The Good: Moments of performance with Norton and Tyler
The Bad: Characters fail to grow in any significant way, Much of the acting, Plot, Special effects.
The Basics: While an improvement on the Ang Lee Hulk, The Incredible Hulk still fails as it does not develop the established characters and relies heavily on other conceits of the genre.
Every now and then, I feel like I have woken up in a parallel universe. As I continue to participate in summer blockbuster season by attending viewings of the logical top film of the week (by the grosses), I've been astonished to find so many well-respected reviewers raving about The Incredible Hulk, a film I've been trying to review for the better part of an evening. Why? My reviews keep coming up short and I run out of synonyms for "terrible." Even for the air conditioning the theater offers with the ticket price, it's not worth suffering through The Incredible Hulk, a film which is essentially shown in its entirety in the theatrical trailer.
Following a botched abduction attempt by commandos and General Thunderbolt Ross, the reclusive scientist Dr. Bruce Banner's gamma ray-altered DNA falls into the hands of the military. Escaping Brazil for New York City, Dr. Banner - who has been working to cure himself of becoming a giant green monster whenever he becomes angry - finds himself pursued by General Ross. His search for a cure and his reuniting with the love of his life, Betty Ross, is cut short when the military manages to use the DNA they extracted, resulting in the Abomination, a massive gray creature that is set loose in New York City. The Hulk must therefore be allowed to emerge, so that New York City - and civilization - might be saved.
Hmmmm . . . haven't we seen essentially the same thing before? Banner struggles with his condition, a similar creature arises and only the Hulk - the alter-ego angry side of Banner - can stop it . . . It seems like that was what Hulk (reviewed here!) was all about and that movie was just plain terrible. The Incredible Hulk is, admittedly, a little better. But not by much. At all.
First, many have praised Edward Norton's presence in the film, as well as helping in penning the script. I like Edward Norton. In fact, I like his work quite a bit. Indeed, it was Edward Norton who managed to get me to go see The Incredible Hulk, when I promised myself after Hulk I would do no such thing. The problem is, Norton is the familiar Edward Norton we've already seen. And when he's not, he's not. I mean that quite literally; the only moments that Edward Norton does anything remotely unlike something we have seen before from him, he's a CGI character who is rampaging around.
As a result, much of The Incredible Hulk has Norton moping around in a ridiculously familiar way. Anyone who has seen the magnificent The 25th Hour has already seen all that Norton brings to bear in his performance in this film. He is moody and cerebral, pouting his way through his studies and search for a cure while pining for Betty. The thing is, we've seen Norton heavy and moody before and when he is so preoccupied, it feels familiar and droll. Moreover, in the moments where Norton as Banner is forced to express anger, it falls flat. Norton does fear and pain great, but when trying to express rage . . . well, there are moments the special effects work by taking over for the actor. More often than not, watching Edward Norton in The Incredible Hulk seemed like watching Luke Wilson. Indeed, at some of his most cerebral moments, Norton mimics Wilson from his performance in The Royal Tennenbaums.
But more importantly, the problem with Hulk was not (so much) Eric Bana or Jennifer Connelly, but rather the terrible and predictable script. Here, the script is almost just as bad as this follows a rather predictable sequel trend of re-establishing the super hero, introducing the villain, thwarting the villain. Like most such sequels, there is more than one villain and the way The Incredible Hulk fails to engage is that in the sequences where Banner is eluding Thunderbolt Ross, he doesn't grow. Sure, Banner is plagued by this demon inside him that comes out all angry and slobbery. But when he's not focused on a cure - which is pretty boring to watch -, he's restraining himself with his girlfriend (sorry, restraint is pretty boring to watch, too) or he's restraining himself from fighting the military commandos which, also, not the most interesting sequences. In other words, in the establishing moments of the flick wherein Banner is shown doing relaxing things and carefully monitoring his vital signs, he is established as a character who is fighting for control and the savvy viewer gets that. After recently having everything spoon fed in the latest Indiana Jones outing, I was ready to not have my intelligence insulted. Alas, The Incredible Hulk does not fit that bill.
Moreover, the rest of the characters are flat and uninspired, making Banner and Hulk's actions seem less heroic. Betty is the the archetypal lady in waiting, Thunderbolt is the generic military leader and Blonsky - the commando who becomes the Abomination - seems more of a parody of a military commando than its archetype. He spouts some of the most bland, generic lines of the film and while it is clear what motivates Banner into becoming the Hulk, what spurs Blonsky into the Abomination and traps him there is less sensible.
And everyone else in the movie is window dressing. In some ways, it doesn't even matter as The Incredible Hulk rapidly degenerates into a series of special effects battle sequences that are more cartoonish than a serious cinephile will be comfortable with. To be sure, the computer animation that defines the creature the Hulk is more detailed than in the prior cinematic outing, but it is no better in terms of its realism. Many of the sequences that are supposed to be exciting and big falls dramatically short as the two computer generated monsters ridiculously interact.
But following so closely on the heels of Iron Man, the plot of The Incredible Hulk seems structurally dull and at least the earlier Marvel film had some intrigue and character issues. But, like Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk quickly degenerates into a film wherein the hero is established and then a bigger, grayer version of the same comes along to stomp on everything. Yes, we've seen it and while the super hero genre film niche might be tough to manage - especially when creating a sequel - the least the Marvel film division could do is try to put the most similar films out on different years!
The Incredible Hulk does not advance the character of Bruce Banner and his strained relationship with Betty is glossed over so much that it is hard to empathize and care. Ultimately, The Incredible Hulk continues what was begun years ago with equal or better actors being utilized in exactly the way one might expect them to be (without challenging the viewer's expectations in this regard) in a plot that is so hackneyed and obvious that only those who have to sneak into this PG-13 film would find it original. And for the adults in the audience, it's hard even to find it entertaining.
For other movies based upon the Marvel comic books, please check out my reviews of:
X-Men: First Class
Iron Man 2
For other movie reviews, please check out my index page on the subject by clicking here!
© 2011, 2008 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
| | |