Considering Ang Lee’s Hulk is for some weird reason considered a failure, it isn’t a surprise Marvel and Universal Studios went out of their way to re-invent the wheel and take their stomp-and-smash behemoth back to the drawing board. The thing is, director Louis Leterrier’s (The Transporter) The Incredible Hulk doesn’t exactly rise to the occasion. Sure it’s better then The Fantastic Four and Ghost Rider, but considering how awful those flicks were that doesn’t seem like it should have been all that difficult.
Not that this one doesn’t offer some nice thrills and chills. If anything, Edward Norton (who apparently co-wrote the screenplay, even though the Writer’s Guild decided not to give him any credit) is a definite improvement over Eric Bana as Bruce Banner. While I like the latter actor one heck of lot (his performance in Troy is the only reason to watch that overblown mythological spectacle), Norton actually seems to really connect to the man in a way the former never did. More than that, Leterrier knows how to stage comic book action sequences that announce themselves with a full-bodied deep-throated roar. An opening chase through the streets of a Brazilian favela ending inside a rundown soda pop factory is arguably one of the best things I’ve seen this year, while a latter confrontation between The Hulk and an Army attack helicopter is just about perfection itself.
So why does the film feel like a rather humdrum letdown? Well, for one thing, as good as Norton is he still has absolutely zero chemistry with costar Liv Tyler. Her Betty Ross isn’t anywhere near the character Jennifer Connelly’s was in the Lee version. Here she’s a rather pathetic wallflower speaking in such breathy monotone I kept waiting for Marilyn Monroe to rise up from the grave and slap her for doing such an awful imitation. But this isn’t the real problem. The real issue is the fact The Incredible Hulk is another one of those features that looks like a giant video game, the only problem being the person playing it is having way more fun then we are watching them do it. While the CGI is light years ahead of Lee’s vision, the same problems still exist. Not once do you believe things on-screen are actually happening.
I admit, I did enjoy The Incredible Hulk a lot more at home than I did in theaters, the first third in particular keeping me so engaged I actually had trouble for a moment remembering why it was exactly I was originally so hard on it. Then that second half begins and everything becomes one gigantic brain-numbing CGI blur and I quickly remembered, and while viewing it was more palatable sitting on my couch than it was in the movie theater it wasn’t enough to warrant my telling anyone to do the same.
I’ll say this, though, Universal’s two-disc special edition of The Incredible Hulk is impressive. Picture and sound quality are flat-out perfect for a standard def release, while the commentary track by director Leterrier and co-star Tim Roth (for those who still haven’t seen it, lets just call his roll in the film an Abomination — and I don’t mean that in a bad way) is actually quite engaging.
The second disc features a lot of the usual suspects, but the making-of featurettes are all surprisingly interesting. I especially liked the one analyzing one sequence of the film set in a cave and comparing it to a (sort of) similar scene in a Hulk graphic novel, and while both are quite different in tone and story their visual and emotional similarities are truly quite striking. The deleted scenes are also extremely decent, and while I can’t say any of them probably should have been put back in if some of them had I can tell you with utmost certainty my opinion on Tyler would probably been 100-percent different.
In the end, I wonder what was so bad about Lee’s Hulk and why the subsequent viewer uproar. Considering this one isn’t any better, especially where it comes to the complaints screamed about the most (notably the video game effect), and considering it made roughly the same amount at the box office, why so many claim it is so much better is way beyond me. The film might have its moments and the character himself might have his superpowers, but that still doesn’t make either of them incredible.
Maybe the third time will be the charm and they’ll get it right when — if — they make that rumored Avengers movie in 2011. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.
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