Listen up Hulkamaniacs –
This new Hulk remake/sequel/do-over/all new adventure starts out with an opening credits montage of flashbacks and headlines to explain his Incredible origin. It’s like the opening to a TV show, setting up what you need to know. So I’m gonna do a TV show opening for this review to: I don’t know the comic strips, vaguely remember the TV show, still love the Ang Lee movie no matter what you say, but was open to and kind of excited about the notion of the goofball director of fucking TRANSPORTER 2 taking over to do the flip side of that coin.
But I got a little worried when I read that Edward Norton had rewritten the script. Uh oh. That means he thinks he’s making the serious Hulk movie. Did he not know about the Ang Lee one? I think he did, because I read that he turned it down. I guess he regretted that maybe. It’s true, Louis Letterier is not in TRANSPORTER 2 mode here. He’s more in DANNY THE DOG aka UNLEASHED mode: a movie with elements of crazy action fun, but that is trying really hard to be a serious drama.
And I didn’t see this coming, but it actually has the same weird story problem that UNLEASHED had: what the hero wants is diametrically opposed to what the audience wants. In UNLEASHED Jet Li played a martial arts expert who was raised as a dog by Bob Hoskins (long story). He wore a collar but whenever it came off him he was mentally programmed to go ape shit and beat the holy living fuck out of anybody in his path. (again, long story.) And then the movie is about how he sort of finds a new family and changes his life and learns to not beat the shit out of everybody when the collar comes off. And it’s kind of sweet and Jet Li gets to do way more acting than almost any other movie he’s been in.
But on the other hand… we came to see a fucking Jet Li movie! And it’s undeniable that the best parts of the movie are the fights, which are choreographed by Yuen Woo Ping but use a very different style than he usually uses, with Jet doing blunt, primal kinds of blows to fit his character, not graceful ones. The fights are so great! So how can you root for this character when his goal is to stop entertaining you?
THE INCREDIBLE HULK kind of does the same thing. America is still angry at Ang Lee for the poetic beauty and inner contemplation of HULK. America demands a Hulk that does not deal with his childhood trauma and relationship to his father, and certainly does not ever contemplate lichen in the desert or fight a psychedelic battle in the sky. America wants Hulk to just fucking punch things and throw and growl and then punch things some more and just fuck everything up, like a Hulk does. So you’d think that would be the focus of the new movie, and yet Dr. Banner spends the whole movie trying to cure himself and not be the Hulk! In his very last scene (I think, but it’s kind of unclear) he has decided to control and use the Hulk and be a super hero and what not, but couldn’t we have done that at the beginning of the movie?
I think maybe they realized that at some point because the one really huge story stumble happens after a long scene where he gets strapped down and zapped with various mad scientist things and this is supposed to cure him of being the Hulk. Then in the next scene he finds out it would be helpful to be the Hulk so he turns into him again. The whole movie he’s trying to cure himself and then when he does he decides nah, I didn’t want that, and then it’s like it never happened. Good job rewriting Edward Norton, glad you caught that one.
(to be fair, this version is shorter than the one Norton wanted, so maybe the editing messed it up)
I should mention before I go too deep into this that I actually enjoyed this movie. But still. Let’s be honest, there are some problems. Most people will not agree, but I think Ang Lee’s beats Letterrier’s in almost all categories.
For sure Ang Lee’s looks better. It has beautiful photography and vivid colors. This one is much more dreary, and not in an artful way. It’s not surprising that it was shot in Toronto. It pretty much has the look of a mid-budget action movie instead of a big comic book movie. But I didn’t entirely hate that because it’s kind of weird to see a cheap action movie with a multi-million dollar special effects monster as the star. That’s a new one. Maybe they can use the Hulk in some of the upcoming WWE movies instead of John Cena.
