The summer of 2008 proved to be an extremely lucrative one for Marvel with the one-two punch of “Iron Man” followed by “The Incredible Hulk”. Granted in terms of monetary value and profit margin, Marvel gained more from “Iron Man” than their second attempt at adapting the not-so jolly green giant for the big screen. Even so, under their new Marvel Studios filmmaking branch it seems that the self-proclaimed “House of Ideas” is off to a terrific start, and has chosen to make very solid, entertaining film adaptations that hold true to their source material. As some of you may remember, and no doubt many of you did (due to the lower box office totals, I would say it’s safe to say most of you did), Marvel’s previous attempt to adapt their angry jade “hero” didn’t exactly go over very well with comic book fans and general moviegoers, essentially making “Hulk” into Marvel’s first flop of the new comic book movie age.
Which brings us to Marvel’s second, yet first self-produced, remake “The Incredible Hulk” (their first re-do was 2004’s “The Punisher”). To me the film would be more accurately viewed as Marvel’s way of saying, “We are incredibly sorry for stealing away two hours of your life with the psycho-babble in Ang Lee’s whine-fest of an excuse for a movie.” But that tagline for the film would probably be too long and distracting. Thus, we now find ourselves with yet another Hulk movie on our hands, but is this film all that different from what came before? In a word…yes. The difference between the two adaptations is basically as follows: unlike 2003’s “Hulk” (Ang Lee’s version, for those not keeping up) this new film knows what it takes to make the character work for audiences. Although it’s really a shame that this Hulk wasn’t able to smash so much more at the box office (we can all thank Ang Lee for ruining that possibility), after all the character’s potential was fully and spectacularly realized in this adaptation.
“The Incredible Hulk” tells the story of brilliant scientist Bruce Banner, who has been living in secrecy from the prying eyes of the United States government for several years as he attempts to rid himself of a very strong curse…the Hulk that resides within. After some unfortunate events lead to the military discovering his whereabouts, Banner soon discovers that he has no choice but to stand and fight against those who would use the monster within him as a weapon of destruction.
After I watched this film there was only one string of thoughts I had running through my mind, “Now, that is what an Incredible Hulk movie is all about! Intense action, plenty of drama, bits of romance and comedy sprinkled throughout, not to mention a talented cast of actors and actresses, and visual effects that will blow you away. If you haven’t been able to forget about Ang Lee’s travesty, then you haven’t seen this film yet.” Well, maybe my thoughts weren’t exactly like that, but they were similar in nature, I know that for a fact.
Anyways, let’s begin by discussing the actors chosen to bring their respective comic book counterparts to life on the big screen. Each cast member was perfectly chosen, even if the choice didn’t seem that obvious from the get-go. For instance, actor Edward Norton (“American History X”) was not my first choice for Bruce Banner/The Hulk, and even after the initial trailers were released I still wasn’t sure if he could do some of the non-Hulk action that the film was clearly calling for. I do not doubt that Edward could handle the dramatic side of the character, but all the running, jumping, and even some fighting were not things this actor is normally known for in his work. However, I am more than willing to admit that I was mistaken in my uncertainty regarding his abilities, and Norton truly owned the role of Banner. He imbues this tortured soul with such an anxious intensity and passion for finding a cure that the audience fully understands and relates to everything he is going through. Beneath all the angst over his curse, Norton also reveals a man broken down by his lot in life and the sacrifices he’s been forced to make to protect those he loves from himself. Every aspect of Edward’s portrayal was perfectly in keeping with the character’s emotions, motivations, and thought processes in the comic books.
