Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Recap: "The Incredible Hulk" Part 1: Half-Life

Edward Norton playing a man with a dangerous split personality? I think we all know what movie I'm obligated to reference. Death to Smoochy.

Why? What movie were you thinking of?
After the legally-obligated Universal logo, we get the traditional Marvel one. I feel it necessary to mention that the traditional Marvel page-turning sequence is not tinted green this time, but only because this is the sequence for Marvel Studios and not just the indicator that this is a Marvel property in general. Still, I do like it when they tint it, even though that’s usually an indicator of a bad film. Seriously. Fantastic Four and its sequel, X-Men 3, Hulk, they all messed with the Marvel page-turning. I think that might be some kind of hubris thing. You mess with the page turning and you get smacked down by fate? I don’t know.

Much like this film’s predecessor, the film opens with a trippy montage. But instead of showing us random swirls, and colors, and space formations, it consists of medical-themed things like blood samples, x-rays, and things of that sort. And unlike Hulk, they put in actual work to make them seem realistic. The open credits that follow the title reveal, much like Hulk, is a montage of SCIENCE. But this time, it’s a quick summary of why and how Bruce Banner can become the Hulk. Instead of the Gamma accident from the comics and the last film, Bruce Banner, played this time by Ed Norton, was working for the military on some kind of project and ended up using himself as a test subject. Something went wrong, he Hulked out, trashed the lab, and went on the run after he accidentally hurt both Betty and General Ross. Actually, if you take out the bits with Bruce’s girlfriend, Betty (Liv Tyler), it’s pretty much an exact recreation of the opening sequence from the 70’s Hulk show.

The montage also includes references to the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe, like the fact that their anti-Hulk weapons are courtesy of Stark Industries and a letter from S.H.I.E.L.D.

What happened to not making weapons, Stark?
As the montage intersperses with shots of a metronome, we suddenly cut to Bruce panicking and stopping it. According to a helpful counter on the screen, it’s been 158 days since he last had an “incident.” The next day, we see that Bruce is now living in Rochina Favela, Brazil. Bruce hiding in South America is pretty much the only connection to the events of Hulk, but it’s enough in my book. If you ask me, the events of Hulk are canon enough to add as an unofficial “Phase Zero” to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Sure, Glenn Talbot might still be alive in the MCU, and Absorbing Man is a different person entirely, and all the actors look different, but I just chalk that up to the Reality Stone. Hey, it’s good for the movies if it’s good for the comics!

Anyway, Brazil. Bruce goes through his usual daily routine. Making food, feeding his dog, eating food, flipping past a cameo of former Bruce Banner Bill Bixby on TV….

Rest in peace, Bill.
And eventually reading while learning Portuguese from Grover on TV. Later, he goes to his personal trainer (a cameo by MMA pioneer and 8th degree black belt Rickson Gracie) who teaches him some self-defense as well as how to control his heart rate with his breathing. And shows off the weird things he can do with his abs.

I wished to high heaven that there was an animated gif online. There is not.
He tells Bruce that the best way to control his anger is to control his body, obviously not realizing that both are things that Bruce struggles with in the most ridiculous possible way. To drive this home, he slaps Bruce right in the face. Twice. Bruce tries to control his anger, but it’s his heart rate that’s important. In this film, because the Hulk is the result of a failed super-soldier experiment, the Hulk transformation is actually linked to adrenaline, not anger in general. So Bruce wears a heart rate monitor at all times. This is also why Bruce works at a very relaxed, non-stressful job at a sweatshop bottling plant where a local gang gives him a hard time for being a foreigner. …wait, what?

Bruce, you’re a human time bomb. Why not grow fruits and vegetables? After all, you’re a biologist. Why not become a builder? A tailor? Anything but a factory worker. A job where you’re constantly working without a break with coworkers that hate you just might be a tiny bit stressful. Though, to be fair, Bruce’s job mainly consists of pushing a supply trolley around to the workers and getting the bedroom eyes from what appears to be the only attractive woman working there.

The foreman calls him up to the higher levels, and has him fix the wiring for a conveyor belt. He tells his boss that it’ll work for a while, but he really needs to get new parts for it. His boss tells him that he’s grateful for the help he’s gotten for the past five months, but Bruce is too smart for day laboring and the boss basically insists on putting Bruce on the payroll. But there are more important matters to deal with because Bruce just sliced open his finger putting the broken machinery back together. In an impressive special effects shot that took a while to make, the single drop of blood splits in two and falls down through the bottlers and conveyor belts. Bruce immediately demands that the machines be stopped until he can clean up the blood. His boss has more of a “Don’t worry about it” attitude to this breach of health and safety, but Bruce runs down to the halted machine and cleans the small blood droplet off the conveyor belt before fixing his hand with Krazy Glue and giving the signal to restart the factory.