The new Hulk computer character looks both better and worse. He’s more chiseled and fierce looking in the face, the old one was kind of doughy. But whenever he has to have an expression other than “GRRRR!!” it becomes ridiculous. There’s a couple KING KONG moments where he has to look at Liv Tyler with sensitivity and those fucking girly eyes just made me laugh. I expected him to start batting his eyelashes like Bugs Bunny in drag. They look unnatural on that head, like the creepily human eyes on computerized Garfield. And actually I think the body of the old Hulk was better, more of a big lug and less of a disgusting PUMPING IRON freako tribute to unnaturally enlarged male anatomy.
More importantly, the acting performance by the animators was better in the other one. They give it their best here but the personality seems a little forced, and the action is Stephen Sommers weightless. When Bana Hulk threw things they seemed heavy, Norton Hulk and his enemy monster sometimes just look like they’re tossing pieces of foam around. And the moves seem rushed, like so many computer animated animals in movies that just look like special effects and not living creatures.
The General character (girlfriend’s dad, guy trying to catch the Hulk and in this one total scumbag villain who is responsible for Banner being the Hulk as part of a weapons program) is way better in the Ang Lee one. First of all, as much as I like William Hurt, he comes off as a poor man’s Tommy Lee Jones. Sam Elliot was cooler and was given more dimension – alot of what he was doing came out of being a protective father, and trying to do his job. This version is just a bad guy who doesn’t even give a shit about endangering his own daughter, and then at the end he kind of turns less villainous but it only feels partly earned.
It’s smart to make the main villain another monster that can get in a punching and smashing fight with the Hulk, and it’s cool to have Tim Roth in a movie like this. But there’s not a whole lot to his character. He just sees the Hulk monster and gets jealous and wants to do that too, so they give him some injections and shit. I wonder if this is covered in that BIGGER, FASTER, STRONGER documentary? Nick Nolte’s character was way more interesting, way funnier, and scarier since he seemed so legitimately crazy and since his powers were more abstract, you weren’t sure what the fuck was gonna happen with that dude. Also, let’s face it, nobody likes dealing with hulk poodles. It’s like having your basement flooded or getting in a motorcycle accident or something. Just a huge pain in the ass. Nothing good comes out of hulk poodles. In fact, how do we really know this Edward Norton Hulk is any good if we have not seen him tear a hulk poodle in half with his bare hands? That is the true test of any hulk, in my opinion. Today’s hulks are so pampered.
What really surprised me though is I think the action is better in the Ang Lee one. All this time I was thinking this will be the dumb version of HULK, the character and story stuff won’t be nearly as good, but it will have more and better action. Way off. Actually, the story is kind of more involving than Ang Lee’s, if more obvious and less serious. The pacing is not as much of a challenge. And the action is fine, there’s some cool smashing stuff here and there. But nothing has the same visceral thrill as Hulk flying around in the desert fighting the tanks and jets in the first movie. Or the thrill of Letterier’s other movies, for that matter. He tries, but maybe computerized fights are not his thing.
There’s some hype about the climax being a long monster fight. I thought that would be great. The weird thing is I was completely involved in the movie, enjoying it, never bored, and then when the fight was over I just kind of thought huh. That’s it. Oh well.
Didn’t expect that from a guy I think of as an action director. But I guess in retrospect the guy who directed CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON is gonna have better fights than the guy that did TRANSPORTER 2. But luckily there is room in this world for both of them to try their hand at the Incredible Hulk. I wonder what nationality of action director we should give the Hulk to next? How about the ONG BAK guys? Or the Chileans who did KILTRO and MIRAGEMAN? Maybe Isaac Florentine and Scott Adkins.
I only noticed a slight French feel to this one, but I did read afterwards that Cyril Rafaelli from DISTRICT B13 (also stunt coordinator for many Besson productions) did the movements for Hulk and Abomination. And I actually thought briefly about parkour at the end when Hulk was jumping from the sides of buildings. But the thing about this guy and his colleagues is that they really, for real do these amazing things. They run up the sides of buildings, swing on poles, fly through tiny spaces, leap from up high and land on narrow ledges. Rafaelli was the mercenary in LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD who did that leap onto the fire escape, and when I first saw it I thought it was a special effect until I realized who it was, and then I knew it was real.
