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THE INCREDIBLE HULK

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Edward Norton, Liv Tyler, Tim Roth, Tim Blake Nelson, Ty Burrell, William Hurt
Director: Louis Leterrier
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio: Universal
Features: See Review
Length: 113 Minutes
Release Date: October 21, 2008

“HULK SMASH!!!!!!”

Film ***1/2

I’m one of the many few who did not display immense hatred for Ang Lee’s 2003 film, Hulk. While far from a perfect film, there were some elements that I dug completely. But what I can tell you after seeing the 2008 revamp of The Incredible Hulk is that the earlier film can be appropriately forgotten, as this is the Hulk movie I’ve been waiting for ever since watching the TV show in the early 80s.

The concept of “rebooting” big comic book movie franchises is something I’m not completely down with, unless we’re talking about Batman. The one franchise reboot I’m not happy about is with The Punisher, simply because Thomas Jane can never be surpassed in the role. But I will give the upcoming Punisher: War Zone the benefit of the doubt when it hits theaters in December.

However, in the case of The Incredible Hulk, the reboot was nothing short of MARVEL-lous. And though many would like to think that it was made to simply make audiences forget the 2003 version ever existed, the real reason for the reboot was to help pave the way for an Avengers movie in the near future, now that audiences have been introduced to Iron Man. But the fact of the matter is this Hulk reboot gave both moviegoers and comic book fans a movie that was an amazing action spectacle while at the same time providing a perfect character study of Bruce Banner.

My only skepticism of the film prior to seeing it was I wasn’t so sure if French director Louis Leterrier was the right choice to helm the movie. He’s a great action director, having proven so with Transporter 2, but I was worried if the movie would be nothing but action overload. Nevertheless, Leterrier ended up crafting a truly perfect balance between action, story and character development, which are the three key ingredients in making a true Hulk movie.

Banner is portrayed this time around by the brilliant Edward Norton. One mention of Norton as the title character and you find yourself saying to yourself, “perfect”, just like hearing the name Robert Downey, Jr. associated with Tony Stark. Though I did find Eric Bana to be quite superb in the previous film, Norton is by far the best actor you could’ve ever hoped to play Bruce Banner in a reboot.

The story finds Banner on the lam following a campus experiment gone awry, the one in which our hero first becomes exposed to gamma radiation. The military, headed by General Thunderbolt Ross (William Hurt), has labeled Banner a fugitive. But the reason Ross wants him captured is one of the more intriguing aspects of the movie.

To hunt down Banner, who is now living in Brazil, Ross assembles an elite team of soldiers lead by Emil Blonsky (Tim Roth). When Banner is tracked and pursued by General Ross’ men, two pivotal things happen. We see the first big transformation into the Hulk, which is riveting, and Blonsky’s reaction to the monster leads to a hunger for an equal level of destructive power, which General Ross can provide Blonsky by subjecting him to a classified experiment.

From here on out, the movie becomes both an endlessly thrilling chase movie and a top-notch display of amazing visual effects. The first big scene where General Ross’ soldiers first confront Banner’s alter ego in a steam factory is a riveting set piece. I was instantly reminded of similar moments in Aliens in how the soldiers face off with the Hulk, who is mostly hidden in the shadows. Talk about high praise through comparison to a classic.

But there is one scene in particular that really gives the audience their money’s worth in which Blonsky, after being injected with a super-soldier serum, collides with Hulk in a fearless face off. I flat out cheered during this sequence, simply because it was invigorating to finally see a moment where Hulk nearly has his ass handed to him…by someone in a normal human form, no less.

And the climax of the movie is pretty much what everyone was hyped to see, which is a near 25-minute full on fight between Hulk and Blonsky’s eventual evolution known as The Abomination. Without spilling any details of the bone-crushing excitement, I will say that as both a Hulk fan and action junkie, I was more than awestruck by this entire sequence. Hulk’s use of smashing material alone will make fans cheer loudly.

The one major criticism that Ang Lee’s film received was that the CGI on the Hulk looked cartoonish even by comic book standards. I wasn’t so much bothered by that, but there’s no question that the CGI work this time around, especially in Hulk’s appearance, is vastly superior. His size has been slightly reduced, and he appears in by far his most ferocious in terms of CGI. The effects design on Abomination is equally remarkable as well.

