OK, I swear I will talk about this movie as much as possible without mentioning that Hulk. Although this is a reboot from that movie, I’ll give it as much consideration as I can on its own terms.
But did we really need another movie?
So the opening credits give us the backstory of The Incredible Hulk‘s Bruce Banner. He’s a nerdy scientist with a hot female colleague that apparently was doing research in how to best project a green crosshair onto his head. The experiment goes horribly awry and he becomes a monster that ends up hurting his hot colleague! After he changes back, he attempts to reconcile things, but her angry general father won’t have any of it! And so Bruce is on the run, unable to control his propensity for turning into a hulk-like creature!
The movie actually starts properly in Brazil, where Bruce is ekeing out a miserable existence as a bottler at a soft drink plant. He’s, of course, ludicrously over-qualified, as he proves when he constantly fixes the electronics running the factory, but he stays put because he’s extremely paranoid about his condition and the threat of safety to others he poses. Because of a bit of blood that accidentally got bottled into one of the mysterious green soft drinks, the military is able to track his location. Big Angry General Dad sends a squad after him, with a seasoned veteran Emil Blonsky in the lead. Of course he finds Bruce and makes him angry. But instead of pissing his pants in fright and running away like a sane person, he becomes intrigued by the power Banner possesses.
Meanwhile, Bruce has been communicating covertly to a colleague in the US about possible cures to his condition. His friend thinks he’s found a way, so once Bruce escapes the military’s clutches after he transforms into the Hulk, he makes the long trek back to America and… winds up running into Hot Female Colleague, Dr. (?) Betty Ross. What are the odds!! They embrace and look longingly at each other in the rain before Angry General Dad figures out what’s what and sends Emil Blonsky after Bruce again, this time amped-up on some defrosted Super Soldier Serum. And of course terrible things and hulking out occur.
And so on and so forth until Emil’s HAD IT UP TO HERE with being a normal soldier and shoots up some of Bruce’s stuff and turns into what can only be called an ABOMINATION. And he fights with Hulk! And things smash and explode!
Man. If you can’t tell by my tone, this movie didn’t engage me enough. The entire production felt like it was lacking SOMETHING, some kind of verve. It’s a bit cold and calculated in what it knows it is and what it has to do. It’s a summer movie that will smash things. But its path to its goals is so… standard. Ordinary. Predictable. You know what will happen next. Perhaps that soothes people’s tortured souls? I just wanted something that could hold my attention. Any stabs this movie takes at personality just don’t work. The weird Brazilian tantric breathing anger control guy is sort of a step in the right direction for keeping me intrigued, but he was hardly in the league of Old Gay Butler from Spider-Man 3. When Betty Ross tells Bruce to shut up in what I assume was meant to be a charming and funny moment, it was wooden and stilted.
Everything about this movie feels safe and non-genuine. The script is fairly boring and uninspiring. There’s hardly a case of anyone uttering something memorable or unexpected or clever. It was screenwritten by one of the masters, Zak Penn of X-Men: The Last Stand fame, but apparently Edward Norton took a pass at it afterwards and almost rewrote the whole thing. And I guess about 70 minutes of that got left on the cutting room floor. Not sure it would’ve helped, though. The music, too, is very bland. Craig Armstrong is, like, the king of Generic Trailer Music. Listen to his “Escape” piece. I guarantee you’ve heard it before during a trailer where someone is running in slow motion while being chased by a fireball down a hallway or something. He brings that same vanilla quality to the score. NOTHING sticks out. And the way he works it hardly even sounds like a real orchestra is performing the music. IS a real orchestra performing the music?! It still sounds like it could be a Casio.
The one thing that the movie aspires to be, it does effectively, however. The action is fairly well-done in most cases. The most compelling the movie ever was is at the beginning where it blatantly steals a few pages chapters from The Bourne Identity‘s playbook and has a huge foot chase through the sprawling Brazilian slums. It also comes to life a few times during a Hulk-out at a university campus with lots of satisfying smash. The final fight between Abomination and Hulk is sort of the same as all the action that came before it, though, save for some of the Hulk’s more creative uses for his strength.
