Wednesday, April 15, 2015

The Incredible Hulk

Welcome back to FlashBack Friday!... Except, it's on a Wednesday! While this is coming a couple of days early to leave room for other reviews to come, it's also oddly fitting for The Incredible Hulk. One of the few films by Marvel that didn't spawn a sequel, the 2008 follow-up to the wildly successful Iron Man is kind of a pariah on the otherwise sterling resume of the MCU. Just like with Iron Man, I didn't see this film in theatres, and had a slightly sour taste in my mouth from the last theatrical appearance of the green rage monster in 2003's Hulk. I was a little apprehensive coming into my first viewing of this film, but I was pleased to see that it was a complete 180 from the cerebral, artistic snooze-fest that was the previous Hulk film. I've seen this film several times since then, and my opinion of it has evolved as the identity of the MCU has solidified over the course of its Avengers journey.

One of the best things about this film is it's economical telling of the Hulk's origin, compressing it into the 3 minute opening credits sequence without any dialogue at all. After such a short period between Hulk films, it helps to have a bit of a buffer to re-acclimate audiences with the new direction this film is going to take. It's a very kinetic opening, with impressive visual effects and fast-paced music to keep our attention hooked. In fact, it may be the best part of the entire movie, which is both a bit of a criticism of what's to come as well as praise for what this opening does right.

We're immediately introduced to the new Bruce Banner after that, who is living in Brazil and learning martial arts as a preventative measure against his inner hulk. Through breathing exercises and meditation, he's been able to go 158 days without incident, which helps keep him off the grid for the time being. He's found a relatively peaceful life working in a bottling factory while researching different ways of eliminating his hulkism. If you've ever seen the 1970's TV show of the same name, there are going to be a TON of call-backs and homages to that series that you will probably enjoy. I noticed a few times when they literally played entire pieces of music from that series at certain points, and the set up is exactly what you would see on that show: Bruce (or David in the show) has moved to a new place and is trying to find a cure, but becomes entangled with a local problem that eventually leads to the Hulk resurfacing. It's not a bad way to start things off, and Edward Norton does a pretty good job of portraying the loner with a destructive secret he's trying to hide.

But after a workplace injury where some of Bruce's blood drips into one of the bottles (leading to Stan Lee's death by gamma poisoning), General Ross is able to trace Bruce's hideout and takes an elite team of black-ops agents to bring in the scientist. What happens next is actually a really exciting chase scene, recalling some of the best foot-chases from the Borne series. He eventually seeks refuge in the factory, but is pursued not only by Ross, but also by a group of bullying coworkers who want to... I don't know, beat him up for some reason...? This plan doesn't go well for them, however, as Bruce eventually hulks out and tears the place apart.

This leads to one of my biggest complaints about this film... Hulk looks really REALLY bad after seeing how great he can look in The Avengers. It may sound nit-picky, but his muscle-definition is way too extreme, his proportions are too cartoonish, and his hair is really annoying to me for some reason. It doesn't look anything like Edward Norton, and even when they make a point of showing Bruce Banner getting a haircut it has no effect on what the Hulk looks like. Plus, they keep trying to make his eyes green for some reason, which separates the character even further from reality (not that a giant green monster will ever look "real", but The Avengers pulled it off). Overall, the CGI of this movie is a pretty big step down from Iron Man, but most of that is just the effects of age. Had visual effects technology not taken such a big leap since 2008, it probably wouldn't be so glaringly apparent.

Other than that, I kind of liked the character journey for Banner as he reunites with his former love, Betty Ross (played by Liv Tyler). Their chemistry is a little flat for me, but there are still scenes that work. I buy the moments of Bruce not being able to get aroused without hulking out, and I bought into Betty's character the most during the cave scene where she has nothing to play against besides a CGI creature three times her size. Liv Tyler is a very attractive woman, and when she shows more emotion I think she's great in this movie. Unfortunately, most of her scenes are played without much feeling, and I fault the direction more than her performance. She's been great in other things, whereas the director has gone on to direct such classics as 2010's Clash of the Titans, and Now You See Me.

Having said that, the love story isn't what makes this movie enjoyable. The Hulk finally gets to have some battles here, and his fights with the military and especially with Abomination are pretty adrenalizing. This may be the first time that we see Hulk as a force of nature that cannot be controlled, and it's the only time we really see a "real fight" for Hulk as he takes on the incredibly ugly Abomination. Everyone loves the police car boxing glove scene, and I do too, but I have to say that this entire climax was much more exciting the first few times I watched it. It's sort of bitter-sweet that Marvel did so well with the character in The Avengers, because now I can't really enjoy these action scenes without the technical deficiencies calling themselves out. Still, it's pretty entertaining to watch, and Hulk finally getting the upper hand on Abomination by choking him out with a chain is pretty impressive to this day.

Overall, this set up a lot of characters that are never going to pay off (General Ross, Betty Ross, Dr. Samuel Sterns, Dr. Leonard Sampson, etc.), and it's ultimately the one that doesn't matter in the Marvel cannon. Even though fans were a bit more appreciative of it overall, The Incredible Hulk disappointed at the box-office, and were it not for one of the later Marvel films, I would call this the weakest of the MCU. That's more indicative of the quality of these Marvel movies than it is an indictment on Hulk, but I have a hard time getting excited about this movie since it appears to matter so little in the grand scheme of things. Suffice it to say that Marvel eventually figured out Hulk, and white it's great for the universe as a whole, it's to the ultimate detriment of this film. Still, I'm going to give The Incredible Hulk a slightly generous three stars.

There's still one more Phase 1 Marvel film that I haven't reviewed yet, and it will be coming out on Friday. Based on the epic showdown that we're promised in the trailers for Avengers: Age of Ultron, I figured it would be fitting to review the Hulk and Iron Man films in preparation, and I think a lot of people may be surprised by my review of Iron Man 2 this weekend. Anyway, thanks for reading and let me know what you thought of this movie (or any of my reviews) in the comments below!

THE INCREDIBLE HULK is rated PG-13 for sequences of intense action violence, some frightening sci-fi images, and brief suggestive content