So when he’s in this movie and he actually is a special effect it’s not quite the same thrill. It doesn’t take advantage of his talents. Still, nice that they gave him the job.
Norton does a good job turning this character into your usual Edward Norton character. The fact that he’s not some muscleman badass is a good contrast to the monster he becomes. I’m not prepared to say he’s better than Bana, but maybe. As much as I like that movie it’s too bad Bana had to turn all his acting inward. When the fuck is somebody gonna figure out a role for him that’s half as good as Chopper? Still, you gotta give him credit for being dedicated enough to Hulk to have a name that sounds like Banner. Norton did not go the same distance for his performance, which is a shame. A sad, ugly shame.
I can give one to INCREDIBLE HULK though: it has the better girlfriend. Nothing against Jennifer Connelly, who many men in their 30s are obsessed with due to the movie LABYRINTH. Maybe Academy Award winners just aren’t my type or something but I thought Liv Tyler was way more lovable. She seems genuinely infatuated with Banner, and protective of him. When she goes into Soothe the Savage Beast mode it’s completely convincing, she knows how to get through to him. And the way the two joke with each other makes them seem more like a real couple.
In fact the most clever trick in the movie has to do with their relationship. Banner has been on the run and he comes back home and sees Betty from afar, but she has a new boyfriend. We know what this means: he has to slowly reveal himself to her, she is torn but tells him she has moved on with her life, and he hurt her so bad, and the new boyfriend will be a pretty cool guy but will be kind of possessive, and either he will show his true colors as a scumbag later or he will realize her heart is really with Bruce and he will set her free like a balloon… well, none of this happens. Instead when she accidentally catches a glimpse of Bruce she walks away from the boyfriend and ends up running off with Bruce. I love that she never even talks about it. Clearly that was just the guy she found to try to fill the hole that could never be filled, and now he is unnecessary. Sorry dude. You were such a prick in the DAWN OF THE DEAD remake, maybe this is karma.
I was a little confused since the trailer started with Banner getting advice from the new boyfriend. I kept waiting for him to come back into the story, but that scene never happened. But I loved that they handled the love story the way they did. It seems like every other super hero has some tortured love life. Batman’s got that girl he grew up with and she says he’s not the same person anymore, Spider-man has all that drama with Mary Jane and has to do an evil dance, Punisher had his wife, kids, parents, grandparents, second cousins and co-workers all massacred mafia style, Superman blew it with Lois because he flew off into space for too long, Wolverine loves Jean Grey even though she already has a man AND died AND turned evil AND died again, Popeye split up with Olive Oyl because they were always fighting over money. And then Blade and Tony Stark sleep around. It’s nice that Incredible Hulk has his girl and they just get along well and support each other, even go fugitive together. The drama in the story comes from punching, not from relationship troubles.
Another point in this movie’s favor is that it has the better title. Maybe that’s why it looks cheaper, they blew most of the budget on an “INCREDIBLE” and even a “THE” which were sorely missing in HULK.
So I’m still sticking by the Ang Lee version. Definitely the most ambitious and bravest of the two and for me more fun to watch. But I do like this one as a more normal version for normal people and I’m glad it turned out okay. Very few will like it as much as IRON MAN, but it’s closer to that category than to the sucky Marvels movies like FANTASTIC FOUR 1-2, GHOST RIDER, DAREDEVIL and GARFIELD. You know, I’ve read about how they’re trying to do the separate movies to set up all these characters and later they’re gonna have them assemble into a team in one movie. It’s an ambitious plan that I honestly thought they were gonna blow already with this one. Nobody would like the movie and they’d have to figure out Hulk actor #3 for the team-up movie, or maybe just have him be Hulk for the entire thing. But the movie seems to be going over well, so good for them.
take your vitamins and say your prayers brother
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.