You know that super hero movies are on the rise when you get a complete ‘do-over’ re-cast version of the same super hero. Well, maybe not exactly. The 2003 release was entitled “The Hulk” and this film is “The Incredible Hulk”. But there are several other differences. If one really stretches the mind, they can envision this film being a sequel of the first, only with a different cast. This iteration does not re-tell the origin of the Hulk – only shows flashes of it during the opening credit sequence and during flashbacks that Bruce Banner (the Hulk’s alter-ego) has during the film. I choose not to believe that this is a sequel – well, because it isn’t. They just chose to focus on more than the origin of the character.
Let me interject before diving into the review that I actually liked the first Hulk film. I didn’t love it. If I were forced to give it a rating, it wouldn’t get more than a 6.5 out of 10 or 2.5 out of 4 stars. It got ridiculously wild at the end of the film (Nick Nolte – ugh) and it wasn’t exactly the most engaging cinema experience (I think we waited almost an hour into the film to see the first appearance of the Hulk. However, I felt that it was an accurate depiction of the character that I loved as a kid. And not just the damn television show. One thing I did agree about was the fact that Eric Bana wasn’t right for the role. I don’t believe the casting had to go as far to the right as this 2008 iteration did and get a huge star like Edward Norton, but I thought that even an unknown has to be more engaging and has to have a much greater on-screen presence than Bana.
Edward Norton stars as Bruce Banner and he does a fair job of portraying the role. He’s certainly more likeable than Bana, but I don’t know why I felt that the Banner character should be more believable as a scientist. Norton works in this role, and he’s someone I enjoy watching. I just don’t know if he was the best choice. But he does add believability to the story.
The film isn’t particularly well acted, but that isn’t what would care about in a film like this anyway. I will say that Tim Roth is a critical part to our enjoyment of the film as Banner’s antagonist, Emil Blonsky. His presence is felt when he’s onscreen. Great choice and a great performance. Liv Tyler is just one of those people who has like two expressions… happiness and sorrow. Nothing in between. She just doesn’t do it for me. And the Betty Ross role is kinda critical. I think they could have cast a better Betty. But none of this really ruins the film.
The biggest place where this film either lives or dies is the CGI. When I first heard about this film’s release, I got the impression that after the criticism that there was such a disconnect between the Eric Bana character and the Hulk that he became that we’d see a live-action Hulk. And thankfully we didn’t. But somehow they’ve improved with the CGI. In the scenes where the Hulk is standing next to a live actor, it’s so much more believable. Not quite life-like yet, but it’s much, much closer.
Almost as important as the CGI is the action, and that’s where this film improves tremendously on the first one. In all fairness, the first film took on the herculean task of walking us through the origin of the Hulk. And it did so at a snail’s pace. The great thing about this film is that they jump right into the conflict between Banner and the forces that want to use the Hulk for militaristic purposes. Within 20 minutes, you’ve got a chase going. You’ve got conflict developing. Where we waited with bated breath to see the Hulk in 2003, we get him in the first half hour here. It’s just an action-packed experience that rewards the viewer.
The plot is pretty tight. We understand the opposing forces and even those who have never read the comic or seen the television show can understand and follow the film. And speaking of the television show…
We have homages-a-plenty here. Of course we get the obligatory “Stan Lee 5-second cameo”. (These things have to stop. It’s just getting silly now. Put him in a somewhat crucial role? Why couldn’t the owner of the restaurant have been cast as Stan Lee??) We also see the homage to the television show’s ending shot, as the play the sad piano closing and we see Bruce Banner walking alone after having reverted back to his human state. This actually works well. Maybe a little corny. I heard some chuckles as the scene played out. There was even a cameo of Bill Bixby, the original Banner on television. Short, but fitting to the late actor who just fit so well as David Banner. We even get a reasonably long scene of Lou Ferrigno as (what else) a security guard. But from what I understand, he also did the voice of the Hulk! (And, without spoiling, they found great use for it during the fight scenes.)
Where the 2003 release lost steam most of all was with it’s confusing and unfulfilling ending fight scene. You can tell that the writers and director listened to the criticism of the original. Where the 2003 crowd I viewed the film with was somewhat perplexed at what they were seeing, this crowd was a few punches from being on their feet. OK, maybe not quite that fulfilling, but it works a hell of a lot better than it did in 2003. It really finishes the film well and leaves you satisfied.
Overall this is a solid super hero film, and considering how great the Iron Man film was, Marvel is starting to forego the crappy, ‘me too’ releases of recent years and start to build a library of solid films. Like in Iron Man, this film hints at an Avengers effort. Does this mean we’ll get a Captain America, Thor or Namor film in the works? Who knows. I get a little starry-eyed thinking of an Avengers movie. How about throwing in Spider Man and the X-Men? Now you’re talking comic book hero movie nirvana.