Jun 11 2008
A huge thank you to Movies.ie for tickets to see The Incredible Hulk last night in the Savoy. Darragh and I grabbed a pint before hand and chatted about a variety of things – the last version of the Hulk being one of them. I was apprehensive about seeing this movie, the newest incarnation of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby‘s Not So Jolly Green Giant, after Ang Lee’s dire Hulk in 2003. I wondered if Louis Letterier‘s direction could do for the Hulk franchise what Batman Begins did for Gotham’s Caped Crusader.
Step One: Eric Bana has been replaced by the far superior actor, Edward Norton, in a role that surprised me. Norton, famous for his dramatic turns in 25th Hour and American History X and the more commercial Fight Club, seems to have shunned the spotlight in recent years. It was refreshing to see someone of his callibre take on a role that was inevitably 50% CG (seemingly Norton gave the movie a complete rewrite before taking on the role). Someone at Marvel has a massive ingenious plan in the works with the casting of Norton as Bruce Banner and Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark/Iron Man. One can only wonder who will be playing Captain America – my money is on Ryan Gosling.
Step Two: Assume the viewer has some concept of the origins of the Hulk. Ang Lee’s Hulk went 40 minutes before revealing ‘the big guy’. The script by Zac Penn (X-Men: The Last Stand and Fantastic Four) and Norton, gives the audience a brief re-run of the back story during the opening credits before getting straight into the story of the on-the-run Bruce Banner.
Step Three: Hulk Smash! The Incredible Hulk should not be an arthouse exercise, it should not have audiences questioning their existence or pondering the injustices committed by man to man. It should have plenty of car-throwing, building-smashing, tank-totaling action and this movie has this in abundance. The action sequences are what define the Hulk – he is, after all, a giant green monster. The dramatic pauses and difficult moral decisions are left to Bruce Banner and Norton can do that in his sleep. Getting the character of the Hulk right was the most important part of this film and for the most part, they pull it off.
In interviews, Letterier claimed he wanted to recreate the realism of Gollum from Lord of the Rings, using similar techniques to achieve it. For much of the movie, where the Hulk is in the dark or we catch fleeting glances of him, Letterier has got it perfect, but this is not Gollum. Much of the creature effects left me feeling a little disappointed. I wanted to feel something for the character of the Hulk, but I was left pondering the level of detail in the the skin, the impact of the bullets, the cartoonish raindrops on his body. Much of it was excellent (the huge fight scenes with ‘the Abomination’ were visually brilliant), but most of the time the character was a little like graffiti on an otherwise beautiful landscape. And while the two CG monsters fighting at the end of a movie is getting a bit tired at this stage (Iron Man proved it could still be done with style), this is a movie about the Hulk – it could not go any other way.
Step Four: Get the supporting cast right. In recent years, William Hurt has proven himself to be one of the great actors of our time. Since his showstopping turn in David Cronenberg‘s History of Violence, he has really shone. As General Ross, he will not win any Oscars, but he brings a gravitas and respect to the role which may not otherwise be there.
Tim Roth, as Emil Blonsky/The Abomination, was perfect. Roth was one of my favourite actors from the nineties, but after Million Dollar Hotel and Planet of the Apes, I lost interest in his increasingly obscure roles. It was a treat to see him take on a role like this. In interview he claimed he was convinced by his kids to do this more mainstream, comic-book role. Maybe he should listen to them a little more. Tim Blake Nelson, remembered for his role as the hilarious dimwit, Delmar, in O Brother, Where Art Thou?, steals the screen when he’s there. His energy and excitement do not fit with the small role he has in The Incredible Hulk and it’s clear he has been set up to return (as the new bad guy, The Leader, perhaps) in the potential sequel.
The casting of Liv Tyler as Betty Ross, Banner’s long time love interest, was a bit of a damp squib. Played by Jennifer Connelly in Ang Lee’s Hulk, perhaps Connelly should have been given the opportunity to reprise her role. Tyler isn’t bad, but she certainly doesn’t add anything to the movie and when she is placed in peril, I don’t think anyone really cares.
Step Five: Give the Fanboys something to enjoy. I am not a big comic-book eek and I don’t know the many back-stories, sideline plots and various crossovers the Hulk has seen and been through over the past 46 years, but I did spot a number of nods and there was a wonderful moment where Banner fluffs his iconic “You won’t like me when I’m angry” line. This movie will please the fans and the hints towards a forthcoming Avengers movie must be whetting many a geek’s appetite. I can’t wait. Spoiler (highlight to view): Robert Downey Junior’s Tony Stark appearing at the end of the movie was the greatest moment in the whole movie.
Louis Letterier, Zac Penn and Edward Norton have managed to make a movie that more than makes up for the abomination that was 2003’s Hulk. This is not the greatest comic book movie ever made and definitely falls short of last month’s Iron Man, but it has given a renewed vigour to a faded story and I already welcome a sequel. The Incredible Hulk is credible again. Go see it and enjoy the action packed fun.