What does it look like when a comic comes to life? This movie is a pretty close approximation of my childhood recollection of what I appreciated about reading Hulk comics — really liked the action, the chases, the explosions and destruction and I wasn’t particularly sophisticated enough to appreciate some of the psychological complexity/human drama that Bruce Banner was going through.
The Incredible Hulk: C+
I’m not the ultimate Hulk expert by any means, but I had sufficient context about the Hulk from reading the comics and watching the TV series to understand the basic concepts of the story, and from the geek standpoint, see and appreciate the nods and cameos. This movie gave nods all around, but really was a summer popcorn action movie at its core — which anyone could appreciate as a cold viewer. With my level of context, I felt that some of the nods and layering of TV, comics, and movie were cool to see. I felt a level of foreshadowing with the appearances of certain characters in that it created anticipation for what some of these characters are or could possibly become, if this movie became a series. I guess the upshot of this movie and Iron Man is that there is a definite build towards something pretty big and cool (coupled with apprehension that it could all be a big mess, well pessimism aside, I have my fingers crossed).
Here are the issues of the movie, as I saw them. First, I don’t think there was a great deal of depth to the exploration of the whole character paradox that is the Hulk — in other words, the mild mannered scientist who avoids entanglements with others because of his dangerousness vs. what are the implications and consequences of a superhuman/super soldier. These were touched on very briefly, almost in shorthand. The agenda of the movie was more in line with let me show you, rather than let me tell you — so come along for the rollercoaster ride, we hope you dig the action and effects. And, well yes, I enjoyed the ride well enough — but almost like a frosted mini-wheats commercial, the adult in me wanted a bit more.
If you owned a Ferrari, you would want to push it past 2nd gear, although 2nd gear might have all the satisfaction that you crave. For me, I felt that the high powered talent that was in this movie was underutilized — Ed Norton and William Hurt are two big-time talents, and they could have sleptwalked, air mailed, etc. their performances for this movie. I reflect on the agenda of the movie, and believe that the basic plot framework and dialog was too limited for the talent available. But then, if they loaded it up, then we have Ang Lee’s movie again, don’t we? Double edged sword, you could lose the audience much like some hated the 2003 Hulk movie for its complex relationships, dialog, and structure.
So instead we have a movie where it is abundantly clear in hammers and dead horse flesh that Banner doesn’t want to become the Hulk, the army is chasing him down to experiment on him for a super soldier application, and Betsy Ross and Banner never really can quite get together even though they may be romantically interested in each other (a tragedy several levels below Romeo & Juliet in exposition in the movie). If you clear yourself of the redundant themes, the action carries you nicely throughout the movie, much like riding the log ride at the amusement park — mostly nice and at the end you get wet. You know the pattern, you’ve been here before. Do you care about being wet for the rest of the day at the park. If you do, you might be irritated at where it all ends — wanting more from something that is really limited. If you don’t, then maybe you go nice ride, or go, hey I’ve been here before, let me feel some nostalgia and have some fun.
And it all leads to the final boss fight where most superhero movies end up, where this time an experienced soldier also subjects himself to alteration — but retains conscious control of his transformed state, in contrast to the Hulk. So, is it better to be conscious in superhuman form and evil, or not be conscious of your actions in superhuman form? No answer provided, but very cool special effects on how a Hulk fight would go down in Times Square, comics come to life — very enjoyable on that level.
At the end of the day, that is what remains — movie as experience, almost like an amusement park ride. Suspend your disbelief for 2 hours and enjoy the ride. As a theme for the summer movies so far, it falls in the don’t analyze too much or it will fall apart. Enjoyed it while it lasted, but I’m not sure there is repeat viewability for me.