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INCREDIBLE HULK REVIEW-A-PALOOZA

Movie Reviews by: Jim "Good Old JR" Rutkowski & Larry "Bocepheus" Evans & "Our Man" Andy Schumann

Directed by: Louis Leterrier
Written by: Zak Penn
Starring: Edward Norton, Liv Tyler, Tim Roth, William Hurt,
Running time: 114 minutes Released: 06/13/08
Rated PG-13 for sequences of intense action violence, some frightening sci-fi images and brief suggestive content
Movie Review by: Larry "Bocepheus" Evans
(***
stars out of 4)
"
This is a Hulk film that fans wanted to see the moment that films based on the character were announced."

The Ang Lee version of the Hulk was actually in it’s own way interesting but had way too much psychological input for fans to enjoy. The film had great performances from Eric Bana, Sam Ellott, Nick Nolte and Jennifer Connelly but the audience wanted more action than it got. It also has a more or less underwhelming ending because the battle at the end of the film was poorly shot. My biggest problem with the film was the script. There were scripts out there that had more action (one by James Turman was quite good) and less talking but Lee made the film with one co-written by his producing partner James Schamus.

Universal and Marvel decided to return to the Hulk and locked in X-3’s Zak Penn to write the film but brought in action director Louis (Transporter) Leterrier to bring the character back to the big screen. Bana either wasn’t available or wasn’t interested in returning to the role of Banner so they make a wise choice and cast Edward Norton in the part. In order to induce him to sign on they also allowed him to re-write Penn’s script. The Screen Writers Guild gave full credit to Penn but Norton’s hands are all over this film.

This version of the Hulk is a lot closer to the TV series and has small homage moments to the show scattered about. It also be blends in connections to the Iron Man film and the Marvel Universe as part of their plan to interconnect the two worlds. Here we begin with Banner living in Brazil working in a soda plant as General Ross (William Hurt) and his team are still looking for him. While Banner is there he makes contact with Mr. Blue by computer (something directly from the comic) about finding a cure for his condition. These segments of the film are brilliantly shot by Cinematographer Peter Menzies Jr. The city is a collection of houses that look like they were put together by a kid because each level is topped by another level making the city look like a collection of stairs. It is in these scenes that we are introduced to Emil Blonshy (Tim Roth), a British commando on loan to Ross for his pursuit of the Hulk.

Leterrier slowly introduces us to his Hulk in the assault scenes in Brazil. He keeps the creature in shadow but even in small glimpses he looks like the Hulk that we expect; single-minded, massive and capable of a great deal of destruction. We also get a good sense of Banner’s life after becoming the Hulk with him finding himself in an unfamiliar location and making his way home to deal with his problem. Norton has no problem illustrating the haunted nature of the character at any time in the film.

The actions in Brazil lead to a return to the States by Banner so that he can return to where he went to college. There he sees and tries to avoid Betty (Liv Tyler) Ross but fails at that task. His time at home is counter pointed with Blonsky learning just what he has signed on for and wanting more. In these scenes Roth shows a determination and a hunger that leads into the further development of his character. That development becomes apparent when Ross and his troops find Banner again. The action sequence that follows is spectacular. We see the full force of the Hulk’s anger as well as his gentle nature in a well done scene in the California mountains once all the bombs have gone off.

This all leads to New York where Banner meets Mr. Blue (Tim Blake Nelson, oozing goofiness) for the first time. The lab based scenes lead towards the massive battle between the Hulk and Blonsky (named the Abomination by Nelson) in Harlem. The film goes all out here and the destruction caused by the two gamma created monsters is highly impressive. The fight is a CGI-induced dream with fists thrown the size of computer towers, chains, Hulk separated cabs and the Hulk doing something on film that comic fans have been waiting for.

The film is loaded with quality performances, tight action sequences and yes, bits of humor that you don’t expect. There are great performances by the entire cast from beginning to end here. This is a Hulk film that fans wanted to see the moment that films based on the character were announced. It has the action quotient down pat and the quiet character moments work as well. It is those moments that Norton and Marvel had a disagreement about because he wanted just as much character development as Marvel wanted action. That disagreement meant that Norton did little publicity for the film but Leterrier has promised that there will be a fair amount of deleted footage on the DVD (including the scene in which Banner comes across a frozen Captain America). Is the film as good as Iron Man? No, but this is a quality film that does demand a sequel.