But unfortunately, Bruce has entirely missed the other blood droplet that ended up inside one of the bottles. The bottle is soon filled with Pingo Doce soda and shipped out while Bruce stops himself from getting involved with one of the gang guys making unwanted advances on the only hot lady in the factory. After all, it might not be the heroic thing to do, but he needs to keep his heart rate down. Not only for his safety, but the safety of everyone in this densely-packed city. But every movie needs a moment to establish the personality of the lead character. And because this film is taking its cues from the live-action The Incredible Hulk show, Bruce Banner (“David” Banner in the show, but still the same guy) is going to meddle in the situation as part of the homage to the formula for pretty much every episode of the TV series.

The Incredible Hulk TV show’s 4-Step Episode Formula
  1. Bruce David Banner helps someone, despite it not being a good idea.
  2. The bad guys confront him.
  3. Hulk out. 
  4. “The Lonely Man” plays as Bruce David walks down a road.
And here we have Step 1 as he confronts the gang. He tries to talk big at them in the hopes that they back down from the fight they want, but his grasp of Portuguese isn’t the best.

Bruce: “<Don’t make me… hungry. You wouldn’t like me when I’m… hungry.> …Ah, that’s not right.”

You’ve got that right. The Portuguese word for “angry” is “raiva.” The word for “hungry” is “fome.” They are nothing alike. But I’m sure this is just part of the Hulk’s disorder where at the end of sentences, he says the wrong fuse box. But while I’m on the subject, the “Brazilians” here aren’t much better. Sure, their Portuguese sounds fine to, say, an uncultured American such as myself. But to a native speaker, their accents are apparently hilarious.

Anyway, the boss breaks things up and Bruce takes the nice lady to lunch. Only to apparently ditch her, because he’s talking to his errand guy in the next scene. It’s okay, though. The actress went on to have a successful career on Latin American TV. The errand guy hands him a small satchel which Bruce rushes home to his hovel to do some science with. He whips out a laptop and a miniature satellite dish and begins encrypted correspondence with “Mr. Blue” under the alias of “Mr. Green.” He tells Mr. Blue (who I can only imagine is actually Eddie Bunker) that he has the flower and quickly gets to work distilling… something from its petals with his homespun lab equipment. And when he’s done, I think he’s going to send the rest of the flower to a “Dr. Crane” in Gotham City, for whatever reason.

Bruce puts a sample of his own blood on a slide and examines it. His red blood cells all have vaguely green blobs on them (because Hulk, I guess) and the serum he’s concocted makes the blobs go away. For a few seconds. Then his blood cells all Hulk out and crack the slide. He messages Mr. Blue, telling him that he used the whole flower and it didn’t work. Mr. Blue tells him that it’s time to meet. But Bruce is no fool, he knows that you don’t meet up all willy-nilly with random strangers on the internet. He says it isn’t safe, but Mr. Blue counters that living with Gamma poisoning isn’t safe either. As a last resort, Bruce reluctantly decides to send Mr. Blue some of his blood to get it analyzed by someone who is ostensibly an expert. He packs it up, addresses it, and gives it to the local post office for international delivery.

Meanwhile, we cut to Arlington, Virginia. Specifically, the Pentagon. And I’ll give this movie some immediate credit for not putting the Pentagon in Washington D.C., like so many movies do. General Thaddeus Ross (William Hurt) is working on some paperwork as a woman comes in and hands him a report of a possible “Gamma sickness.” You see, Stan Lee is very much an Old Testament-style creator. He puts his creations through Hell before giving them a happy ending, Book of Job-style. This time, as Stan Lee yet again walks through the worlds of his own creation, he has decided to dabble in blood sacrifice. That soda tainted with Bruce’s blood?

And the GENERALISSIMO spake unto Bruce, Take thy hand, and stretch out thine thumb upon the sodas of Brazil, that they may contain blood; and that there may be blood throughout all the land; both in vessels of plastic, and in vessels of glass. Excelsior.
Stan Lee is then shown to drop his bottle, which implies that he suddenly got ill with apparent “Gamma sickness.” Ladies and gentlemen, I believe this is the first time Stan Lee has come to harm in any of his cameos. ...I don’t know how to feel about that.

