The Incredible Hulk – Review

Keeping it Old Skool

Over the past decade or so, it has been an interesting pastime to witness Comic Book Movies’ ongoing need to be taken seriously – you know, like proper films. Of course, different franchises go about this in different ways, but a trend seems to be to aim for melodrama that gives its protagonists’ motivations some believable weight. This in itself is a tricky thing to balance – the X-men films created a wholly rounded universe only to dash it into pulpy illogicality in the 3rd film; the Spiderman films danced on a fine line talking about Emotions but again fell at the 3rd hurdle by mistakenly putting weeping teenagers in centre stage, when audiences just wanted to see more “kickass” action. No Superhero movie of recent times could have been more misjudged however, than Ang Lee’s “Hulk.” Don’t get me wrong, I for one think it’s a beautiful work of cinema, but it was not the Hulk Smash that mainstream audiences had come to anticipate from a summer blockbuster, and Dr Banner’s near-Oedipal relationship with his father was hardly the stuff of Happy Meal franchises and sticker book collections. Fatally, it was TOO serious to connect, and as word of mouth spread, it became a financial flop.

Thankfully, Marvel have seen fit to give the big green guy another chance to batter audiences around the head, this time with a slightly different approach. Marvel Studios continue to enjoy their new-found cinematic autocracy by putting Louis Leterrier in the director’s seat for this new interpretation of the green goliath – his directing work to date has been of Eurotrash Kung-fu flicks – the Transporter(s) and Unleashed, so it would make sense to assume that his Hulk would be all Smash, and no Angst.

Well, the film wastes no time in getting into the thick of the action – an opening montage over the credits politely sidesteps any events from Lee’s Hulk, and a teasing POV shot clues the audience into Dr Banner’s fate, before an establishing shot where we find Bruce Banner hiding out in the Favelas of Brazil.

Plot isn’t a strong point for this film, other than to say its a classic Hulk storyline – Bruce Banner is on the run whilst wrestling with his demons; bad men are out to get him, whilst he’s searching for a cure to the Gamma radiation. More importantly than plot, the character work here is refreshingly solid – Ed Norton is particularly fraught in the role of nebbish Bruce. I hope that this is the role which makes him more than just “That guy from Fight Club.” This is definitely Norton’s film though, and Liv Tyler as love interest Betty Ross is surprisingly underwhelming in contrast – her character doesn’t seem to have much to do beyond looking pretty or worried. Tim Roth is clearly having a ball hamming it up as ageing soldier Emil Blonsky, and William Hurt gruffly plays General Thunderbolt Ross with all the military precision required for the part.

There are two main strengths to this film- the action, and the quiet moments in between. Norton’s Banner appears to have been schooling in some Capoiera-style martial art, so he can pretty much handle himself even when fully human, and an early chase sequence through the favelas is a joy to behold as he nimbly runs down narrow lanes and over rooftops. Hulk himself seems a lot more athletic than we’ve seen him before, and can easily scale the skyscrapers of Manhattan with a parcour-style free running which demonstrates the beast’s agility. It’s a revelation to finally see a foe on screen that can offer Hulk a genuine challenge in a fight, and the brutal, climactic battle with the Abomination will have the walls of your cinema shaking, unless that’s just you jumping up and down in your seat with glee.

As for the quiet moments I mentioned, well, I can’t really say too much without spoilers, but there are so many knowing nods to both fans of the tv series and the comic books that you’d almost need a clipboard to hand to keep track of them all – one scene in particular between Banner and a security guard was a genuinely touching acknowledgement of the Hulk’s on screen heritage. There are at least 4 cameos that I spotted, one of which has been well documented on the net for a while now. One scene between Banner and Betty is worthy of a mention as it playfully taunts what a frustrating, monastic sort of life the good Doctor is obliged to lead.

It could well be because I saw this film on the BFI Imax screen (which we were told was the first ever showing of a film using their brand new digital projector – whoo yea, Imax Digital, could anything be better?), but some of the cinematography is just an awe to behold – from the hillside favelas to the autumnal woods of Canada. As with Batman Begins, I found that the vast expanses of real landscape helped to ground the CGI creations in a believable environment, so whilst it’s clearly obvious that the 9-foot tall green man is not real, he feels a lot more seamlessly integrated into his surroundings.

So, in summary, there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that this is the Hulk film that the fans have been waiting for, and I can only hope it doesn’t suffer too much commercially by having to apologise to the cineplex-goers for the last film. Leterrier has excelled himself and made a proper film that both excites the audience whilst taking the time to give the characters some depth and motivation. What could be a prevalent comment about Hulk this summer will be – “Well, it wasn’t as good as Iron Man or Dark Knight.” This may well turn out to be the case, but it is still an excellently made comic book movie, and we should just count ourselves lucky that we are been spoilt by such a strong summer of superhero action. I can’t wait to go and see this again when it comes out at the weekend, and eagerly look forward to the next Hulk film, and the ever-expanding cross-pollination of the Marvel Universe on screen.

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