CAPSULE: The Army created but cannot control Bruce Banner, the Hulk. Banner's anger has the power to turn him into a bouncing ten-foot monster as hard as rock. Edward Norton (who plays Banner) is one of the finest actors of his generation. This may not be the best film for him, but he is an asset to the film. THE INCREDIBLE HULK is a darker and grimmer superhero film with a more tragic hero than we have seen of late from the Marvel films. Rating: high +1 (-4 to +4) or 6/10
[Following the main text there is a minor spoiler on some points that did not work for me.]
Within weeks of each other we have seen at theaters two Marvel Comics superhero films. While they also stand alone, they are really chapters in a longer story whose arc has yet to be revealed. IRON MAN and THE INCREDIBLE HULK are both good as superhero films go. The public seems to prefer IRON MAN, which I reviewed previously and gave a high +1 on the -4 to +4 bell-curve scale. THE INCREDIBLE HULK gets the same rating, but of the two I give the edge to THE INCREDIBLE HULK. Why do I prefer this film? First, I am never likely to meet a playboy arms dealer like Tony Stark. Do I doubt that such a person drives around war zones drinking cocktails? Let us say I am unconvinced. Perhaps characters like this exist in the real world, perhaps not. On the other hand I can well believe that there are people living in the slums of Brazil coming to terms with personal problems like anger. Do I believe that when they become enraged they grow to twice their scale, turn the color of avocados, and adopt a doors- optional policy for getting around? Perhaps they do in their imaginations. For me that is not a big stretch. And do these people become so possessed by their rage that they become supremely violent? You bet they do. For me Bruce Banner (The Hulk) is a much more believable main character than is Tony Stark. He is a man of very common emotions, simply exaggerated. Needing the violent outlet while detesting it is very real. Iron Man being kidnapped and forced to develop missiles is not quite as real and certainly less primal.
The plot of THE INCREDIBLE HULK can be summed up in two or three sentences. In the Ang Lee THE HULK the military used super- science to turn Bruce Banner (Edward Norton) into an awesome fighting man. When he gets mad enough to fight he becomes a ten- foot-tall monster. After the early transformations he did some really bad things (only hinted at for those who have not read the comic or seen THE HULK). Banner ran away and is now hiding out in the crowded slums of Brazil trying to learn to manage the world's deadliest rage. To keep busy he corresponds electronically with an enigmatic friend whom he knows only by the code name Mr. Blue. The army, personified by General Ross (William Hurt), has tracked him down and sends a special commando, Emil Blonsky (Tim Roth), to capture him. Well, we know how well that will work. And admittedly here and elsewhere there are few real surprises in the film. Banner evades capture and works his way back north to an East Coast school, Culver University. At this school is his girlfriend Betty Ross (Liv Tyler) and the scientist Mr. Blue (Tim Blake Nelson). (There are also quaint bicycle-stands labeled "City of Toronto".) There he will find the ultimate confrontation--or at least the biggest in the film.
Marvel films seem to be developing their own style that continues from film to film. We have the cameo for Stan Lee. This time he is not at the end of a garden hose as he was in the last X-Men movie, and he is not at the end of a conversation as he was in IRON MAN. This time he is the end. More specifically he is a very much a loose end in the plot. I waited in vain for the plot to explain what happened to his character, but if it was there I missed it. Also there is a certain inexorable predictability in the plotting. There is segregation of each to his own type. What does a man in a power-suit fight in the climactic battle? He is matched against a man in a bigger and more mighty power- suit. What does a hulk fight in the climactic scene? It has to be a bigger meaner hulk. Another element of the Marvel style in recent films to have a final scene at the end of the credits. It has some unexpected twist to reward those audience members who stay through the credits. X-MEN 2 had such a scene, as did IRON MAN. Here the scene is moved to the beginning rather than the end of the credits. It looks like someone in production decided that too many people were missing what could be a pivotal teaser scene. Stan Lee is not the only in-joke casting. We get to see/hear Lou Ferrigno as both the voice of the Hulk and as a minor character. There are cute allusions to Godzilla movies, to King Kong, and even to Tiananmen Square.
Edward Norton acts with a low-key style. I am not sure he conveys the angst as much as was needed, but his persona is a nice counterpoint to the thrashing monster he becomes. The most memorable acting in the film is from Tim Blake Nelson, whose boyish glee for studying the Hulk makes him one of the most likeable mad scientists in recent film history. Nelson, some of the realistic settings, the tragedy of the main character, and the dark style make this a better than average Marvel superhero film. For my money it is also better than the very recent IRON MAN. I rate it a high +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 6/10.
Film Credits: http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0800080/
Minor spoiler warning:
I did have a few problems with the script. At one point after a blackout spell Banner asks a stranger, "where am I?" The stranger responds, "In Guatemala." If a stranger asked you where he was, would you say "the United States"? My wife wanted to know how Banner had managed to cross the Panama Canal without anyone noticing how really big and green he was. Perhaps he had switched back to Banner. After all, the rules of this particular mutation are unclear. There is a nice tender King-Kong-Anne- Darrow sort of scene in which he is Hulked, but does not seem to have been angry for hours. Why is he still engorged?
If someone about 160 pounds actually threw a helicopter, it is the human who would do most of the flying according to the laws of physics. You learn to ignore the fact that he would have to be a lot more massive as the Hulk than he is as Banner. It is therefore probably bad form to show an examination table that held Banner perfectly well moments before but crushes under the massive weight of Hulk. It rubs our noses in the fact that Banner's mutation circumvents conservation of mass.
Mark R. Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Copyright 2008 Mark R. Leeper