Anyway, General Ross orders a team into Brazil to check out the bottling plant, and we get a patented Michael Bay military montage. Seeing as how this isn’t a Michael Bay film, it’s a little weird to see. But in order to finally catch the green Goliath, they’re bringing in some outside help. Emil Blonsky, played by Tim Roth, is the Russian-born paragon of the British Royal Marines. As the troops get their intel on the way to Brazil, Blonsky only has one question.

Emil Blonsky: “Is he a fighter?”

Already, that should be a red flag if you’re planning a quick and clean snatch-and-capture mission. General Ross set him straight, though.

General Ross: “Your target is a fugitive from the US government who stole military secrets.”

Insert Julian Assange joke here.

General Ross: "He is also implicated in the deaths of two scientists, a military officer, an Idaho state trooper, and possibly two Canadian hunters, so don’t wait to see if he’s a fighter!”

Hey, man, I’ve read the comics. Those hunters were killed by a Wendigo.

Bruce, meanwhile, gets a call from Mr. Blue. He’s been trying some treatments, and they show promise. A lot of promise. But Mr. Blue needs more data, like how concentrated the Gamma dosage was, cell saturation, etc. But that data’s back at the Culver University lab where the Hulk was created. This makes Bruce so sad that he gives us that now-famous reaction gif.

How I feel after reading any given YouTube comment.
Later that night, the U.S. Army moves into position for their very illegal operation. How illegal? Let me count the ways….
  1. Posse comitatus. Long story short, there’s a law saying that the military are not police officers. As such, they cannot legally “arrest” Bruce for his crimes. (That’s why Military Police exist, but even then, their jurisdiction isn’t unlimited.)
  2. Failing that, Bruce Banner has not been convicted of any crime. Accused? Sure. Implicated? Absolutely. But no trial has taken place, therefore “innocent until proven guilty” still technically applies. But even if you want to argue that the United States is still well within their rights to capture a dangerous fugitive…. 
  3. Extradition procedures, hello? The United States has been on good terms with Brazil for over four decades. There are proper procedures put in place for this thing, and secret Commando raids are most decidedly not part of them. 
Anyway, SEAL Team Six or whoever these guys are supposed to be (the Howling Commandos, perhaps?) get into position and stick a camera wand underneath the door to make sure Bruce is sleeping. It is at this point that I, along with many other viewers of a certain Let’s Play series, begin to instinctively expect to hear “You’re in my spot, sir.”

Anyway, they spot Bruce’s brown head of hair poking out from the covers, and bust right in. Quickly, they shoot several tranquilizers into the mass on the bed, but removing the covers reveals only some pillows and a brown wig. Looks like Bruce has been learning some tactics from The Fellowship of the Ring. But what else can you expect when your girlfriend is Arwen? Bruce is currently hiding out in some random senhora’s bedroom, having surprised her after her shower and somehow convincing her not to freak out at this development. From there, he heads to ground level and puts his hood up to ensure that he looks as suspicious as possible. Short of Hulking out, of course.

As the time decides to suddenly switch to the early morning, Blonsky spots the suspicious man in the red hoodie and leads his squad after him. The chase cuts through some kids playing soccer, back alleys, and various nooks and crannies of the city. Bruce, who knows the city layout well, manages to stay one step ahead of his pursuers, but a problem soon develops. You see, running for your life tends to elevate your heart rate, and Bruce’s heart monitor is going nuts.

As Blonsky closes in, Bruce manages to use some breathing techniques to calm himself before taking off again. But this time, he runs straight toward General Ross himself, and they lock eyes in that way that hero and villain do. You know, that sort of “We meet again, Mr. Bond” look. The time decides to switch to night again as Bruce executes and advanced maneuver known as “running the other way” that General Ross only barely manages to counter.

I mentioned that I’ve been playing Assassin’s Creed IV in my Recap of Hulk, and I have to say that seeing a man in a hood run from people shooting at him is giving me some flashbacks.

Anyway, before you can say “Edward Kenway,” Bruce just happens to literally run into the gang dudes from the factory. They’re more than happy to start attacking him, but Bruce manages to use a few judo moves to knock them to the ground and get away. The gang gives chase, and Bruce runs toward the factory in the hopes that he can hide out. Of course, his heart monitor beeping wildly isn’t helping with the whole “hiding” thing. Both Blonsky’s team and the gang begin searching the factory for him, and the gang manages to intercept him and toss him around. They toss away his backpack and begin roughing him up a bit, fulfilling Step 2 of the aforementioned TV show formula.

