Written by: Rob Van Winkle, CC2K Staff Writer
Back in my avid comic book collecting days, I had a raging ongoing debate with a friend of mine regarding the overall superiority of specific heroes. I was a Spider-Man guy, while he was a die-hard Incredible Hulk man. His argument was always the same: Spider-Man is at its core a story of a nerd who gains power and then must use it responsibly, while The Incredible Hulk was both an extreme Jeckyl and Hyde story, as well as a cautionary tale of military technology gone awry (he might not have put it quite so succinctly, however). One is a dude who pretends not to be strong when he really is, while the other is an extremely kind-hearted and altruistic man who under stress becomes a raging, emotionless id. I argued back as best I could, but he was right; as far as symbolic depth, Hulk bested Spidey every time.
On film however, it’s a different story entirely. As Sam Raimi and company showed us twice (we won’t discuss part three), Spider-man’s pathos and bizarre mix of bookworm and badass are perfect fodder for the Hollywood treatment. Sure, they’ll never be able to capture his ability to elude bullet-fire with his agility, and the masks are always going to look silly on real people, but the story is the perfect blend of characters and action. By contrast, no one has really been able to put The Incredible Hulk on the screen without it feeling largely ridiculous. Whether using CGI or a bodybuilder in green paint, The Hulk always came across as a cartoon more than a tragic figure. We all know this at some level, so when it was announced that Ed Norton would be the front man for yet another attempt to turn The Hulk into mainstream box office gold, I fully admit that I expected it once again to be simply dreadful.
For anyone who had similar reservations about this latest Incredible Hulk, then I have good news: by going in with such low expectations, I came out having seen a damn fun movie.
Let’s start at the start: the beginning of The Incredible Hulk is terrific. Rather than subjecting us to yet another origin story – and a full hour of Bruce Banner’s dawning realization of what he has become – that section is covered entirely within the opening credits in a well-paced visual montage that ends with Banner/Hulk’s disappearance. By the time the film actually gets going in earnest, we are already invested in Banner’s simultaneous desire to stay hidden from the US Government, and to cure himself from his alter ego. I hope this isn’t a spoiler, but both of these wishes are thwarted. Soon enough, the military is hot on his trail, leading to Banner running for his life, and The Hulk intermittently kicking ass.
The first thing that really jumps out about this movie is the overall great job that was done with the casting. Ed Norton plays such a convincing nice guy that you’re almost tempted to forget what a douchebag he’s rumored to be in real life. Liv Tyler somehow toes that subtle line between empowered woman and damsel-in-distress quite nicely, and William Hurt kicks the requisite amount of ass as Thunderbolt Ross . However, the real casting coup here is Tim Roth as Emil Blonsky, a power-hungry badass who will do anything to take The Hulk down. As soon as I saw Roth step on screen, I knew without knowing why that he was going to be awesome in that role. Despite his somewhat diminutive size, his presence was huge, and perfectly embodied a soldier with a Napoleon complex so severe that voluntary irradiation would seem like a good idea.
The second thing worth discussing is the phenomenal amount of shout-outs there were for the hard-core Hulk fans out there. All of these movies have contained subtle winks for those of us “in-the-know,” but even I was surprised by how much they crammed into The Incredible Hulk. Both stars of the TV series find their way into the movie (one more cleverly than the other) along with that ubiquitous music, Norton attempts to utter Bixby’s famous phrase in Portugese, and there’s even a brief appearance of the purple pants that somehow always found their way onto the comic Hulk’s lower half. Hard core fans will recognize the origin of one of Hulk’s nemeses toward the end, and even soft core enthusiasts will recognize the now de rigeur Stan Lee sighting, this time with several camera angles to his credit! Finally, those who stay to the end will bear witness to the incredibly poorly kept secret appearance of Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark, who teases for the second time this summer at what might just be the be-all end-all of super hero movies, theoretically set to come out in a few years time.
But all of this minutiae aside, a movie like The Incredible Hulk will always come down to the CGI, and in this arena the movie fares admirably as well. We’re still not at the point where computer effects really appear lifelike, and so certain scenes will always look like an actor trying to emote next to nothingness (Tyler’s scene in the cave jumps to mind here). On top of that, The Hulk inevitably ends with a battle between two super-charged figures, which means the computers take up almost the entire stage. However, despite these obvious difficulties, it still manages to come off pretty damn good. While they both obviously look fake, The Abomination is more than adequately horrible looking, and the Hulk is very suitably convincing in his alternating fury and confusion. In fact, in what has to be the greatest achievement of the animators, The Hulk at various points does that hand-slap wind storm thing, AND says “Hulk Smash!,” yet in neither instance did anyone in the theater laugh at the inanity. THAT, if nothing else, is a great sign.
In the end, The Incredible Hulk was a very good movie experience. Given my reservations about it going in, I can’t necessarily comment on its overall quality as a film, but merely as its enjoyability as a movie. For a more detailed breakdown of how it fared, you’re just going to have to track down my grade school friend. Just don’t make him angry.