After the emotionally draining experience that was Iron Man in early May, the fanboy inside of me was sure that there was no way that Marvel Studios could go two-for-two in the Summer of ’08. If Iron Man turned out to be one of the best comic book movies of all-time, how could The Incredible Hulk possibly hope to deliver on a similar level. Then, Sunday night as I watched Ang Lee’s 2003 mess of a film Hulk in preparation for my screening, I was reminded that the Hulk is a different sort of beast entirely. It is a much darker, slightly less fun character, but one that can bring about jaw dropping action sequences, if done right.
Unfortunately for the world, Ang Lee’s Hulk missed the boat entirely. It was a perfect example of poor casting combined with a director who had no idea how to make a comic book movie that didn’t feel like a comic book movie. Between Eric Bana being too much of a real life badass to be a believable scientist type to the terribly placed split-screen editing, it was one mistake after another. Not entirely the fault of one person, but rather a team of producers and executive producers named Kevin Feige, Gale Ann Hurd and Avi Arad.
And with The Incredible Hulk, this same group of producers, now operating on their own at Marvel Studios, has redeemed both themselves and the cinematic value of one of the oldest, most beloved comic book characters in history. With this new incarnation, they have put together all the right pieces to deliver the quintessential Hulk movie, a perfect mix of action, depth of plot and rich, engaging characters.
The first major piece to the puzzle is casting, which has been a major strength for Marvel in their standalone studio infancy. Just as Robert Downey Jr. was a perfect fit in the role of Tony Stark in Iron Man, Edward Norton has proven to be the right man for the job as Bruce Banner. His ability to sell the dark inner battle between man and beast, peace and rage shines through to bring the character to life in a way that should satisfy even the most cynical fans.
As well, he has a way of carrying himself, a calm, cool, intelligent demeanor that is perfect for the character of Bruce, whose strongest emotions are constantly being internalized in order to suppress the Hulk. In fact, that internalization and suppression of emotion is what drives the plot, which sees Bruce Banner running away from the military, trying to rid himself of his cursed alter-ego. It is a storyline that is logical, considering the Hulk’s origins and the plot of Ang Lee’s film, but it is also one that is simple and allows for a quick pace and a decent amount of action. Because that is what we are really in it for, the scenes where Banner “Hulks up” and smashes the crap out of everything and everyone in sight.
Along with Norton, the supporting cast also seems to fit perfectly in their roles. Liv Tyler has a real warmth about her that lends well to the character of Betty Ross, who is the only person in the film able to get through to the Bruce inside of The Hulk. She also has a great chemistry with Norton on screen, which sells the fact that when she stands in front of The Hulk, love conquers all, stopping him in his tracks. As well, William Hurt is a very silvery mustached and solid choice for General Thunderbolt Ross. Along with Jeff Bridges in Iron Man, he is proof that if you put a really good actor in a part that could otherwise be just a silly villain, they turn into a very real and interesting character.
But Gen. Ross isn’t the real villain in this film, he is just the man that creates the villain. Tim Roth stands out wonderfully as Emil Blonsky, a power-hungry veteran soldier who intentionally takes the same treatment as Banner, turning him into The Abomination, an incredibly strong, ridiculously badass villain. This is where the film really stands apart from the other Hulk movie, in that Roth is a superb actor who brings to life a character that is far more exciting than a hobo-looking Nick Nolte who turns into a lightning man. The Abomination is badass in a bottle, ready to be unleashed, and his big fight scene in the film’s finale is one of the production’s defining moments.
Yet, despite all of these great things — the great performances and the extremely simple and logical story — the success of The Incredible Hulk really sits on the shoulders of its director, Louis Leterrier. His vision and ability to give the film a great rhythm is what, in the end, makes The Incredible Hulk such a thoroughly entertaining experience. His film captures the depth and darkness of the character without forgetting that this is a comic book movie. Sure, there are a few silly moments in the film, some moments meant to remind us that this should all be fun, but they all work. As far as I could tell, The Incredible Hulk was void of a “Jazz Club” scene (a la Spider-Man 3).
As well — and certainly worth noting — the CGI in the film looks beautiful. In a way, this will always be a sticking point for fans. The Hulk will never look just right in the eyes of the die hards, but in this version he looks pretty damn good. The same can be said for the film overall — in the eyes of some fans, this will not be the perfect Hulk movie. For my money though, I don’t see a way that they could have made a better Hulk movie than this — and that has to count for something.