Bruce’s heart rate climbs and climbs as Blonsky’s team surrounds the factory and aim their weapons. Blonsky’s team manages to hit one of the gang members with a tranq dart, which distracts the others long enough to drop Bruce.

But the damage has been done. Bruce’s heart rate hits 200, and his eyes begin to glow as he writhes on the ground.

It’s too late. We’re at Step 3: Hulking out.

One of the gang toughs gets thrown through the foreman’s office.

An inhuman scream cuts through the air.

The troops mobilize as the hoodlums are picked off one by one. One of the troops reports a bogey, but Ross yells that that ain’t no bogey. That’s the target.

The troops empty their clips into the target’s back, but they all just bounce off and hit the ground.

All we see are bits of the monster.

A foot.

A hand.

Its back.

A silhouette running through the dark.

Tranqs do nothing. Live ammo does nothing. Grenades do nothing.

A low rumble approximates human speech.

Voice: “Leave me alone….”

Tanks are thrown aside, shots are fired, and some kind of massive figure tries to walk away. But Blonsky can’t let that happen. He takes aim and fires round after round after round at the massive figure. Finally, slowly, it turns toward its attacker, and we see our first good look at the incredible Hulk.

Hulk needs a shave. Now that's attention to detail.
As you might have been able to tell from the general lack of snark for the factory sequence, this whole part is atmospheric as Hell. Naturally, one could easily compare this sequence to the first Hulk-out from Hulk. After all, it’s dark, it’s tense, it’s scary. But there are a few key differences. First of all, the effects here are much better, but that’s to be expected from advancing technology. Second of all, the Hulk was first shown in the darkness in Hulk because they weren’t very confident in their effects and wanted to acclimate the viewer to the cgi before throwing a properly lit Shrek Hulk at them. But the dark lighting is not used to that film’s advantage; it’s just a way of covering up disappointing effects.

But with The Incredible Hulk, I’m actually reminded of Jaws. When making Jaws, Steven Spielberg was so disappointed with the animatronic shark that he decided to hide the shark for most of the movie. The shark’s presence would be felt through its actions instead, making it that much scarier because no scary imagery can beat what an audience can imagine. This scene is largely along the same lines. The Hulk doesn’t really appear in all his glory yet, but his presence is felt. He throws stuff around, he hits stuff, he breaks stuff, he chases people. The darkness isn’t used to simply cover up the effects, it’s used to create an atmosphere of terror. The Hulk is depicted as a force of nature. He’s not something to stare and marvel at (no pun intended). The Hulk is portrayed here as an utterly terrifying monster that uses the dark to its advantage. Instead of covering up bad effects, the darkness is used here to enhance the atmosphere. And holy crap is it effective.

Anyway, Bruce Banner and General Ross have had their stare, so now it’s time for our other protagonist (Hulk) to stare at our other villain (Blonsky). And they do. Once again, there's a reference I need to make.

He tried! To kill him with a forklift!
And in the confusion, the Hulk manages to escape. Back at Bruce’s place, General Ross and Blonsky’s team reconvene and try to work out what to do now. Blonsky managed to recover Bruce’s computer, and tries to figure out the significance of Bruce’s picture of Betty, theorizing that she might be helping him, whoever she is.

General Ross: “She is no longer a factor.”

Wow, way to sound like you put a hit out on your own daughter, Ross.

Anyway, they all get started on hacking into his laptop to try and see who he’s been talking to. All except for Blonsky, who decides to actually ask what the Hell happened back there. You know, with the giant rage monster? Blonsky is apparently the only one who finds that strange.

Blonsky: “It threw a forklift truck like it was a softball!"

Blonsky seems to be equal parts confused, scared, and enraptured. Blonsky vows to track Banner down and find out just what that thing was.

Ross: “It was Banner.”
Blonsky: “You have to explain that statement, sir.”
Ross: “No, I don’t.”

True, but it might help if your troops were actually, y’know, prepared for what they’re up against.

And as General Ross gets his men to prep for the return journey, we cut to the next day, where a nearly-naked Bruce Banner is waking up a different time, in a different place, as a different person as the “Days Without Incident” counter resets to 1. He manages to find a road, which happens to have a car driving on it, which happens to have a man driving it. After learning that he’s in Guatemala, he gets a ride from the man to the next town.

And before you can say “Put a shirt on, Bruce,” we cut back to America, where General Ross and Emil Blonsky are still discussing the mission. And it’s at this moment that I’m realizing just how short Blonsky is.

