Saturday, June 14, 2008
THE INCREDIBLE HULK: Exceeding My Expectations
The first teaser trailer for the new INCREDIBLE HULK movie did not do much for me... the story looked to simplistic, and the CG not much of a step up from the laughable first movie... which Ang Lee just butchered. I won't say his heart wasn't in the right place, or that the cast was wrong, as I really liked Eric Banna and Jennifer Connelly... that movie SHOULD have been good, and would have... IF Ang Lee had ANY FUCKING IDEA HOW TO MAKE THAT MOVIE. He didn't.
Understanding WHY the first movie was such a huge disappointment and a failure as not just a movie, but specifically a HULK movie, you sort of get why MARVEL would want to distance themselves from that with this second movie... which is actually more like the FIRST. It's a complete revisualization of the INCREDIBLE HULK franchise, from the ground up... only this time they get it all RIGHT.
Actually, this movie not only gets the HULK right, but it gets how to make a comic book movie right the first time... it doesn't bother retelling the origin, but rather barely touches on it... gives you a TASTE of how Banner became the Hulk, and focuses more on Banner himself than the Hulk. This new vision of the HULK franchise actually has more in common with the BOURNE movies than any superhero movies, focusing on Banner being on the run. It's more of a globe trotting chase movie, with superhero elements in the background, and has the character of Bruce Banner in the foreground, showing WHY he's on the run, and why the character of Bruce Banner is just as important to the movie as his green alter ego is... Banner is portrayed as being a character that's not only on the run from the Government that betrayed him and made him a fugitive, but from himself; afraid of the monster he's become, and the immense power which he desperately tries to hold in check.
The great thing about Ed Norton's Banner is that he's made as compelling a character as the Hulk is... and you have to be interested in Banner, because the Hulk just can't be on screen all the time. The theme of Banner is that of sacrifice... he sacrifices everything: his job, his life, his family, his love, and even his dignity, letting people walk all over him and taking pitiful jobs that are beneath him, shunning emotional and physical contact to ensure that he stays hidden and stays in control of himself. He's smart and he thinks ahead, moving silently throughout the world, all the while cobbling together equipment to work on a cure, with the help of the mysterious "Mr. Blue."
That's not to say that you don't get a healthy dose of the title character... this movies Hulk isn't the same soulful, puppy-eyed, sympathetic Frankenstein of Ang Lee's efforts... he's savage and uncontrollable, and even when you get moments of sympathy, they're contrast by his sudden turn towards anger and savagery. This Hulk isn't misunderstood... there's a very good reason that Banner is afraid of what he'll do if he loses control.
Which isn't to say that the Hulk is portrayed as a villain. The movie walks this very fine line between the Hulk being a monster and a hero, by showing the hypocrisy of Banner's conflict with General Ross. Banner was trying to create something that would save the world, but Ross was trying to create a weapon; and succeed when he corrupted Banner's experiments. Ross then turns Banner into a scapegoat, claiming that he's a dangerous, uncontrollable monster, but secretly, that's exactly why he wants Banner... he wants to create more monsters, all in the name of Home and Country. To this end he recruits Emil Blonsky, a Russian born British Special Forces soldier, who is just reaching the end of his career; a fighter that doesn't want to stop fighting. To capture the Hulk, Ross ends up creating an even worse monster; one obsessed with power and combat... an abomination that desires only strength and carnage. It's this hypocrisy that leads to the portrayal of the Hulk as both monster and hero... because what it comes down to is that the Hulk, for all his anger and lack of intelligence, still has Banner's soul, and only wants to be left alone; he's provoked into lashing out, but never means to hurt anyone that doesn't mean him harm, whereas the Abomination is a mirror for Blonsky's twisted soul... a monster inside and out. The Hulk will fight to protect, be it himself or the one he loves, while Blonsky only wants to fight.
The movie was brilliantly directed. The pacing was perfect, moving back and forth between the A and B story of Banner and the "Hulk Busters", with regular set pieces to keep you from becoming bored with either, the cinematography stunning (I especially liked the use of wide framed shots showing framing foreground and background elements against each other to show depth, and really give a sense of scale to everything), a combination of steady cam and violent hand-held style, though not as jerky and disorienting as other movies (*cough* BOURNE *cough*).
The CG was pretty impressive... they really upped their game in the final passes, and the acting in the CG, particularly the Hulk's facial expressions, was pretty incredible, particularly in the rare quiet moments. I also like how they portrayed the Hulks skin as being very thin and stretched out over his incredibly dense muscle mass, though I do wish they'd designed him as being a little more top heavy... he looked a little more lean than massive to me.
The cast was excellent. I was a little surprised by how much I liked Ed Norton as Banner... I really didn't think he'd pull it off, but he had the perfect blend of self deprecating humility and self loathing. You feel sympathy for him and how much he has to give up too keep himself in check. Liv Tyler was adorable as usual, and while I still liked Jennifer Connelly more, her and Norton had some real chemistry. William Hurt was a great General Ross, and Tim Roth was really menacing and threatening as Blonsky. The guy that played Samuel Stern (AKA the LEADER... THE FUCKING LEADER! More on that later...), was also perfect, considering who he'll become.
The other thing that really impressed me in this movie was MARVEL's efforts to integrate their franchises, dropping early references to STARK ENTERPRISES, and later even a nerd-wad exploding cameo from the every excellent Robert Downey Jr., stringing along the idea of an AVENGERS movie. There were also a LOT of references and setup for CAPTAIN AMERICA, setting up the SUPER SOLDIER Project as being the foundations for Banner's research, and even introducing the Super Soldier serum, actually created by Doctor Bernstein (the guy that created the serum in the comics! I think I was the only person in the theater that picked up on the significance of that and subsequently LOST MY SHIT) in the concept of the movie. EXCELLENT. I also liked that they integrated the origin of the potential sequels villian into this movie in a sort of unceremonious, almost throw away, fashion, showing just the beginning of Doctor Stern's transformation into the Leader. EXCELLENT. NERD-GASM!
Overall... I was in complete nerd Heaven. It was GREAT. MARVEL is batting two for two this summer. Hell, I actually almost liked the HULK better than IRON MAN, and had just as much fun with this as I did with IRON MAN. It was everything I wanted and more. I cannot wait to see what MARVEL's going to do next, and I hope to GOD they don't fuck it up, like they've allowed to happen in the past...