– Summary –
Director : Louis Leterrier
Year Of Release : 2008
Principal Cast : Edward Norton, Liv Tyler, William Hurt, Tim Roth, Tim Blake Nelson, Ty Burrell.
Approx Running Time : 90 Minutes
Synopsis: Bruce Banner, who has disappeared into the sprawling maze of a South American city after events told in Hulk, is brought out of hiding after a potential cure to his condition is discovered. But his return to a real life is hindered by the pursuit of a mercenary commando, under the orders of Banner’s girlfriends father.
What we think : Rousing action/effect spectacle, a substantial improvement over Ang Lee’s debacle, Edward Norton brings the gravitas to the role of the man with angry in his pants. Action packed, comic-book fare doesn’t get much better than this.
A few years back, much acclaim was heaped upon Ang Lee and his supposed vision of the Marvel comic character, The Hulk. That was before the film was released, and, to the general public, the film sunk badly. In the intervening years, much critical derision was sent Lee’s way for his laborious, unflattering portrayal of the character, no matter how consistent with the comic books. Audience response was mixed: most mentioned the way the film was shot and presented was wonderful, in the style of the comic books; others pinpointed the film’s ultimate failure as a result of the depressing script and lack of empathy with the core characters. The original Hulk movie was flat, indeed labored and suffering a real “heroic” edge. It wasn’t the Hulk that fans, or the studio, wanted. Ang Lee tired hard, but got it wrong.
So much so that Marvel decided to give the character another go. They went back to the drawing board. What makes the Hulk such an appealing character? Sure, he’s big and strong, allowing for some amazing special effects to bring the big green guy to life, but what about the humanity, the link we need to draw us into the characters of the story?
Rather than confine Lee’s version to the scrapheap, the filmmakers take that film as the reboot it was intended as, and use The Incredible Hulk as a sort-of sequel.
Bruce Banner, played with sombre intensity in Ang Lee’s version by Aussie Eric Bana, is this time portrayed by American uber-actor Edward Norton. Originally, I thought this was a strange choice, but, after viewing the film, I cannot imagine anybody else in the role. Banner’s exposure to the gamma radiation that transforms him into the Hulk, and the friction with girlfriend Betty Ross’ father, General Thadeus “Thunderbolt” Ross is not presented in this film in it’s entirety like it was previously: this information is briefly alluded to in the opening credit preamble. The film assumes you have at least a passing knowledge of the previous film, although now intent on a kind of subtle revisionism as it progresses this time, alluding to the fact that the Hulk has been spotted by some observant people here and there, but has ultimately become some kind of urban legend.
Norton plays Banner as a strong willed, but unsuccessfully able, man on the run, hiding out in South America while the US military looks for him. His girlfriend, Betty Ross, played by the stunning Liv Tyler, is currently seeing another man (whom she promptly dumps once Banner arrives back into her life!) and her father, the General, is stoically performed with intensity by William Hurt: Hurt’s portrayal of the thunderous Ross patriarch is so out of the box we normally see him in, it’s unbelievable. He’s all fire and brimstone, an unswerving dedication to his beloved Army in spite of his daughter and family.
Secondary characters, like Emil Blonsky, played with snarling intensity by Tim Roth, the man who pursues banner through the slums of the city and eventually becomes driven to Hulk-ify himself in order to capture his prey, are less developed or given much character development; beyond the generic “I have a vendetta against the Hulk now” thing. They serve merely as a foil for the Hulk, somebody who can go toe to toe with the big green giant and survive; not once, not twice, but three times.
The film is a fair cavalcade of action, adventure and impressive digital effects. Director Louis Leterrier gives this film everything, and it shows. There’s nothing spared, no action-film buff’s desire unfulfilled. This is as ballsy a comic film as you’re likely to ever see. It lacks gravitas in the key action moments, mainly due, I think, to the sheer indestructible nature of the Hulk, which negates the thrilling aspect of the whole show, but it remains entertaining on a level Ang Lee’s version couldn’t hope to match.
The Abomination’s arrival at the film’s final act is a superbly realized enemy for the Hulk to battle, and they are evenly matched the Hulk even requires assistance from the US military to defeat him. This bravura battle sequence destroys buildings, streets, and vehicles. It’s handled with panache by a director best know for directing the two Transporter movies, which is to say, high hopes weren’t originally made for this project. Nevertheless, you’d have to qualify this as a genuine surprise package, both in the level of storytelling on show, and the quality cast making it all happen. Leterrier’s camera moves around the sets and locations like a dervish, not flinching in delivering some major money-shots the big boys might normally shy away from. The effects are reasonably excellent throughout, although at times, especially with the Hulk taking on the the marines in the University grounds, there’s a few moments where you catch a glimpse of a hurried shot here and there. Minor, but visible.
The film’s pacing is wonderful, with a great balance between character development and action: Bruce & Betty’s emotional story is slightly hampered by a lack of clarity in their past and potential future, however, is given enough solidity by Norton and Tyler to allow us to invest emotionally regardless. Betty’s fragile relationship with her malcontent General father is more interesting, and although they have little screen time together, both Tyler and William Hurt have wonderful chemistry that allows us to really feel the daughters rage at her fathers persecution of her lover.
So what makes this version better than it’s predecessor?
First, it’s the style. The film has a cleaner, meaner edge than Lee’s version. The script relies less on emotion than moving the story along, something The Incredible Hulk does very well. Some would argue that a fast moving story leaves little room for characters, but I reply to that by saying that this Hulk film gives enough in the story and the little touches here and there for even the most obtuse person to figure out what’s happening. The looks, the smiles, the grimaces, the subtle scripted homages to the comic and the previous film: all build upon the mythology Stan Lee created, and Ang Lee built upon in his film.
My personal favorite moment: Betty Ross buying Bruce some stretchy purple tracksuit pants to wear for when he turns into the Hulk. A wonderful belly laugh at the comic-book convention of the Hulk always wearing purple pants whenever he changes, wearing them originally or not.
My second favourite thing about this version of the Hulk, is that the interpretation of the characters, the essence of the concept, is taken just seriously enough to delve into the character, but with enough of a light hearted tone that the audience can have some fun.
This version of the Hulk is the version we should have seen last time, but didn’t get. Here’s hoping the next outing will be just as much fun, and a whole lot more Hulky!