The UnPopular Opinion: The Incredible Hulk
THE UNPOPULAR OPINION is an ongoing column featuring different takes on films that either the writer HATED, but that the majority of film fans LOVED, or that the writer LOVED, but that most others LOATHED. We're hoping this column will promote constructive and geek fueled discussion. Enjoy!
****SOME SPOILERS ENSUE****
When Ang Lee's HULK hit theaters, I was first in line to see it. I was anticipating how such a high profile director would tackle a comic book movie. The results turned off a lot of fans who were clamoring for something closer to the comic books and not a literal comic book. While I did enjoy Ang Lee's film, I was not sold on Louis Leterrier taking the reins for THE INCREDIBLE HULK. The studio wanted something more marketable and less abstract than Lee's film and what they got was instead a cookie cutter attempt to tell the tale of Bruce Banner that fails on every front. This is what happens when you hire a great actor but skimp on the director.
THE INCREDIBLE HULK is a tricky character to begin with. His story works best when he spends time in his monster form which makes it hard to justify spending the money on an actor who will barely be seen on screen. Eric Bana was a wise choice because no one knew him well enough as an actor to bat an eyelash. He also displayed the requisite emotional range to play Banner. That movie also benefited from Jennifer Connelly as Betsy Ross. The entire cast of THE INCREDIBLE HULK is a step down from the first movie. Whether it be Connelly to Liv Tyler or Sam Elliott to William Hurt, each new cast member feels like a carbon copy of the HULK. Ed Norton is by far the superior actor to Bana, but I just didn't buy him as Banner or The Hulk.
I am Jack's epic rage face.
To portray the Hulk character, you first need to portray Bruce Banner. The two have to be sides of the same person and you need to be able to follow emotion from one to the other. We can blame special effects technology for not satisfactorily translating Eric Bana's performance but for THE INCREDIBLE HULK, I blame Norton. The actor had a hand in scripting this movie so you would think that he would have had some idea at the depth of the torment for what it means to be transformed into a beast as soon as your blood pressure rises. Instead, THE INCREDIBLE HULK plays like an extended episode of the old Bill Bixby/Lou Ferrigno series where uttering the words "don't make me angry" is the most subtext you need.
In fact, the best character in both this film and HULK is the villain. At least that is until they turn into their supervillain selves. I thought Nick Nolte's crazed father was the perfect way to personify what Bruce Banner never wanted to become. But, when he became the Absorbing Man/Zzzax monster, the movie went off the rails. In THE INCREDIBLE HULK, Letterier has the awesome change to use The Abomination as his antagonist. Tim Roth plays an awesome bad guy and he starts out perfectly as Emil Blonksy, the guerrilla brought in to track and take down Banner. You can see the evil in his eyes once he realizes he can harness the abilities of the gamma radiation to make himself unstoppable. Once that transformation happens, the film goes to shit.
Looking perturbed in all the wrong places.
THE INCREDIBLE HULK has a remarkable lack of Hulk scenes and when we finally get to see him in full action for the battle with Abomination, it feels like we are watching a cut scene from a video game. Gone is any sense of danger or realism as these two fully CGI creations bash the crap out of each other. Sure, the scene is well choreographed and we even get to see Hulk bust out his thunderclap move, but it still feels like nothing more than what we get on a PS3 or Xbox. The best part of THE AVENGERS was seeing Hulk in action and it felt real. The green guy felt real, the setting felt real, and the danger felt real. Chalk that up to Joss Whedon and Mark Ruffalo as they finally conceived a take on the Hulk that works. THE INCREDIBLE HULK is often considered a step up from Ang Lee's first film but I think it is a giant step down.
Leterrier's direction, apart from the end of the film, is absolutely nothing special. Now, I don't need crazy angles and complicated shots to make me take notice of the direction, but I do want to feel that there is more than a body sitting there to take the credit for helming the movie. Leterrier has done some interesting work in THE TRANSPORTER, UNLEASHED, and even NOW YOU SEE ME, but THE INCREDIBLE HULK just feels blah all the way through. Hell, even his work on CLASH OF THE TITANS looks Oscar-worthy compared to THE INCREDIBLE HULK.
The graphics in this game are amazing!
A lot has been made regarding the studio interference with Louis Leterrier and Edward Norton, some citing that a different cut of the film was intended than what we got. Over seventy minutes of footage was cut featuring flashbacks and origin scenes that eventually became the opening montage of THE INCREDIBLE HULK. Norton even chose to do charity work conveniently at the same time as the promotional tour for the movie was taking place. When filmmakers and executives argue over a movie like this it never bodes well for the final product and the proof is what we have on screen. In his limited screen-time in THE AVENGERS, Whedon and Ruffalo are successfully able to convey the trauma and pain of what Bruce Banner has to live through to keep the Hulk in check. You never truly get that sense from THE INCREDIBLE HULK.
Maybe Hulk is not meant to have his own movie. He is a great supporting character, as THE AVENGERS proved, and until the studio is willing to give us a PLANET HULK or WORLD WAR HULK movie, they will always be struggling to find a way to balance the Banner and Hulk personas on the big screen. Ang Lee's film was an experiment with the idea of what a comic book is while Leterrier's is simply a glossy, superficial take on what a cool Hulk fight scene would look like with 90 minutes of filler. I cannot say that Mark Ruffalo could carry a Hulk movie on his own, but it sure as hell has to be better than THE INCREDIBLE HULK.