Thursday, June 26, 2008

The Incredible Hulk

Dir. Louis Leterrier

Viewed: In the Balcony

Since I'll probably be watching all the comic book based movies this year (there's only two more, right?) I figured I might as well offer up some thoughts on the new Incredible Hulk v2.0: Faster and Furiouser. It's been close to 2 weeks now since I've seen it so it's safe to say that it has been fully digested.

I'll state up front that I dug Ang Lee's Hulk. I still consider what he did with framing, editing, movement and splicing up the screen to be the closest film has come to duplicating the experience of reading a comic book. That in and of itself makes Hulk worth watching. But Lee turned the Banner/Hulk story into one of internal struggle with daddy issues and repression and people reacted somewhat negatively. People seemingly didn't want a brooding Hulk despite the character(s) being all about internal conflict manifesting itself.

The general public think of the story of Hulk and they imagine shit being smashed up good. People hear "comic books" and they envision tights, capes, kapows, explosions and a good guy beating up a bad guy. Maybe one of these days comic books will cease to be a mini genre that needs to fall under these guidelines. Just as animated film is finally getting through to people that it can tell a story just a profound as Bergman could, maybe some day the comic book film will prove to be a genre that can offer up just as good a revelation. Maybe the Watchmen can help. But I'm not holding my breath.

Until then, we have The Incredible Hulk. The effort for respectability is clearly here, to be sure. While Ang Lee's angst is tossed aside in favor of a streamlined plot in the form of a chase movie, it makes its attempts at dramatic conflict by having Banner struggle with his want to get rid of this infection and his conflicted desires regarding Betty Ross, his lost love since the accident and daughter of the General who's pursuing him. These are peppered in between the Hulk Smash scenes and unfortunately handled with a thudding delicacy by Leterrier. The director excels with the action, to a point. A scene early on with Banner/Hulk (Edward Norton) running atop the stacked housing in Brazil loses some of its would-be awe after Jason Bourne's recent amazingly captured adventures.

It's the scenes with Banner and Betty that come off a bit fumbling despite an almost simmering Norton and Liv Tyler (was Bruce Banner the awol dad in Lonesome Jim?) -- as is his hand at juggling tonalities, which the script asks for. Most of the movie is a bit melodrama and some of the scenes try to end with a punchline and instead leaves the viewer scratching their head rather than having a good laugh. For the most part these scenes are few and far between. The sub-Bourne storyline works well with the Hulk mythos. In one of many nods to the 70's television show, we have our Banner on the run with Sgt. Ross (William Hurt, who does an admirable job if not quite Sam Elliot level cool) hot on his trail, only one step behind. When Sgt. Ross gets one step ahead is when the movie catches its spark and the confrontations between Hulk and the rest of the world around him are sometimes goose bump inducing -- as much as a mid -range CGI character can be.

[This picture is what I imagine The Hulk saying about Bruce Banner. One of the ideas I always liked about the comic book Hulk stories is Hulk always putting down stupid, puny Banner, which is one element that was missing from the movie. Having the Hulk talk though worked surprisingly well even if they didn't really do much with it.]

The idea of a Hulk movie is a tough nut to crack. We've seen two possibilities and I can't see another avenue brining any more success -- I can't really say, maybe they should have done this or that -- we're dealing with a big, green, dysfunctional CGI character who's story and relationships aren't exactly brimming with the kind of stuff that makes for classic movie fodder. They're never going to get the budget Jackson did for King Kong so you'll forever be dealing with a less than great realization of the big guy which will always be distracting no matter what. Having said that, I certainly wouldn't mind seeing the continuing adventures of Hulk, preferably in The Avengers movie hinted to at the ending, but definitely with more story and thematic heft to the ongoings.

Making it a simple chase story is certainly a nice option but it's not nearly as exhilarating as Iron Man (who boasts a much more tactile feel to his CGI parts) -- but it has enough moments, especially in the early going, that make it worthwhile and worthy of making a few bucks without me complaining about it. Hellboy, like Iron Man, is an example of the benefits of practical special effects, non-CGI agenda, selling the story better and making the scenes work better every time (I'm looking at you George). I think Nolan agrees with this too and so I'm still looking forward fondly to Batman and Hellboy.

1 comment:

Padraic said...

I like the first Hulk a lot too, but I'm not surprised at all that people responded negatively to it.

What differentiated that Hulk from other "serious" attempts to do comic book movies is that Ang Lee was a serious director doing action, rather than an action director trying to look serious.

His Hulk was really messed up - not in the way that Bale or Hugh Jackman are given pseudo-serious cloaks of psychology and back story - and portraying that on screen takes a lot of time.

I still don't get the mixing of seriousness and comic books however, or at least comic books from the Marvel and DC universes (in this, Iron Man seems a nice departure).

I look forward The Watchman because the source material shows far more insight into human nature and the possibility of super power metaphors than the trite musing of a young Stan Lee.