The Hulk Better Than Some, Not As Good As Others

Submitted by Mark Harrington:

This week’s film is The Incredible Hulk. That’s right. The big, green monster, a.k.a. Bruce Banner, is back, and this time with stretchy pants, a heart monitor and a yoga master. Five years after Ang Lee’s attempt to bring the big guy to the big screen, French director Louis Leterrier jumps from his Transporter past to tackle another take.

Lee’s 2003 Hulk received a lukewarm reception at the box office mostly due to a disjointed deviation from the original story, but it was also guilty of the typical over indulgence in CGI, and some grave miscasting that was compounded by overacting. But like many of us, Leterrier still respected Lee’s experiment which incorporated a heavy dose of science versus nature with an edgy, artistic style of cinematography.

So, Leterrier sought not necessarily to start from scratch, but like his lead character, he wanted to return to the foundational elements of the experiment, change the ingredients and see if the results were any better. Mostly, this Hulk experiment succeeds.

The best new ingredients are Edward Norton, who delivers a much more elemental Bruce Banner, and Tim Roth, who plays an aging Special Forces soldier intent on harnessing the same gamma powers that transform Banner into the Hulk for his own horrific incarnation. Norton delivers a terrific performance as the good natured doctor on the run, and Roth is the perfect evil counter force. But the rest of the cast includes an all too familiar type casting which results in a lack of opportunity for an interesting interplay between the characters. So, in that sense, this experiment fails to achieve the same results of Marvel’s other more engaging experiment, Iron Man.

Liv Tyler is all of sudden all too comfortable in yet another doe-eyed deer in head headlights role as Bruce Banner’s love interest, and William Hurt returns as an over-the-top general consumed with capturing Banner so he can transfer his blood to create a new super army. But our Frenchie director knows we Americans really don’t care about that character development stuff. Leterrier gets it from his Transporter days that summer audiences just want this experiment to produce big action and big bangs.

The trick is keeping the action sufficiently grounded in accessible, human landscapes that don’t distract the audience from what is going on in the scene. We call this the: “It’s so fake it’s laughable.” The first Hulk and this summer’s Indiana Jones are perfect examples of failing what some call the “Oh come on!” test. The other end of the spectrum is The Bourne Identity series.

Like Leterrier’s own Transporter installments, this version of the Hulk is somewhere in the middle. The action is fast paced and terrifically linked to a mix of large urban environments and tight interiors. However, the problem still lies with the CGI Hulk and Roth’s anti-Hulk, who is called “The Abomination.” As goofy as Lou Ferrigno (who returns for another cameo) was in the original series, that Hulk’s more human scale made the superhero more accessible. The overly cartoonish nature of these Hulks, particularly Roth’s, just look dumb. Writer Zak Penn tries to infuse some wit and humor by playing off some the series’ traditional dialogue and inserting a cute King Kong-like cave scene, but he fails to do enough to achieve the same level of success as his scripts for the X-Men installments.

So, the bottom line is this time around, the big green experiment yields acting, action and storyline results which are superior to the prior trials. Fans and new comers alike will enjoy Marvel’s second blockbuster just enough that “Hulk smash” box office. But on my ski trail rating, this green giant only gets an intermediate Blue trail marker.

More CGI trial and error is necessary to produce that perfect Black Diamond gem. The Incredible Hulk is rated PG-13 for intense action violence and scary images including excessive spine contortion.

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