Movie Review by: "Our Man" Andy Schumann
(***
stars out of 4)
"Overall this movie isn’t polished like Iron Man but just right behind Iron Man"

Marvel Studios had a challenge on their hands to make this Hulk movie as different as Ang Lee’s version. They went back to the successful motif of the television show from the 1970s. They also did a great job of modernizing the origin of the Hulk like they have done in their previous movies. They turned his origin from being caught in a bomb to undergoing gamma radiation tests to improve the brain. Edward Norton portrayal of Bruce Banner was a strong stoic type. Most of the movie all he wanted was to be left alone. Banner also is spending much of the film trying to find a way to cure him of the hulk. Liv Tyler and Edward Norton really pull off the romantic relationship between the two of them. William Hurt and Tim Roth each did a good job of portraying their characters. William Hurt plays General Ross who’s trying everything to recover the Hulk and use the power to develop a group of super soldiers. Tim Roth plays one of the Hulk’s main villians Emil Blonsky aka The Abomination. As the movie progresses Blonksy really becomes focused on trying to beat the Hulk. There are couple interesting moments with both Stan Lee and Lou Ferrigno. Lou Ferrigno provided the voice of the animated Hulk in the movie. Overall this movie isn’t polished like Iron Man but just right behind Iron Man. The door is open for a sequel but nothing has been green lighted or mentioned yet.

Movie Review by: Jim "Good Old JR" Rutkowski.
(**
stars out of 4)
"...even the CGI Hulk of 5 years ago is far more convincing then the Xbox 360 version that bounds around here"

I wish I could say I was filled with a joyful giddiness upon leaving the new Incredible Hulk film for it delivered on non-stop action, a tight story and a psychological depth brought to it by Edward Norton. Alas, this was not the case. Although not about the joyful giddiness. Oh no, I still left with that feeling. But it was because I could now laugh in the faces of all those who came down hard upon Ang Lee’s version in 2003. For five years, his Hulk has been the butt of the comic book movie universe, thrust out into exile much like Bruce Banner himself for ignoring the origin story, inserting starfish technology and having the audacity to actually see the drama in his cursed duality. Louis “Unleashed” Leterrier’s 2008 “version” is twenty minutes shorter, features the same amount of hulk-outs and manages to deliver no more action than Lee’s version; the primary source of scorn to the comic crowd. Out of spite though they may still say it’s an improvement, proving that some people can be served crap and still spin it as pudding. Heck, even the CGI Hulk of 5 years ago is far more convincing then the Xbox 360 version that bounds around here.

Right off the bat, all questions as to whether or not this was a sequel are answered as a completely new origin story is put into fast-forward during the opening credits. Well, not completely new. Instead of the father experimenting on his son, Bruce Banner (Edward Norton), is trying the gamma technology on himself in the manner that Bill Bixby did on the TV show. Same chair, same flashing red DANGER sign. No flat tire to cause the initial change, but you get the picture. Having nearly killed the love of his life, Betty Ross (Liv Tyler) during the rampage her father, General “Thunderbolt” Ross (William Hurt) has made it his mission to hunt down the fugitive and, well, that seems to be the extent of his plan at first. Bruce has been hiding out in Brazil, communicating only by laptop to someone who may be able to help cure him.

General Ross brings in a big gun though named Emil Blonsky (Tim Roth) once a far-fetched clue traces them to Banner’s whereabouts. Blonsky becomes intrigued by his adversary’s abilities so the General informs of the research the Army has been conducting in search of the super soldier. Seems this was part of Banner’s experiments (albeit without his knowledge) and Ross, already aware of the effects on a mild-mannered scientist, decides to give Emil a little taste. Now with T-1000-like speed and agility, Emil can take on the Hulk at his own game, even if their fighting weights aren’t quite matched. While Bruce escapes further capture, reunited with Betty, he seeks to track down Samuel Sterns (Tim Blake Nelson) who has succeeded in developing a temporary antidote for his alter-ego but might also have just the dose of medicine that Blonsky needs to go monster-y-monster.