Joining Edward Norton is the talented veteran actor William Hurt (“A History of Violence”) portraying the man hunting Bruce Banner, General Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross. This casting choice made perfect sense to me, as William always seems to immerse himself into any character thrown his way, and it’s that very dedication to his craft that made him the prime candidate for this modern day Captain Ahab. William delivers a performance that is rife with an intense hatred that drives him forward on his borderline nihilistic mission to capture Banner and unleash the beast. Assisting Ross in this dangerous endeavor is Tim Roth (TV’s “Lie to Me”) as Emil Blonsky, a military man past his prime, yet still thriving on the thrill of battle. Roth creates in Blonsky a warrior without any sense of remorse, in essence a sociopath whose mindset makes him both the ideal soldier for Ross’ mission and the perfect weapon for the general to throw into the Hulk’s path.
Lastly, actress Liv Tyler (“Armageddon”) as Betty Ross was even more of a maligned pick in my book than Edward Norton. I’ve never been all that taken by Liv in any of her roles, and even after her performance here (which is very good by the way) I still would have preferred Jennifer Connelly (who portrayed Betty in Ang Lee’s “Hulk”), but that is driven more by her appearance than anything else. That being said, Liv does a very good job with Betty, giving her plenty of dimension and depth of character, making her much more than just the damsel in distress. She’s very much an independent woman, and her portrayal is one that is probably more believable, in terms of appearance, than that of Jennifer Connelly, who let’s face it didn’t really look like she would actually be a scientist.
The story for “The Incredible Hulk” was written by Zak Penn (“X-Men: The Last Stand”) and co-written (although not credited) by Edward Norton. This adaptation of the Hulk was much more faithful to the comics that inspired it, no doubt influenced by the fact that Marvel itself was financing the picture. Unlike its predecessor, “The Incredible Hulk” opted for a much more streamlined approach to the origin story, something that other comic book adaptations could take to heart. What took Ang Lee two hours or more to create, this script accomplished in a much more concise, and altogether clearer manner. Gone is all the psycho-babble, daddy issues of “Hulk”, and in their place we have a crystal clear storyline, full of character-driven drama that is both gripping and intriguing, loaded with action and spectacle, plus a flawed hero that is much more believable and charismatic than anything the former could muster. On every single level “The Incredible Hulk” delivers a top-notch story that comic book fans have always hoped for, and all their loyalty and patience has been brilliantly rewarded.
Directing this latest adaptation we have action director Louis Letterier (“Unleashed”). For Ang Lee’s vision of the Hulk’s story, we were treated to some very stylistic, yet questionable choices about the editing and look of the overall film. Louis Letterier wisely chose to avoid over-stylizing the movie, opting for more of a down-and-dirty action film that felt much grittier and even realistic (which is an odd thing to say when discussing a movie that’s subject is a giant green monster). Truly the only stylized element Letterier brought to the film, in my opinion, were his trademark fast-paced, quick cut action scenes that are designed to heighten the intensity of the moment even more than what the story was doing on its own. It’s a gimmick used by many filmmakers today to assist in creating even more powerful action-heavy sequences, and it is probably one that is used far too often as a crutch more than anything else. However, Letterier has mastered the art of the quick cut, and deftly uses it to his advantage in every film he directs, and “The Incredible Hulk” is no exception.
Finally, the visual effects for this incarnation of Hulk is leaps and bounds above anything featured in Ang Lee’s version (this should be the last comparison to that film). The talented people at Rhythm and Hues were responsible for creating the surprisingly lifelike CGI creations of Hulk and Abomination. Truthfully, making an audience believe that a giant green monster is actually present amongst humans cannot be an easy endeavor; however, the stunning visual effects work done in this film (similar to what was done for “King Kong”) is as close to creating a realistic human-esque monster as we can probably get (at least for a little while). Out of all the CGI-intensive films released in 2008, “The Incredible Hulk” boasted the very best the industry had to offer, and it was a shame that the film and its creative geniuses weren’t recognized for it this last award season.
“The Incredible Hulk” is a fast-moving, intense action film that boasts some of the most impressive visuals you will see in a film for quite some time. This movie effectively recreates the film version of the character to be more inline with his comic book counterpart, becoming the definitive Hulk for audiences to enjoy watching for years to come.
“The Incredible Hulk” is rated PG-13 for violence and brief language.