Saturday, 5 July 2008

Film Review: "The Incredible Hulk"

Release date: 13th June 2008
Certificate: 12A
Director: Louis Leterrier
Stars: Edward Norton, Liv Tyler, Tim Roth, William Hurt

If I'd grown up in the United States, I have no doubt that I'd now be a comic book geek. The fact that the latest Marvel and DC comics aren't readily available to pick up on the shelves of supermarkets and newsagents in the UK is the only reason of which I can think that the adventures of all the most well-known superheroes weren't a big part of my childhood. The return of the comic book blockbuster movie, not seen since Tim Burton directed Batman almost two decades ago and Christopher Reeve played Superman even longer ago than that, has therefore been something I have relished - a chance, almost, to live a part of my childhood that should have been there but wasn't.

The Incredible Hulk is a comic book character who, I must admit, never fully captured my imagination. That said, when I saw Ang Lee's attempt at bringing the not-so-jolly green giant to the big screen in 2003, I enjoyed it, apparently more than most. It was far from the best film I'd ever seen, but it was enjoyable enough as a comic book action film. The film was largely panned, however, for a wide array of reasons. Marvel's decision to make a Hulk film so soon after Lee's picture, but not make it a sequel to the 2003 film, was a bold move. The film was originally intended as a sequel, but all ties to the first film were severed to try to give the franchise a fresh start. It has even been described as a "reboot" in the same vein as Christopher Nolan's Batman Begins. Unfortunately, The Incredible Hulk doesn't even come close to doing for The Hulk what Nolan's film did for Batman.

From the start, The Incredible Hulk seems unsure of its intentions. You are presented with the back story - the transformation of Bruce Banner (Edward Norton) into The Hulk by gamma radiation - as the opening credit sequence. And already the confusion with the connection to the 2003 film begins. Is this a recap of the last film, like Marvel do in their Spider-Man franchise? Or are we being shown this to set the film apart as its own venture? It isn't made clear, and things are muddled further through the opening scenes of the film set in Brazil - the country in which Lee's film concluded. Unless the viewer has done some background reading into the film's production, this is one of the most confusing openings the film could have had in terms of setting it apart as a "reboot".

Unfortunately, The Incredible Hulk has very few redeeming features. The casting of Edward Norton, Tim Roth and William Hurt was one of the big reasons I wanted to see this film, all being highly respectable and, for the most part, reliable actors in terms of the films they make. It's not as if any of them do badly either. All three are as good as they potentially could be. The script they are having to deliver, however, sucks out of their performances any feeling or depth their characters could have had. At one point, before a battle with The Hulk, a fellow soldier asks Roth's character Emil Blonsky "How do you feel?". Roth replies "Like a monster". First of all, we have seen Blonsky begin to transform literally minutes before, so we don't really need him to tell us he feels like a monster. Secondly, who talks like that? The same can be said for most of the dialogue throughout the film: flat, lazy and largely unnecessary.

CGI is not something for which I generally go to see a film. The few times I have seen a film with the computer wizardry as the main draw, I have generally come away disappointed (Transformers, anyone?). The Incredible Hulk in many ways had the CGI opportunities handed to it on a plate. Big green monster who likes to attack things. Perfect. On paper at least. But Leterrier's Hulk isn't that big, isn't that green, and doesn't actually attack a great deal during the film. When he does it seems to be over just as it was getting started. The final fight scene is largely underwhelming, coming down to a CGI fistfight that never really gets going. Some of the action scenes also suffer from the same problem that I remember Transformers having - the screen becomes much too busy, making what you end up seeing become a confusing mess. Again, the final fight comes to mind as a prime example of this. That said, by the time the film's climax came around, I didn't care a great deal.

The biggest flaw in The Incredible Hulk is the plot development, in that there isn't a great deal, and what there is never has a chance to become anything more than one-dimensional and pointless. The film never really decides whose story it's telling - you'd think Bruce Banner's, but the focus often shifts to both Betty Ross (Liv Tyler), her father (William Hurt) and Blonsky - and none of the characters are developed enough to give their story or motives any real meaning. The film bumbles along for pretty much the entirety of its near two-hour running time, linking development scenes that never seem to have a true purpose and which introduce characters in a fairly haphazard fashion with underwhelming action sequences.

The final scene of the film does contain a twist of sorts, and to me felt like the most worthwhile part of the film even though it was only around a minute long. Once I'd seen the scene, I almost said to myself "So that's why they made this film". It really did feel to me like the entire film had been building to that final development, reducing The Incredible Hulk to an overlong DVD extra to another comic book film.

Verdict: The Incredible Hulk feels like a real missed opportunity. The acting talent is squandered through poor scripting and a weak, at times almost non-existent, plot. The CGI is average and never redeems the film as an action film. Ironically, I remember enjoying Ang Lee's Hulk five years ago a lot more than this, a film made to repair the damage Lee's film apparently did to the Hulk franchise. Lee's film at least explored the psychological aspects of Banner's transformation. Leterrier's film doesn't have any characters who go deep enough for that kind of treatment. A successful Hulk film to me would have to be a lot darker than The Incredible Hulk. A real disappointment.


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