Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Substance SMASH!

If the new Marvel Studios reboot of the Incredible Hulk is proof of anything, it's a case that strong substance will win out over style in the eyes of the theater going public every time. Louis Leterrier's film is big on action, medium on plot and low on character, but frankly that's just what it needs to be. I am no great fan of Ang Lee's (and my former Prof. James "Jimmy Scham" Schamus's) original film which is bogged down with didactic symbolism and egregious stylistic outbursts, but I admire it's daring and willingness to go against standard comic book movie formulas, even if it fails. Leterrier's film in contrast plays it safe, hewing closely to the source material that makes the Hulk a popular pop-culture icon; namely, that the Hulk is a misunderstood force of nature that Dr. Bruce Banner is struggling to keep in check while forces all around him conspire to do the opposite. The film delivers on the promise of solid action, some nice dramatic moments and moves the story along at a good clip. The result is supremely entertaining if not quite as fun or seem as big as Iron Man or as stylistically assured as say Hellboy, X-Men 2 or Batman Begins.
When Stan Lee created the Hulk he borrowed from Shelley's Frankenstein and Stevenson's Jekyll and Hyde and Leterrier manges to evoke this through the strength of his lead. Despite the much publicized feud between star Ed Norton and the producers, Norton's performance is excellent. I can see what attracted him to the part. banner is a man trying to keep his demon's in check, attempting to master his physicality and mental acumen. The first third of the film is largely bereft of dialogue (at least in English) and Norton establishes his character with ease and grace through his action. Being that physicality, whether trying to keep it in check or trying to reattain it, is one of the film's central themes it's fitting that the film revolves around the aegis of action. After a deft introductory sequence that quickly establishes the character's origin (a welcome relief), we find Banner training in a Brazilian faevela, training himself to control his pulse rate and communicating with the mysterious Mr. Blue via computer trying to find a cure. Banner's solace is short lived when he is discovered by the malicious General Ross (William Hurt a surprisingly worthy substitute to pitch perfect Sam Elliott) and pursued by Super Soldier Serum junky Emil Blonsky (a menacing Tim Roth). Banner and his former love Betty Ross (a game Liv Tyler) are constantly on the run and the film well illustrates the challenges and sacrifices of having a destructive force like the Hulk inside you (there's a particular fun scene in a bedroom that will entertain and then embarrass parents who have brought their kids with them).
However with all this running and dour sacrifice with few moments of brevity the film drags for a bit in it's second to last quarter, at least until the introduction of Samuel Sterns (Tim Blake Nelson). Nelson's sycophantic enthusiasm gives a fun oddball flavor to the proceedings and his transformation into future Hulk villain the Leader bodes well for the likely sequel. A late appearance by Tony Stark (hero of the summer Robert Downey Jr.) was a clear audience favorite moment and also seems to portend that crossing over it's characters is a trick that will serve Marvel very well in the long run.

A solid summer action film with some nice emotional moments, Hulk may not have enough depth to be a classic but it is certainly a fine film to be enjoyed for a weekend and then forgotten when the next big thing rolls around.


Frank said...

I'm EXTREMELY interested in seeing the Edward Norton character driven cut.

El Gigante said...

Yea, I think my favorite stuff may have been a the beginning of the film when it was Norton trying to get is chi centered and you had this constant ticking clock of the Hulk waiting in the wings. Also a big fan of Liv Tyler's predilection for wearing white in the rain. WHAT UP!