore at their clothing and prayed for a major superhero movie with a lavish budget for quality special effects.  With an Academy Award winning director and actors who truly cared about the material and would treat it with respect.  With a literate screenplay that emphasized the emotional, dramatic and psychological life of its characters and simply wasn’t punchy-punchy-run-run.

And then they got HULK and they proceeded to lose their mollyfoggin’ minds.

HULK is a movie that polarizes comic book fans.  They either love it or hate it.  The main argument against the movie I hear is that it’s “boring” which I honestly don’t understand.  The Hulk isn’t your usual superhero and there are elements of the character’s backstory that deal with child and spousal abuse, alcoholism, emotional trauma, megalomania, the ethical responsibility of science and its practitioners.  The Hulk isn’t about a guy who puts on a costume and goes out to beat up on the bad guys.  It’s another type of character and needs to be told in another kind of way.  Not that The Hulk can’t be utilized in a superhero universe.  He has.  It’s just that his origin story has to be faithful to the uniqueness of the character and HULK certainly is unique among superhero movies.

Bruce Banner (Eric Bana) is a bionuclear researcher working on a branch of nanotechnology called ‘nanomeds’ which has medical applications.  It’s a project that comes to the attention of Major Glenn Talbot (Josh Lucas).  Talbot envisions armies of soldiers who can heal themselves during combat using nanomeds.  Bruce isn’t interested.  Mainly because he just doesn’t like the military very much and he definitely doesn’t like Talbot who is most certainly interested in not only Bruce’s research but also his co-researcher and ex-girlfriend Betty Ross (Jennifer Connelly).  Betty father, General Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross (Sam Elliott) is keeping an eye on all of them.  Betty and her father already have a strained relationship because of Bruce as General Ross has urged her time and again to stay away from him.

Turns out that in this instance, Daddy does know best.  After an accident in the lab in which Bruce is exposed to a insanely high dose of gamma radiation he finds himself in times of emotional stress turning into a seven foot tall, one thousand pound green skinned man-monster driven by rage.  Unknown to Bruce, his DNA has been mutated due to experiments his father David Banner (Nick Nolte) performed upon himself, those experiments uncannily similar to Bruce’s.  It’s the combination of Bruce’s already mutated DNA with the gamma radiation that gives birth to The Hulk.

Let me put it to you in the simplest way I can: you’re not gonna get “Hulk Smash!” in this one.  There is an absolutely wonderful battle between The Hulk and the Thunderbolt Ross led forces of the United States Army in the desert that is taken right from countless Hulk comic books but The Hulk pounding the piss outta the bad guys isn’t what’s at stake here.  You’ll have to wait for the Ed Norton starring “The Incredible Hulk” to get that.

What we have here is a movie about two adults who have been emotionally scarred by their parents.  Their true union is a struggle to heal their damaged psyches.  Both Bruce and Betty are victims of the monstrous egos of their respective fathers.  In Bruce’s case it causes him to turn into the living embodiment of his repressed rage.  In Betty’s case it causes her to be almost uncontrollably drawn to emotionally repressed men who can never give her what she truly needs to contribute to a healthy romantic relationship.

Heavy stuff for a superhero movie, huh?  Sure it is.  But it’s anything but boring and not every superhero movie has to be about punching out the bad guys.  HULK is more about how most of us are our own bad guys.

And directors of superhero movies could learn something from the astonishing visual techniques Ang Lee uses to not so much try to literally duplicate the storytelling methods of comic books but his strategy here seems to be to suggest those methods and not beat us over the head with it.  It’s amazing to watch a director use the split screen technique in a way that is truly different.  He uses pictures within picture, foreground and background merging with each other.  That’s why I never understand those who say that HULK is boring.  It’s a movie that is always moving just through the imaginative transitions from scene to the next.

But bitter waters come with the sweet and as much as I like HULK I have to agree with those of you who hate the Gamma Dogs sequence.  First of all; Gamma Dogs?  And second, the way it’s filmed at night it’s difficult to tell what’s going on.  And while Nick Nolte is one of my favorite actors I watch this movie and can’t help but wonder what movie did he think he was in.  And that ending is absolutely incomprehensible.  Mark Bousquet in his excellent review  of HULK says that the movie should have ended when The Hulk is transformed back into Bruce by the calming presence of Betty Ross and falls into her arms.  And he’s absolutely right.  We get another twenty minutes of Nick Nolte ranting and raving and trying to explain to Bruce what his deal is.  And there’s another nighttime fight except this one takes place in a lake where we really can’t see what the cuss is going on.

This is a movie where I can’t find fault with anybody’s acting job.  Sam Elliott is the definitive Thunderbolt Ross.  Jennifer Connelly continues to show why she’s one of the most dependable actresses working today.  I honestly don’t think I’ve ever seen her turn in a bad performance.  Eric Bana makes for an interesting Bruce Banner.  He doesn’t play him as a wimp or as a weakling.  His Bruce Banner is a guy who has been dealt some pretty hard knocks by life ever since he was knee high to a knee and it’s taken his toll on his emotional make-up.

I’ve long given up trying to get comic book fans to see HULK through my eyes.  They hate it, they’re gonna hate it and I have come to terms with that.  I enjoy HULK and put it on the shelf with movies such as “The Rocketeer” “The Phantom” and “Speed Racer” which most people don’t like but I feel as if the filmmakers made those movies just for me.  I like to call HULK an art house superhero movie.  I’ve heard various critics call it a superhero movie for people who don’t like superhero movies.  Bottom line is this: HULK isn’t for everybody but I am glad it’s for me.

138 minutes

PG-13