Hoo boy, the acting. Let me rant about what I hate most about it first: Liv Tyler. What a fucking choice. She’s at the forefront of a type of actress I classify as the “anti-starlet” (see also: Scarlett Johansson, Jessica Alba). She’s just an awful actress. Even in Nintendo DS commercials, where she’s obstensibly not portraying a character, she comes off as borderline retarded. And those horrible duck lips of hers. And her VOICE. She can’t deliver a line without her voice cracking. Ever. She has awful comedic timing and delivery, she looks vacant and she has no talent. Is it any surprise that she utterly fails in this movie? Edward Norton, William Hurt, Tim Roth and the rest do it no favors, either. Hell, I imagine Tim Roth as the guy that at the end of the day casting directors and producers go, “Eh, I couldn’t think of anyone better, could you?” He’s such a non-entity. I haven’t seen a single movie he’s been in where he’s really shined. (Hell, maybe I just didn’t notice him at all since he has almost zero presence and charisma.) But Liv is really the dud that broke my tolerance’s back.
OK, I’ve held back as much as I could from comparing this movie to Ang Lee’s 2003 Hulk. Now it’s time to put on the Hulk Hands. Could this movie BE any more reactionary? It’s like they looked at Hulk and asked themselves, “How can we make the OPPOSITE kind of movie?” But can you really blame them, I suppose? Hulk tanked. Really, really tanked. And it wasn’t entirely without reason. But to throw the baby out with the bathwater? They excise a lot of what made the Hulk movie fail (ridiculous Hulk dogs, ad nauseam Freudian schlock) and kept going, taking out a lot of Hulk‘s bizarre charm. Where is the performance in The Incredible Hulk that is as absolutely batshit crazy as Nick Nolte’s in Hulk? Where’s the brooding psychological look at what makes the Hulk tick? Where’s the adventurous, experimental style of editing? Hulk was full of idiosyncrasies, not all of which were bad. It’s like The Incredible Hulk rolled over that movie with a steamroller, leaving only the flattest, blandest possibility of what a Hulk movie can be. Sure, most of the fans didn’t think there was enough Hulk-smash. But that’s pretty much the extent of what this movie’s Hulk was. Where were the thrilling scenes with Hulk leaping over gorgeous desert backdrops? The exhilarating run across the walls of a canyon? The sets in The Incredible Hulk, apart from that neat Brazilian one, are boring. (The finale takes place in HARLEM?!)
Everything in the new movie seems like a downgrade. Sam Elliot for William Hurt. Jennifer Connelly for Liv Tyler. Danny Elfman for Craig Armstrong. Ang “Lust, Caution” Lee for Louis “The Transporter II” Leterrier. And the EFFECTS. If I hadn’t seen Hulk, I’d probably think The Incredible Hulk did a good job. And it did, in all but one respect. The new Hulk model is awful, in my opinion. Aside from the fact that the new Hulk face looks like a lamprey, and that the neck has awful tendons, this new Hulk isn’t an actor. One of the biggest pluses about the previous model was that so much time and care was put into animating it that it could actually ACT. And aside from what other people seem to think, in a Hulk movie, Hulk actually needs to fucking pull his weight as a cast member. And the effort to make the Hulk actually look like Eric Bana was taken last time. This time there’s a total disconnect from who Norton is and who Hulk is. And the new Hulk can’t express any range of emotions that aren’t “GRAAAAH.” Both movies miss the mark, but in completely different ways. I prefer disappointments like Hulk to ones like The Incredible Hulk, though. At least Ang Lee had some sort of unique vision fueling the gamma poodle madness.
Some closing tidbits: The Lonely Man Theme from the old TV series is in the movie, and used to surprisingly good effect. The movie has a horribly transparent segue to its inevitable sequel. Betty’s current beau apparently has no problem losing her to her transforming, homeless, fugitive ex. Hell, he’s even supportive? DUHHH OKAY. I wish that the Mr. Blue that Bruce was communicating with had ended up being Beast. And yeah, Robert Downey Jr. does show up as Tony Stark and set up things for an Avengers movie once more. And seeing Downey Jr. just puts a spotlight on one of this movie’s greatest sins: lack of personality. Iron Man was steaming with personality from start to finish. The Incredible Hulk? Not so much. Is it because of the routine approach? The lackluster cast? Or the fact that Bruce Banner, and the Hulk, are too brooding for a rollicking summer flick? I dunno. Anyone have Ang Lee’s and Jennifer Connelly’s numbers? A second reboot might be called for.