The drive of this particular Incredible Hulk film is more akin to reading the daily logline than the constant pursuit tension of a Fugitive or Bourne film. When Marvel and everyone associated with this project set out to insultingly jettison all memory of Ang Lee’s approach, did anyone believe that meant regressing it back to the small screen version? I’m all for paying homage to the show, included here by a clip of Bill Bixby getting smacked on Courtship of Eddie’s Father and giving Lou Ferrigno a few lines while Norton graciously gives him a “you da man.” There’s also a half-hearted reference to a young campus reporter named Jack McGee (which got zero reaction from the crowd), the four-note musical theme rears its sullen head and maybe even an unintended nod to Bixby’s final appearance in The Death of the Incredible Hulk. (He didn’t quite make it falling from that helicopter.) But if you can clock a feature film by its transformations (25-&-50) style and still wish that you could skip through the commercials in-between, precisely how far removed are you from what’s come before.

Not that anything around those commercial breaks are worth waiting for either. With three set pieces distributed liberally while a lesser version of Banner’s longing and angst string them together, I challenge anyone to make a convincing argument that the mayhem on display here is more exciting (or cooler) than what transpired in 2003. Fine, you didn’t like “mutant French poodles” and Leterrier’s opening chase (a half-hour in) through the neighborhoods of Brazil, pre-Hulk, isn’t bad. But shading the creature while he defends himself distracts us from the ensuing carnage. The final confrontation between Banner and Blonsky’s various incarnations (Try not to groan when Nelson’s scientist says the various mixtures in Blonsky’s blood would be “an abomination.”) is Transformers all over again with two giant CGI creations moving so bullet fast there’s no time to “wow” at one punch before the one who threw it is thrown himself across the white section of Harlem which the film takes gusto in destroying during the Cloverfield portion of the evening. The only semi-legitimate cool moment allowed to breathe in the climax we already saw Bruce Willis do to Yellow Bastard in Sin City. Sorry, not the balls thing. The film would need them first.

Most telling though is the campus faceoff between the Hulk and Thunderbolt’s army. This is to be the equivalent of the extended escape into the desert years ago, but its more a test of the immovable object theory. When Eric Bana’s Hulk emerged from being a lab rat, he ran like a jet stream, jumping himself to freedom while tanks and choppers tried to take him out. Edward Norton’s Hulk is a statue, planting himself on the campus grounds so everyone and their Army mothers can take a shot at him. Argue away that he stayed to “protect” Betty, but Leterrier frames the battle from a spectator’s vantage point and not through the motivation of our hero, draining the excitement and amplifying the noise to an anti-climax that carried more emotional pull when I was watching Starman for the first time. Since everyone is starting over, then we’re being asked to do the same. There’s no carry over from Bruce & Betty’s relationship. This is brand new and there’s nothing to convincingly sell us on why these two characters care about each other. It isn’t helped that the only time Liv Tyler changes facial expressions is when she yells at a cab. The writing services none of the characters, doesn’t even attempt to tap into the obvious implications of the industrial military complex becoming it’s own uncontrollable monster, and despite all the ballyhoo over Edward Norton writing and rewriting most of the script, only Zak Penn gets final credit and will have to shoulder the blame.

It was bad enough that a five-episode stretch of Sex and the City was released to theaters a few weeks back, but if all I wanted was two episodes of The Incredible Hulk I could have busted out any of the four seasons of DVDs or sit through a marathon on the Sci-Fi channel. Even fans of Ang Lee’s Hulk (which I’m a proud card-carrying member) were left with a bad taste in their mouths during its murky electricity-and-water finale, but there were so many positives to the way he told the story (origin be damned and all) that its consistent vitriol over the years with the onset of garbage like The Punisher and the Fantastic Four films is so small-minded and puerile. The fact that no other comic book adaptation since has taken the panel-and-inserts approach that Lee so cleverly induced only furthers its originality and audacity. As some final injection of irony, The Incredible Hulk offers up its coolest moment during the final scene, with a (not-so-secret) cameo with a final line of anticipatory bliss for comic and movie fans alike. It’s the only moment that elicited any reaction at the screening, although it may have been because it offered another promise to the Hulk denouncers that a good Incredible Hulk film is on the way. Because this doesn’t even come close.
 

INCREDIBLE HULK © 2008 Marvel Studios, Universal Picturest, Marvel Entertainment
All Rights Reserved

Review © 2008 Alternate Reality, Inc.

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