No wonder he's so gung-ho to prove himself. Everybody literally looks down on him.
Blonsky: “I’ve seen good men go down purely because someone didn’t let us know what we were walking into.”

You know, not that he’s hinting or anything.

He goes on that he’s used to taking the ups with the downs. He’s a professional; he moves on.

Blonsky: “But this? This is a whole new level of weird.”

No, the jellyfish over the desert in Hulk. That was a whole new level of weird.

Blonsky says that if Ross is going to keep chasing this guy, then he wants in on the job.

Blonsky: “And, with respect, you should be looking for a team that’s prepped and ready to fight, because if that thing shows up again, you’re gonna have a lot of professional tough guys pissing in their pants.”

Sounds like somebody discovered what shirttails are for after Hulk threw a forklift at him.

Back with Bruce Banner, he’s in Chapas, Mexico, heading for the US. For some reason, he still hasn’t acquired any new clothes since Guatemala, so he’s just walking down the street in tattered pants as “The Lonely Man” plays, which is the fourth and final step to the formula of every episode of The Incredible Hulk ever. And the only reason he’s not sticking out his thumb is because he needs both hands to hold up his pants.

After a bit of begging on the street, Bruce finally buys some new pantalones. Stretchy grey ones, this time. Bruce spends the night on the street, nearly Hulking out from flashbacks, but he manages to keep it under control long enough to resume his trek to the States. Speaking of the States, Ross is officially in on the gig of Hulk-chasing, so Ross spills the beans on Bruce Banner. It all started back in World War Two, when they started up a program for what General Ross calls “Bio-Tech Force Enhancement.”

Blonsky: “Yeah, Super Soldier.”

It goes Completely unsAid, but there’s an unsPoken implicaTion of A vIable result of some kiNd. Enough of A result that General Ross was given perMission to start up thE pRoject agaIn, though from sCrAtch this time. Bruce Banner didn’t entirely know what he was working on (raising questions as to how he could even work on it, but whatever) and believed he was working on a way to improve the body’s resistance to radiation. Long story short, Bruce Banner was so confident in his work that he went to the old comic book standby of testing it on himself. And Gamma radiation reacted badly to a prototype Super Soldier Serum, resulting in the Hulk.

General Ross: “As far as I’m concerned, that man’s whole body is the property of the US Army.”

I’m pretty sure there’s something in the Constitution somewhere between the 12th and 14th Amendments that clearly states that you’re not allowed to own people. But to be fair, General Ross has a point. It’s government science, therefore Banner is the responsibility of the US government. Ideally, they should take him back to a lab and try to help him. And you know what? That’s the goal. It’s the stretch goal of creating Hulks for the Army that Bruce doesn’t care for. Of course, maybe General Ross shouldn’t have lied about what the project was about, but General Ross doesn’t like scientists. They’re thinkers, not fighters. He even says it himself.

General Ross: “He’s a scientist. He is not one of us.”

Blonsky points out that Ross implied that Banner wasn’t the only person working on making Super Soldiers. What were the other scientists doing? They were trying to recreate the old formula. And they made a batch that was very promising.

Ross chooses this moment to ask about Blonksy’s age. He guesses that Blonsky’s in his mid-40’s. He’s 39. It may seem rude, but General Ross clearly wants Blonsky on the topic of his soon-to-be-failing body. Blonsky says that he’s a fighter at heart. Deep down, he just wishes that he could take his current experience and put it into his younger, fitter body. HINT HINT.

General Ross: “I could probably arrange something like that.”

As if it wasn’t clear enough already, Blonsky simply lives to fight, and it’s easy to see what he’s doing here. Blonsky’s statement about putting his current mind in a younger, fitter body is clearly his way of saying “Shoot me up with super-juice.” But what’s more subtle is that General Ross is aiming for the same thing. General Ross does not hate the Hulk. After all, he specifically tells the troops to tranquilize Bruce, and he even admits in private that he marvels (again, no pun intended) at what the Hulk can do. It’s Bruce Banner that General Ross hates, even going so far as to say “He’s not one of us.” And that’s why Ross hates Bruce Banner. He’s not a soldier, he’s a scientist. All that strength, all that fury wasted on someone who won’t attack America’s enemies? That disgusts General Ross to no end. But in Blonsky, General Ross has finally found someone who lives only to find the bad guys and beat them up. In their own ways, each of them is taking advantage of the other. The only question is… who’s going to come out on top?

Coming up in Part 2! More hiding! More fighting! More Hulk! Which is more than I can say about the first Hulk film.

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