Thursday, June 19, 2008

"The Incredible Hulk" review by Ben Kenber

Well, it’s not incredible, but it’s still pretty good for a reboot. “The Incredible Hulk” is not really a sequel as much as it is a redoing of a potential franchise. Ang Lee’s “Hulk” from five years ago was not the Hulk movie the fans had been waiting for. This was actually a shame because Ang’s movie was not bad at all, but I remember coming out of it knowing that it was going to have a lukewarm response from fans because it was a character driven piece that was not going to meet anyone’s expectations. This one will almost certainly meet them easily even if they don’t all love the movie.

“The Incredible Hulk” thankfully sprints past the elongated where we learn about how this character came to be by doing a quick recap of Dr. Bruce Banner’s evolution into this ferociously mad and enormous beast that tears through all Bruce’s clothing with the exception of the pants and/or underwear (very convenient for a PG-13 rating). We catch up with Dr. Banner, now played by Edward Norton, in Brazil where he has successfully managed to control his anger for over 130 days. While working a menial job at a bottling plant, he continues to look for the cure that will keep him from getting super pissed. Banner is one of the few planet on the planet who is not about to go green in order to save the environment. But despite all the exercises he does in breathing to control his anger, we all know that sooner or later, Bruce will find that it’s not easy to keep from being green.

One thing you will notice right away about this Hulk movie is that is a lot more action packed than the previous one. The movie starts up quick and never lets the pace slack for that long. The director this time around is Louis Leterrier, and he has previously directed “The Transporter 2” and “Unleashed.” His clearly likes the hyperkinetic style, and it shows in this film. The direction is not necessarily outstanding, and Louis doesn’t seem to quite have a style of his own yet. But all the same, he gets the job done and he keeps the film entertaining throughout.

The cast is all different as well, with nobody but Stan Lee and Lou Ferrigno (doing their mandatory cameos) returning from Ang Lee’s film. Ed Norton is a better fit for Bruce Banner than Eric Bana probably was, and a lot more animated too. From a distance, he may not physically look like someone who could become the Hulk, but that’s kind of the point. Ed also did an uncredited rewrite of the script, but the Writer’s Guild of America would probably deny that (Zak Penn gets story and screenplay credit). As always, Ed proves why he is one of the best actors of his generation, and he comes across as an ordinary joe thrust into circumstances beyond his control.

Liv Tyler takes over playing Dr. Betty Ross from Jennifer Connelly, and while Liv doesn’t have much of an acting range, she is always a nice presence to have in any film (not just to the eye mind you). She holds up well next to Norton as they both work to find a way to stop becoming the Hulk ever again. William Hurt plays her father, Gen. Thaddeus 'Thunderbolt' Ross, and he is always interesting to watch. All the same, I have to admit that I liked Sam Elliott more in this role when he played it in Ang Lee’s version. Sam comes across more as an army general than Hurt does, and he was one of the best things about the previous film.

But the best addition to this particular Hulk movie is the casting of Tim Roth as Emil Blonsky, chief nemesis to the Incredible Hulk. Coming off of playing a wuss of a man in the highly disturbing remake of “Funny Games,” Roth is in bad ass mode as a soldier who wants to take the Hulk down, but soon finds himself wanting the power that he has. In the film, he ends up getting injected (by choice mind you) with some of the same stuff that Banner got injected with. It’s enough to give him the power to overcome the most serious of injuries, but he soon finds that he wants more of that power, and it leads him to become The Abomination. Roth’s character is actually one of the more complex characters in this film, and I think the most realized character in the movie. Roth’s performance here is a reminder of what a strong presence he was in the movies of Quentin Tarantino (“Reservoir Dogs” especially). It helps ease the memories of the torture he went through in “Funny Games.” How refreshing it would have been to see The Abomination take out those two young cads who tortured that family. Of course, Michael Haneke would just rewind Abomination’s victory to intentionally frustrate the audience. Anyway, let’s get back on track…

If there is anything lacking in this version, it’s that it is not as strong on character development. One of the strengths of the previous Hulk movie (even if it did take away from the action) was the attention it paid to its characters and how they really drove the movie. I know that Marvel Studios didn’t want to get too caught up with that in this reboot of the Hulk, but it would have been nice to see more character work here to keep this from being just an above average action movie. In the end, this was a movie made to please the fans who felt let down by what they saw in 2003. For the most part, it succeeds in doing so.

I wish I could say that I loved this incarnation of the Hulk, but it didn’t quite reach the heights that I wanted it to. “Iron Man” remains the summer movie to beat so far for 2008. But still, it was a lot of fun and it kept me entertained from beginning to end. Like Ang’s version from five years ago, it is a flawed film that still has its interesting points, but we do get to see Hulk smash in a way that we didn’t get to see as much in the previous version. That was probably the best thing about this film, seeing Hulk smash shit up. Using two halves of a police car makes for great action. All the same, it could have been a bit better.

But c’mon! It is meant to be an audience picture, and I was still pleased enough with it to give it a good recommendation. We are more likely to see more of the Hulk in the future than we were before.

I’m just glad the Hulk isn’t a Lakers fan. Seeing the Celtics eviscerate them in the final game of the NBA Finals is enough to make anyone super mad. Lakers losing by 30 points? HULK SMASH!!!

*** out of ****