Friday, March 27, 2015

Review: "The Incredible Hulk"

Of course, Hulk is the major elephant in the room when it comes to judging this movie. But for now, The Incredible Hulk needs to be fairly judged on its own merits.

Rule 1: Don't talk about Hulk.
Rule 2: Don't talk about Hulk.

Let's go.

Like... Shoot, I'm breaking my two rules already. But just this once, with good reason.

Like Hulk, The Incredible Hulk tries to be the definitive Hulk movie by mixing together elements from the character's almost fifty-year history. But there's also something in the mix that makes it work this time.


At the expense of making the characters less complex than the neurotic messes they were in Hulk, the film gives focus to the specific events. Bruce, for example. In Hulk, he had daddy issues, girl problems, he was fleeing the military, and there was the whole problem with Hulking out. In The Incredible Hulk, most of those issues are still there, but it's his attempts to cute the Hulk that drive the plot forward, instead of having several plot threads lurch the plot every which way.

Simply put, this movie is the Hulk's story in a nutshell. On the run, looking for a cure, classic villains, it's all there. There are even references to specific storylines. The stuff with Mr. Blue and Mr. Green was added by Edward Norton as a direct reference to Bruce Jones's run on the comics.

Where Hulk (last mention, I swear) focused on the psychology of what kind of repressed psyche would create the Hulk, The Incredible Hulk takes the Hulk's existence and asks what kind of human could cope with such a thing.

Bruce Banner

Once again, Ed Norton shines as the fractured Bruce Banner. I really like how Zen of a character he is. I mean, if he wasn't, he'd be Hulking out every other day. Add to that a bit of Oppenheimer-esque regret, and the character becomes an interesting study of a man on a quest to undo what he has wrought upon the world.

Norton would be replaced with Mark Ruffalo after this film, but that's probably for the best. The necessary characterization of Bruce Banner in The Avengers clashes a bit with Edward Norton's portrayal. But I'll get there when I get there. For now, Ed Norton gave a solid, layered performance that elevates what could have been a generic and angsty role.

The Hulk
The Hulk is not a force of pure anger in this. Anger may be what fuels the Hulk, and it may be what created the Hulk, but the Hulk is not pure anger. When Betty is in harm's way, she's the first priority. The Hulk only ever lashes out in self-defense. He could away down the military like bugs. But he doesn't. He breaks their toys and keeps them from attacking him. The only human he badly injured was Blonsky. And he was literally asking for it.

In a very literal sense, when Bruce becomes the Hulk, his heart grows three sizes. While the Hulk is a manifestation of the id, it's easy to see how he could conceivably work with a team of puny humans, ostensibly to avenge something.

Betty Ross
I'll be honest, she doesn't do much but get emotional. But that's not Liv Tyler's fault. She gives a truly genuine performance, but it's the script that ultimately fails her. When people say they hate superhero love interests, this is what they think of. She's a sobbing, emotional wreck who's only there to be a prize or a victim.

But having said all that, Liv Tyler's Betty Ross is getting a boost in popularity.  While there are many fans who will always consider Tony Stark to be Bruce Banner's soulmate....

They do make a cute couple.
There's been a surprising amount of negative reaction to what appears to be a Bruce Banner/Black Widow pairing in Avengers: Age of Ultron. Now, I'm writing this in March of 2015, so the details of Age of Ultron are still a mystery overall, but as of the moment I type these words, there are a lot of people demanding the return of Betty Ross to undo this apparent development.

How do I feel about their pairing? You'll just have to wait until I review Age of Ultron.

As for Betty Ross, she's there to kiss and cry and do little else.

General Ross
William Hurt admittedly based his performance on Captain Ahab's mad quest to enact revenge on the legendary white whale. And that single-mindedness leads to the character's nigh-Shakespearean self-destruction. He sacrifices his relationship with his daughter, turns a madman into a monster, and breaks countless laws to capture his green whale. And in the end, he has nothing to show for it but the monster he created in custody, defeated by the monster he was hunting.

It might not be as three-dimensional as... A version in a certain other film I'm doing my best to not mention, but it serves the story well.

Dr. Samuel Sterns
Tim Blake Nelson portrays him as a goofy little dweeb. And honestly, in a movie full of everyone making surrious faces, he's a breath of fresh air that keeps the mood lighter. He's not in much of it, but that's because they're setting the Leader up as the villain of the sequel that will never happen. Interestingly enough, the Leader makes a second appearance in a tie-in comic for The Avengers. After the events of this film, he was caught by Black Widow and subdued. With a bullet.

The end!
Still, I wouldn't mind seeing the character return as a cameo in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. or something.

Emil Blonsky
Tim Roth is absolutely terrifying in this role. To jump ahead a little bit, he works well to foreshadow the Red Skull. The Super Soldier Serum makes good better and bad worse. If you use it on a bully, you get a monster.

On the outside, Blonsky's the perfect soldier, despite his age. On the inside, he's a bully who just likes hurting people. It's not the result of Blonsky's evil that matters, it's the intent. The motivation. It's not might makes right, it's right makes right.

On the acting side of things, I'm very impressed with Tim Roth. His acting's good, he portrays the character with subtlety, blah blah blah. Roth wasn't allowed to work out for the role because he was supposed to be playing an over-the-hill soldier. And considering that Tim Roth didn't have muscles-upon-muscles, some of the stuff he pulls is quite impressive.

I always forget just how good the music is for this movie. Craig Armstrong does a phenomenal job with the orchestral score. It sounds like something more akin to a spy thriller, and it does an excellent job of pumping the blood up or giving you feels wen necessary. And the musical cameo by "The Lonely Man" from the end credits of the old Hulk show was a stroke of genius that successfully avoids seeming gimmicky.

You can see the Hulk's blood pumping through his veins. He has stubble. He has that little scar that Ed Norton has. The Abomination has Tim Roth's tattoos. Yeah, the visuals are phenomenal.

The VFX team created a Hulk that could do anything they needed the character to do and more in case the  model was going to be used in The Avengers. That didn't end up happening, but the character model is one of the most impressive things I've ever seen. Honestly, it looks better than the effects in Avatar.

The cinematography is equally amazing. I already praised the initial Hulk out scene's atmosphere and terror, and the rest of the movie's no slouch.

Best Character: Emil Blonsky
Watching his descent into madness is the closest thing to a character arc anyone apart from Bruce Banner gets.

Best Actor: Edward Norton
The man is a darn fine actor, and it's quite obvious that he's putting his all into the role. He's got enough experience portraying protagonists that are messed up in the head to be able to do a role like this in his sleep, but there's still nuance to his performance.

Best Line
Bruce Banner:
"Me in a metal tube, deep underground with hundreds of people in the most aggressive city in the world?"
Betty Ross: "Right. Let's get a cab."

It was in every trailer for a reason.

Final Verdict
When it comes down to it, it's a bit of a forgettable entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But that doesn't mean it's a bad movie. While it may contribute little to the overall story arc of the MCU films, if you're a Hulk fan, or if you just want to unwind with a big, smashy, action movie, then this isn't a bad way to spend an hour and a half.

I'm itching to finally compare this film to its predecessor, so tomorrow, Hulk and The Incredible Hulk go head to head. When I return to the MCU, it'll be time to go over the first sequel. Will it fall victim to the sophomore slump? See you then.

1 comment:

  1. I always thought it was a shame how Abomination keeps getting reduced to "big dumb henchman" in most of his appearances, when he has the potential to be a terrifying foil to the Hulk, as demonstrated here. Honestly, I think Blonsky's a better archenemy for Hulk than Ross or Leader.

    - That One Anon