10 July 2008

The Incredible Hulk

...not to be confused with Ang Lee's 2003 Hulk, which was less incredible and more sleep-inducing. 2008's The Incredible Hulk is a kinda, sorta sequel and kinda, sorta reboot of the franchise starring Edward Norton in a soft-spoken, nuanced performance. I was surprised by how the story unfolded early on, with Bruce Banner in hiding and trying to deal with the menace he's already been saddled with (the opening credits remind you of his radioactive incident, of course). When Norton isn't the Hulk, many of his scenes are told with simple looks. Norton carries a good chunk of the film with his eyes, which for the most part are sad and forlorn. Though he's done quite a few flicks since, my last impression of him was his mail-it-in performace in The Italian Job, so it's good to see him back to form.

The film as a whole is solid if unspectacular. I liked the patience of the opening sequences, how the film takes its time establishing Banner's fugitive life in Brazil (which, incidentally, looks georgeous). This is, after all, a character who's established goal is to NOT get angry and turn into the titular character, and I liked how Banner was constantly monitoring his pulse and teaching himself to channel his energy while on his search for a cure.

I was also pleasantly surprised by director Louis Leterrier. I've liked the Luc Besson disciple's previous work, especially the Jet Li flick Unleasehed, but Transporter 2 isn't exactly a hallmark of cinema (I still like it, though). I watched Incredible Hulk a day after taking in the flashy and hollow Wanted, and Leterrier is clearly comfortable balancing character and action moments. The first big action scene in the Brazilian cola bottling factory is an impressive example of pacing, editing, and building tension, with the Hulk emerging from shadow only as a brief silohuette from a flash grenade. It's a geeky, uber-cool moment of iconography, a payoff for the film's quiet opening passages.

Unfortunately, as tuned in to the character as the screenplay is, the plot plods along from one locale to the next without any real sense of urgency. The insinuation the entire film is General Ross (William Hurt) needs to cover up this insidious military experiment gone awry while also restarting the project in secret... which explains the small, specialist squad led by Emil Blonksy (Tim Roth) but not the tanks and helicopters that come storming onto an American university -- tanks and helicopters being difficult to explain when one wants to keep a conspiracy on the down low. There's a sweet subplot with Betty Ross (Liv Tyler) helping Bruce evade her father, but the further along the story progresses, the less clear and more obligatory things become.

I liked the mini-rivalry Hulk has with Blonksy, a warrior who yearns to combine his experience with an all-powerful body of his own, but the finale feels like a long, drawn-out sideshow. There's a moment late in the film where a crowd of people -- including the Rosses -- watch the heroic Hulk walk away, and I wasn't sure if they were happy about this or not. It's a frustrating climax that not only leaves questions unanswered (sequel!) but raises questions and reveals plot holes that otherwise would have gone cheerfully unnoticed.

What the film lacks is that extra gear that all good action movies have. While I appreciated the simplicity of the film's opening, the ending is overly simplistic, leaning on gravitas that isn't really there. The film is executed well, but at the end of the day, it's a one-note story.

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