PLOT: Dr. Bruce Banner survived a experiment gone wrong only to end up a fugitive with the U.S. Army. Desperate to find his whereabouts, General Ross hunts down Banner with the intention to find out what makes a mild mannered scientist, turn into a big green well hulk. When Ross finally tracks Banner at a bottling factory in Brazil, he sends a team of soldiers to capture him. When Emil Blonsky, one of General Ross best soldiers, sees the Hulk for himself he offers up a new guniea pig for the General. Once he gets a taste of this super soldier power, a new kind of monster is created. It all leads to a reunion of sorts for Banner, his old flame Betty and her estranged father. With a whole new super man in the mix, it looks like Banner may have to put his anger to good use.
Hulk Smash!, growls the not so jolly green giant as he is about to pounce. And smash he does, smashes my fears and may even smash some box office records. Because THE INCREDIBLE HULK is exactly the film that I hoped it would be. It is an (almost) incredible feat what Louis Leterrier has achieved. He took this Marvel character, he added a little Edward Norton, and reignited the legend that had burned out after lukewarm fan reception to Ang Lees Hulk. The truth is, while many didnt like Lees take, it is hard to imagine him doing anything different than what he did. And it is not necessarily a terrible film. But for me, the energy was almost completely gone and with that, I had little faith that this new and improved version would truly be improved. But it is, and it is one of the most fun and entertaining summer movies of 2008.
We are quickly, within two minutes or so, introduced to how Bruce Banner became the Hulk. It is a series of flashbacks of characters we already know, interspersed between credits. We are reintroduced to Bruce and his lovely girlfriend Betty Ross (Liv Tyler) and of course her father, General Thaddeus Thunderbolt Ross (William Hurt). Each one involved in an experiment that goes horribly wrong. We soon find that Bruce, after being blamed for the experiments failure, has found himself a life in Brazil working at a soda bottling factory. He has lost all contact with anyone in his past. He is searching for a cure and communicating with a secret ally via instant messaging. And we are even given a countdown to let us know exactly how long it has been since his last incident. With all this, the movie kicks in to high gear, even when we are only getting a glimpse of Bruce trying to keep his whereabouts secret. Leterrier is able to make each second of this introduction count while building up to the very first and pretty magnificent image of the Hulk himself.
Edward Norton as the unassuming scientist is really a perfect fit. He adds a warmth, humor and charm to the character, much like Bill Bixby did in the television series. I really liked the TV show, there was humor and drama, but there is also a looming sadness as Bruce is never able to attain a normal life. He is constantly drifting from place to place without the chance to connect with others in a meaningful way. All this without even being able to speak to the one he still loves. When I had heard that Norton was attached, I was really surprised. Frankly, he didnt seem the type to take on a superhero type of role. But I am absolutely thankful he did. I loved what he brought to the table, the vulnerability and the very humanity needed to make us care.
As for the rest of the cast, it is so refreshing to see Liv Tyler as Betty. She gives this character an undeniable sweetness. But she also adds a strength to her, which makes this a rare performance for a damsel in distress, because she is actually likeable, unlike a couple of superhero girlfriends I wont mention. And what about dear old dad? William Hurt as General Ross gives another strong but subtle performance. The thing about Hurt is that he can say much more than many actors without having to chew the scenery to do it. The dynamic of Norton, Tyler and Hurt is in the same category as Downey Jr., Bridges and Paltrow in another Marvel flick you may be familiar with (do I really need to say the name?). This dynamic is made even more interesting with the addition of one of the best actors working in film. Tim Roth is always great, and he makes Emil Blonsky a very convincing villain. And all these performances are made even better thanks to a mostly solid script by Zak Penn (and an un-credited Edward Norton).
But in the end, it seems that through a strong collaboration, Marvel and Universal was able to give energy and vitality to this re-imagining. The CGI is much better this time around than the ridiculous looking green beastie in Lees version. Although it is clearly CGI, they were able to inject enough realism into these computer generated characters that it makes it much more exciting when the final act kicks in. The action is riveting thanks in part to the rare feeling of giving a damn about Banner and company. And when it all comes together, I felt utterly satisfied at the outcome. While not necessarily a piece of artistic beauty (is it really supposed to be) this is an adrenaline filled rollercoaster ride of a movie that manages to have a very touching human element thanks to a some on target performances from all involved. This is the Hulk that I wanted the first time around and all I can say is, better late than never. And yes, a couple familiar faces show up that will have anyone who cares cheering. Yes Hulk smash away! My rating 8.5/10 -- JimmyO
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