WARNING: WE WON’T SPOIL THE SEQUEL…BUT EVERYTHING ELSE IS FAIR GAME.
There’s a throwaway moment in The Incredible Hulk that tells a lot about what went into it.
Bruce Banner (Edward Norton) is living in a true rat hole in one of the worst corners of Brazil. He’s channel surfing a portable TV when The Courtship of Eddie’s Father suddenly appears.
Brandon Cruz, last seen singing for the Dead Kennedys, but best remembered as the diminutive Eddie Corbett, cold cocks his pop square on the jaw when the old man wasn’t ready for it.
“Nice one, Eddie!” shouts Eddie’s father, played by Bill Bixby.
Of course, any decent Hulk fan should catch that one.
But our concern isn’t the Eddie on the small tube. It’s another Eddie. The one watching the tube. Will Norton help hardcore Big Green fans KO what most perceive as one of the worst superhero movies ever made? (Obviously they never saw Roger Corman’s Fantastic 4 or David Hasselhoff as Nick Fury).
If you talk to them, the question isn’t whether this new Hulk effort, directed by Louis Leterrier, is going to be better than the first one by Ang Lee. To them, if it was any worse, that would truly have been, well, incredible. The question is will Incredible Hulk simply be a good movie?
Truth is, it’s pretty enjoyable. It most certainly is tighter, plot-wise than Iron Man and has a far more exciting final confrontation sequence. As a matter of fact, it would probably be better to compare the recent Favreau magnum opus to the Leterrier than to the Lee. So let’s do that, discounting the origin aspects of Iron Man, of course.
When it comes to who plays the respective lead role better, Robert Downey Jr. clearly beats the purple pants out of Norton. It’s not that Norton isn’t a great actor. Witness his work in American History X. Still, he appears just way too calm as Dr. Bruce Banner, even when he’s running away from a horde of Army Rangers through the ghettos of Brazil or trying to warn Liv Tyler she wouldn’t like him if he got too…excited. Say what you will, Downey plays a wonderfully charismatic bastard in the form of Tony Stark.
That leads to Pepper Potts vs. Betsy Ross. Again, I’ll have to give it to Iron Man. It isn’t hard to see Gwyneth Paltrow had a blast as Stark’s right hand lady. To be fair, Tyler rarely gets to unwind in her job, playing a character who has some seriously justifiable reasons to hate her pops. At the same time, Tyler’s emotional range, or lack thereof, never really lets us truly feel sorry for the poor thing.
As for villains, William Hurt as Thunderbolt Ross is every bit as cold blooded as Jeff Bridges was as Obadiah Stane. The only reason I give the edge to Hurt he didn’t jump into a giant tin can and disappoint the hell out of me once in it.
Actually, the person who comes in third in this race is Tim Roth, who is uneven as Emil Blonsky. Early on, when he’s still a pretty much un-super soldier, he provides credibility as an old war dog knowing he’s near the junk yard. As he progresses towards The Abomination, his growing mania for defeating the Hulk becomes less and less convincing. The threat only hits really hard when Roth leaves the screen and his CGI counterpart takes over.
That’s when The Incredible Hulk really blows out its competition. When the CGI kicks in, it becomes one hair-raising, heart pounding treat. Hate to say it to Norton and Roth, but their CGI counterparts are better actors.
The first major action sequence, which features Norton doing his best Jason Bourne impression, starts off nicely enough, but goes into overdrive when you know who shows up. The second is even better. The final, where the two green Goliaths go berserk in the middle of Harlem, is off the meter as far as gut-wrenching, bone-crushing, real estate-destroying ultra violence. I know I’d certainly put this grand melee over anything similar I saw with the guys in the heavy metal.
To top it, when the Hulk himself says his first words ever, it comes across more as a final triumph than just some entertaining epitome. The animators responsible for the character elements deserve some serious kudos. They managed to make their actors much more involving and entertaining than any of their live action counterparts.
Finally, The Hulk is just a tighter film. Iron Man, which times in at 126 minutes, would have been a better film if it was about 15 minutes shorter. The Hulk, which comes in at 114 minutes, could have also lost some footage, but also moves at a solid rate once Ross uncovers Banner’s location and overall plans.
Of course, there has to be a quick mention of the Easter eggs. Hulk is fair to bursting with them, ranging anywhere to an experiment by a certain Dr. Reinstein on through a final scene cameo from guess who. It also sets up a third film beautifully. Yet it’s this attention to details that make the film truly enjoyable to the overall geek factor. Name any true fan who doesn’t feel a rise of pleasure when Hurt briefly mentions a past soldier who used the Reinstein formula?
At the same time, it doesn’t condescend to those completely unfamiliar with the Marvel Universe. So, getting back to the brief appearance of Bill Bixby, the casual moviegoer will simply take it for what it is. The true believer will have a great time explaining the hidden meaning…and feeling so superior for the knowledge.
That said, one has to say that while Leterrier hasn’t come up with a cinematic classic, the big guy delivers the overall goods. I would be seriously shocked if it doesn’t rampage into the #1 spot this weekend, only to give up its position nearly as quickly.
On the other hand, if the first film was truly dreadful, and this one is solidly entertaining, that offers some promise for the inevitable third film. Given the progress so far, I’m definitely looking forward to that one.
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