Monday, June 16, 2008

‘Hulk’ Bulky on Action, Light on Talk

Grade: B-

The Incredible Hulk is technically the second theatrical release based on the Marvel Comics super-hero. However, this film, directed by Louis Leterrier (The Transporter 2, Unleashed) apparently ignores the events of 2003’s adjective-free Hulk which was directed by Ang Lee. Lead actor Edward Norton plays haunted scientist Bruce Banner in addition to contributing a script draft which was conditional upon his hiring as an actor (the WGA gives Zak Penn final official credit for the screenplay).

The story continues—or begins again—the saga of former research scientist Dr. Banner, whose body was drastically mutated in the aftermath of a botched experiment involving improving human resistance to radiation. Now, in times of extreme anger or stress, Banner’s gamma-irradiated cells expand exponentially, turning him into the outsized, super-muscled Hulk—driven by rage and prone to lash out at his tormentors with little restraint.

General Thaddeus Ross (played by William Hurt) was present at the experiment that birthed the Hulk, as was his daughter Betty (Liv Tyler). Obsessed with bringing the fugitive Banner into custody, the general recruits a special commando unit, including one Emil Blonsky (Tim Roth), on loan from the British military. When the general’s team finally tracks down Banner to a Brazilian shantytown, things begin to go downhill for both Banner and the general—the Hulk is unleashed and makes short work of everyone involved. But while most of the team is at least humbled by this turn of events, it only intrigues Blonsky, who then volunteers to be injected with a top-secret performance-enhancement cocktail.

Unfortunately, the grim Blonsky doesn’t remotely have the conscience of Banner, and he becomes increasingly aggressive in his attempts to bring down his quarry. Meanwhile, the trouble-prone scientist hitchhikes from Latin America all the way to the Virginia college where he and Betty worked. Stumbling into an awkward reunion with his former love, a second Hulk flare-up prompts the two to head to New York City, where a heretofore mysterious colleague of Banner has the equipment necessary to attempt a cure—but the dogged Blonsky’s lust for combat derails everything; his own mutation spins out of control, turning him into the monster Abomination. With military personnel literally being crushed by this new creature, a reluctant Banner realizes that the only thing that can stop the rampaging Blonsky may be the Hulk.

If one is apt to believe circulating entertainment reports, Norton was allegedly miffed with Marvel studio executives who wanted a leaner, more action-driven final cut of the film compared to Ang Lee’s slower, ponderous interpretation. As viewed, the film is a taut action vehicle, essentially becoming a chase thriller after the first Hulk-eruption. Quieter moments such as when Bruce and Betty first reunite or trailer-glimpsed scenes of an Arctic sojourn and Bruce’s chat with a psychologist (Ty Burrell) are either truncated or not seen at all. Marvel Studios is self-financing their comic-strip based features now, so there is legitimate commercial concern here.

Still, accommodating viewers who don’t have stunted attention spans isn’t really that bad. The Lord of the Rings movies found a way to keep the story literate and the action exciting. While prose-fiction hardliners may blanch at comparing Stan Lee’s comic-book series to Tolkien, it helps to bear in mind that cool art-visuals alone aren’t enough to keep a comic-book going for 45 years like the Hulk. The story, whether simple or complex, still needs to be in place. Hopefully it won’t be another five years (or longer) before the Hulk shows up at cinema again, and maybe his handlers will believe in him enough to make the narrative as strong as the spectacle.

2 comments:

fragilehooligan said...

I reckon you nailed it there, hype.

See my rant on the EB about how comics should not be adapted to movies but to TV shows, especially now the budget, SFX standard and most importantly dramatic scope of TV is huge.

I missed some of the depth and darkness of the Ang Lee version. I kinda think overall this was a tighter and more engaging movie, but still. In my ideal world where comics get made into TV shows, this version would be the pilot... and then the show could step right back to the initial experiment and the backstory.

And the big flaw?

A fistfight is no way to end a movie, it's just not. Really sick of this - but a fistfight between two special effects is just really taxing to watch. There has to be some way around this, really.

Depending on CG can really wreck a movie IMHO - see 'I am legend' for example (and also for an example of how a bob marley tune can really wreck a movie, LOL) - and though hulk really comes up trumps... ya still notice.

GO tony stark though ;-) - fast becoming my #1 wisecracking twitchy guy. The superhero you really wanna go for beers with.

See you on the funny pages.

Mike Wilkerson said...

Greetings!

Any interest in creating a regularly occurring podcast that showcases your interest in feature films?

Touch base when you see this message to me at our contact page:

www.2guystalking.com/contact.html

and let's talk about creating something cool that would get you more traffic at your blog, and also create another "flavor of virtual ice cream" on our network.

Thanks for the cool review online and I look forward to talking to you.