There’s no question that Norton is great, but the one who steals the show for me is Tim Roth, who provides one of the more effective villains I’ve seen in any comic book movie to date. Blonsky’s urge in wanting to destroy Hulk by even sacrificing his body is dealt with in truly effective way. Roth sells the character completely in a pivotal scene where, having just recovered from his first battle with Hulk, Blonsky is asked by General Ross, “How do you feel, soldier?” to which he responds, “Pissed off and ready for round 3!” Can we say PERFECT?

The movie has a couple of flaws in the form of the performances by William Hurt and Liv Tyler, who plays Banner’s true love and daughter to the general, Betty Ross. In fact, the 2003 film has one huge advantage over this movie in that the performances by Sam Elliott and Jennifer Connelly were much stronger. And though a reboot may require new actors, I kind of wished Elliott and Connelly had been re-cast.

We all know Hurt is a terrific actor, but he basically throws one emotion into his character, which is constant growling. When he’s not growling, Hurt just seems to be phoning it in. And Ms. Tyler is a luminous beauty and a talented actress who I could watch all day, but I just felt something was missing in the performance beyond the expected emotional outbursts.

But in the end, this is one comic book movie franchise reboot that proved to be more than successful. As it stands, The Incredible Hulk gets the distinct honor of being the best comic book movie of 2008 that didn’t involve Batman…which is enough of an accomplishment. I even found it superior to Iron Man, which easily places me in the minority. Sorry folks, I’ve always been more of a Hulk-ster.

BONUS: The movie includes a number of cameos which all fit perfectly. Among them are Stan Lee, Lou Ferrigno and even the late Bill Bixby. And though by now it’s no big mystery, a certain someone from another Marvel movie released this year pops up at the end.

Video ****

It may not be easy being green (sorry, couldn’t resist) but I’m sure Hulk himself would be happy to know that he’s found himself in one of the most amazing DVD presentations of the year. The anamorphic picture is one with so much going on in the realm of bright colors and sharp detail. And once the visual effects (particularly Hulk himself) kick in, the video quality delivers a gargantuan visual feast. It all adds up to nothing but crisp, clear dynamic quality throughout.

 

Audio ****

Honestly, it’d be quite shocking to even think a Hulk movie could sound anything less than SMASH-tastic. But the fact is the 5.1 mix really brings the house down (which is better than the green man himself bringing it down) with a vengeance. Everything from the action scenes to Craig Armstrong’s intense score to William Hurt’s frequent growling is captured in the highest possible form of superior sound quality. It goes without saying that this is one of the best sounding discs of the year.

Features ****

Though I was let down by the fact that it wasn't supplied the amazing 3D lenticular slipcover that was given to the Blu-ray release, Universal nonetheless has packaged this 3-Disc Special Edition release of the movie with some truly Hulk-tastic extras (I promise, that’s the last lame Hulk adjective in the piece). One Disc One, we get six Deleted Scenes and a commentary track with Director Louis Leterrier and co-star Tim Roth.

On Disc Two, we get the much talked about Alternate Opening to the film (which I think they should’ve kept in the movie), as well as 17 additional Deleted Scenes, three featurettes including the half-hour long “Making of Incredible”, “Becoming the Hulk” and “Becoming the Abomination” (both of which run about ten minutes). Also, there’s a three part featurette titled “Anatomy of a Hulk-Out” which takes a look at what went into the three individual Hulk transformation sequences. Finally, there’s “From Comic Book to Screen”, which presents a scene in the movie between Hulk and Betty as it was originally told in the comic.

Lastly, Disc Three includes a Digital Copy version of the movie that can be loaded onto your computer through either iTunes or Windows Media Player.

Summary:

The Incredible Hulk is absolutely incredible in every essence of the word. Despite the fact that the 2003 version has elements that I appreciated, I can easily say that this reboot is the truest cinematic interpretation of the doomed green monster from the Marvel universe. It’s a simultaneously gripping movie and audacious action/effects spectacle rolled into one ferocious cinematic package!

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