While this review is a little behind on the rest, and has no hope of having the impact of this gem from The Guardian which has been seen by practically everyone at this stage, I haven’t had this much to piss and moan about a film in a long time, so I must write.
What is wrong with The Incredible Hulk? Well, a lot of things. The best way to demonstrate this is to compare it to the critically puzzling and audience-alienating Hulk of 2003, directed by Ang Lee. I for one am a defender of that film, not in that I think it is particularly good, but in that it is probably the best comic book movie of the past ten years, barring Batman Begins. That of course says very little
But there was undoubtedly a lot to be corrected in a new Hulk film. The comic book editing style of Hulk, that most people choose to ignore but was truly inspired, was visually too much for audiences to bear. So it goes in the bin. The cinematography was too dark, so they partially corrected that (though not entirely). The love story wasn’t romantic enough, so let’s make them hug in the rain – check. The villain wasn’t villainous enough (admittedly Nick Nolte and the character he played were 95% of what was wrong with Hulk), so let’s replace him with an Englishman!
Another major criticism of Hulk was that there was too much drama and character development (good god, not character development, in a work of fictional entertainment!), and too little “Hulk Smash”, and to be honest, there’s relatively little of either here. The Incredible Hulk has Ed Norton suppressing his inner rage for much of the film only to unleash it in three bursts (one utterly obscured by, yes, you’ve got it, under-lit cinematography) of rampaging computer graphics.
So let’s start with Norton. Admittedly, as much as he normally deserves a smack in the mouth, he’s perfectly fine here. He doesn’t quite do the rage stare as well as Eric Bana did, but he can do angry all the same. Alas, what neither actor can do is funny, which is a shame because this film tries several times to pull off humour (another shame, but we’ll get back to that).
Norton is an acceptable actor awash in a sea of dire performing. Liv Tyler simply needs to be put down. She speaks so softly and slowly that you’d swear she was in love with a man who was slowly dying of cancer and not liable to rip her oddly-shaped head from her shoulders at any minute. Playing Betty Ross, supposedly a PhD in molecular biology, she repeatedly asks simple questions about the subject that she is supposed to a world-class expert in. She sounds less like a doctor and more like the receptionist at a health spa. To compare her beauty and self-confidence with that of Jennifer Connelly is like comparing a curled up hedgehog with a roaring tiger.
On the other side of miscasting, William Hurt plays General Ross, who the filmmakers spend half of the film trying to make it seem as though he is not her father so there can be a “twist” in the middle of the film. FAIL. Poor William Hurt though. One of the best actors of the 1980s (see The Big Chill, Broadcast News), who vanished in the 90s (well, there was Lost in Space), he has repeatedly popped-up in almost big roles in several films since 2000, including The Village, Into the Wild and A History of Violence, for which he received an Oscar nod. Here he replaces the lovable Sam Elliott in a role that was the original Hulk’s greatest highlight. But it’s not so much Hurt’s fault, what the writers have done is destroy his character. Hulk’s “Thuderbolt” was a man torn between protecting his country from a menace that could perhaps be harnessed for good, and saving the man his daughter loves. In The Incredible Hulk, Ross was the man behind the experiment that made Bruce Banner the Hulk, and is now a two-dimensional character only interested in dissecting the Hulk and stealing his secrets. A man once torn between his country and his daughter is now torn between being a villain and being slightly less of a villain. The Hulk franchised has stepped down a very silly pit.
Meanwhile, just for added villainosity, Englishman Tim Roth, the uninspired man’s Gary Oldman, plays a Royal Marine with a Russian name who wears American military regalia. Was anyone awake on this film? Yes, he is having a good time being a sadistic atomic steroid junkie, but the more inhuman his character becomes the less interesting he is. By the time he becomes the Abomination, a questionably designed monstrosity, the fun is all gone – the two hulks can pound away at each other, but do we really care? Worst of all is the decision to make the Abomination speak with a series of hackneyed roars of “Is that the best you can do?” and other goading villainous tough-guy remarks. It’s well known that American audiences can’t bear more than a minute without some superfluous dialogue, but one still feels Abomination would have been better off snarling like a beast than impersonating John McClane.
So since this film is more or less just an action film (I accept that there is an alleged serious cut out there but there’s no evidence of readily available improvements missing here), how good is that action? Well the Hulk stuff isn’t really that great. An improvement on Hulk, but not much. Tanks and cars gets thrown and tossed, and the Abomination gets his face punched in, but really there could be more. Worst of all, one can’t fight the nasty little feeling that every time the Hulk picks up a new object to use as a weapon we are being sold a toy. Hulk; with metal door shield action! Hulk; with half car fist action! Hulk; with stranglehold chain action! Hulk; with laughing at you while you spend all your money on a toy with no purchasable nemesis action!
Ironically, the one excellent action sequence, and the film’s sole highlight, is an early chase scene through a Brazilian slum, which really gets the adrenaline pumping. Absent for much of the sequence is the Hulk, suggesting that director Louis Leterrier should stick to strictly human-based action films. In one of the film’s sloppiest moments, the action sequence ends up in a factory where all the machinery gets turned on, but unlike The Terminator nothing comes of this, it just adds a little bit of extra flashing lights and noise, a summation for all this film is if ever there was one.
The humour largely falls flat; with jokes about stretchy purple pants seemingly apologetic that this film has come from embarrassing and lesser material. The effects are fine but they are simply overused, and while they have managed to make the Hulk look less cartoonish, they have also made him look more hideous and unappealing. If the proposed Avengers film (here hinted at before the credits as everyone missed the scene after Iron Man) ever happens, they would want to come up with something a little more interesting for the Hulk to do than take deep breaths until they want him to smash stuff up.
Number of days since I’ve seen a crappy movie: 2