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The Incredible Hulk

June 17, 2008

I only saw brief sections of Ang Lee’s mostly-derided Hulk, and although I wouldn’t be able to write most of what I thought about it up into a review of any great length, it seemed…well…slow. I guess you have to take your hat off to someone trying to do something different in the Super Hero market, but hey, bad choice fella. Big green monsters mixed in with feelings and character? It was never going to be loved, was it?

Just a few short years later, and we have a new interpretation of the Stan Lee penned comic book phenomenon, and this time it’s very specifically called The Incredible Hulk, because this movie is taking us back to basics. Heck, it even has Lee in it for a few seconds.

I was trying, believe me, to go into this with an open mind. Having been pleasantly impressed by Nolan’s reworking of the Batman franchise, it seemed possible that something similar might, with a bit of luck, happen here. Think again. This hope is dashed immediately the Marvel Studios ident fades to black. There is no pre-credit sequence, because a mountain of back story is thrown at the audience over the opening titles. Drowning in a laughably portentous orchestral anthem, Bruce Banner’s scientific experiments into gamma radiation, some shadowy militaristic involvement, disaster, poisoning, the taking on of super powers, escape and exile are all crammed into a minute of near-subliminally brief images and crazy pantomime acting that cleverly reduces your expectations for the next two hours to a comforting, fat, spongy, zero. But, OK, so Ang Lee this ain’t. Maybe it’ll just be a rollicking good adventure ride, a rollercoaster of fun and frolics?

Nah. Having set you down in your chair and told you this is going to be mindless fun, it then proceeds to deliver just that. Only, minus the fun part.

We rediscover Banner (Edward Norton, doing earnest and sincere and deep) sitting cross-legged and going ‘Omm’ a lot, doing that mystical self-control thing. Obviously, in realising that he’s hosting a 14ft embodiment of pure rage, that he expands to an anabolically enhanced hypertrophic size when his pulse gets above 200bpm, he’s decided that the most sensible place to pass his time would be one of Brazil’s infamous favelas, working in a sweat shop, and living in crowded, antagonistic conditions. But of course. I mean, let’s eschew some Tibetan mountainside hermit life, for goodness’ sake.

Anyhoo, the US Army find him and attempt to drop a team of mean Special Ops types in there, to open a can of whup-ass or similar, presumably, and bring the creature home. Seconded to this unit is Tim Roth, as lead meanie. Roth has a special place in Hollywood; his character is immediately unsurpassable in the evilness stakes. As he walks purposefully into the army base from which he’s about to lead the mission, we’re told his nationality is Russian/English. Now, come on! How nasty is that, exactly? The Tinsel Town stereotype-shortcut venn diagram of moody bastardness intersects at Russian and English, and Tim Roth stands solely in the middle. Good man! He is, we’re expected to believe, seconded via the Royal Marines, but it seems he’s allowed to wear US Army uniform (not really sure how that works), and, more importantly, and perhaps critically, he has the least amount of military bearing I have ever seen in a major character asked to play a soldier. Private Pyle crossed with Rodney Trotter would have filled the uniform with more menace. Roth just looks like a joke, and it’s at this point that the 12A cert really begins to bite. Perhaps if Roth had been able to really let his invective fly, I might have believed that he was a fighter (not a very principled fighter, obviously, more like one of those weasley little shits who carries a stanley and blames other people, but certainly he’d have come across a bit tougher). Here, he’s a slightly paunchy, drop-shouldered, greasy (long-)haired, pastey nothing. It’s a joke, and you become embarrassed for him. Not as much as you do for William Hurt, though, who has to do the white-haired cigar-chomping US General thing, and not swear. Hurt and Roth have both done really good work, and are two people I’ve always enjoyed watching, but this is a serious low point.

Not as much as it is for Norton, though, who seems determined to nail his once promising career firmly into the dirt. All the excitement and élan that carried him through Fight Club and American History X is gurgling away down the plug of each passing Red Dragon, or Italian Job, or Illusionist. It’s sad, and this may be the saddest point of all. Or, possibly, it’s disappearing up his arse, as it seems that Norton cheerfully rewrote chunks of the script each day on set, and also spent hours discussing his character’s life before the gamma experiments. “I don’t think,” he said, “that in great literature/films explaining the story’s roots means it comes in the beginning. Audiences know the story, so we’re dealing with it artfully.”

Christ.

The problem, though, that the film carries around with it from the start, and which burdens it beyond endurance, has nothing to do with the actors, although it is an issue concerning the main protagonist. The main difficulty is entirely due to the plain and simple unbelievability of the Hulk as an entity. Smartly shot in shadow for the first main stand-off, when the creature finally comes out into the light it’s, well, is rubbish too strong a word? The Hulk is simply too CGI-y; he just looks like a creature made on a PC, or just stepped out of a videogame. I understand that the cinematic Hulk and the franchised multi-platformed game Hulk, are built on the same model, and that would fit, because whereas the physical CGI-d stuff (crashing helicopters and spinning cars and broken buildings) all look solid and perfect, the real living thing may as well have a ripped “I’m a CGI construct” logo down the side of his ludicrously expandable kecks. It looks terrible. Not scary, not angry, not believable.

Sigh. The film lumbers predictably on – via an increasingly tiring series of nods to the old TV series – towards a mundane and too-loud showdown, which the Hulk wins and everyone goes home, trying not to look at all the busted up buildings dotted around New York City, and the remarkable lack of bodies (like the A Team, the body count is absurdly low). It is impossible to care for any of these people, and so we are left in a vacuum of zero development and involvement. At the end, going ‘Omm’ again, this time sensibly snuck away in the Canadian wilderness, Banner looks at the camera, smiles a smile and his eyes go green. Whoop-di-fucking-do. The screen goes black and you expect the credits, but wait…this movie finally has something good up its sleeve. Good on the Planet Cynical, I mean, obviously.

Hurt’s General, drinking himself silly in a bar somewhere, finds himself standing next to Robert Downey Jr, in full Tony Stark from Iron Man character mode. “I’m building a team,” he says. And then the credits. As an advert, it’s exceptional. 112 minutes of preamble, and then the killer punchline. Ladies and Gentlemen, you’ve been franchised.

Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. June 17, 2008 1:09 pm

    Aww, crickey.

    And here I was hoping this one would get it right.

    Then again, there was obviously no change in the CGI-ness of the protagonist and I have not yet seen a flick in which I could relate to a slap-you-in-the-face-obvious CGI rendition of the main character.

    Of course, I was a huge fan of “Reboot” back in the day, but that was neither film nor was it pretending to be real at all.

    I was literally lol’ing at:

    “The Tinsel Town stereotype-shortcut venn diagram of moody bastardness intersects at Russian and English, and Tim Roth stands solely in the middle. Good man!”

    HA!

  2. June 19, 2008 6:54 pm

    this new Incredible Hulk is a lot more fun than the first one with Eric Bana; Ed Norton does his usual specialty — the “split personality” role…

  3. June 30, 2008 5:06 pm

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Trackbacks

  1. Susan Hated Literature » Blog Archive » links for 2008-06-18
  2. The Three Hulks: Eric Bana, Edward Norton and Mark Ruffalo « Radu presents: The Movie-Photo Blog

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