Reel Society

Reviews for the latest movies in theaters and on DVD.

The Incredible Hulk

Review by Stuart Bland

Comic book movies. In recent times they have become the tent-poles of the summer blockbuster season. They can indicate how good the Hollywood box office will fair during its peak months. They can exhilarate, enthrall, and immerse the average moviegoer with an added intensity that the average summer action flick just can't match. Yet they can also underwhelm, as the previous outing of our jolly green giant proved. Ang Lee's beautiful, poetic, yet largely introverted first installment of the Hulk left audiences out in the cold. It lacked what most comic book movies strive to achieve:  it didn't match the expectations of the comic fans. Claims of lack of action and fun led to a severe backlash, and despite decent box office figures, it was feared that the Hulk would never see the light of day again.

It’s been five years since Lee's version left a sour taste in the public’s mouth, and Marvel has undergone a dramatic change of structure during this time. The company has taken hold of the reins of all its comic book titles, and has since released the phenomenally successful Iron Man. That first installment of the new-look Marvel has emphasized a freshness in style. And it was hoped the same would be said of this new installment of The Incredible Hulk.

However, in the recent months, the movie has been dogged with supposed in-house power struggles, resulting in its star and co-writer, Edward Norton, refusing to hold the all-important interviews which can ultimately swing the balance into a positive box office return.  And thus, following this precedent, how good was it? Did it follow in its predecessor’s footsteps and fail to fulfill the potential the comics show? Was it all style and no substance? Well, I can say outright it was an almighty success.

Now, I know most of you are already saying, "Yeah but Stuart loves comic-book movies, so he was always gonna enjoy this". But no, I, as many others was not entirely satisfied with Lee's version. I can recognize a bad comic book movie, and accept they do exist.  X-Men: The Last Stand was not good enough, Spider-Man 3 did not match up to its predecessors, and Daredevil was a downright embarrassment. But this, as with Iron Man, was a whole lot of fun.

In this story, Bruce Banner’s origins are dealt with very smartly in the opening titles. It allows anyone not familiar with the story to have a quick intro before we are led into the proceedings that follow. I won't discuss too much of the plot, but I can reveal that Banner begins the movie in Brazil, hiding from the US government and in search of a cure. What follows, similar to the television series of the 1970s is a cat-and-mouse chase between Banner and Emil Blonsky (Tim Roth) - a marine brought in by General Ross (William Hurt).

I won't go any further into revealing the plot, but will reveal this:  every single actor in the movie shows their worth. Hurt is phenomenal as the brutish, determined General Ross; Tim Roth is fantastic, as I would expect; and Edward Norton provides a refreshing slant to Banner's character that was sadly missing with Eric Bana's version. Even Liv Tyler shows she is more than just eye candy with a decent turn as Betty Ross. There are also cameos from Stan Lee (as you would expect, but a little more obvious and extended than his previous outings), as well as Lou Ferrigno and Bill Bixby (the stars of the original TV series), and one other....but you don't need to wait till the end credits this time.

The special effects are brilliant, a big step forward from the last movie. The Hulk looks very impressive, and the use of lighting, sweat and rain prove effective on The Hulk's skin. And we see a lot of the Hulk too, something of a scarce commodity in the last movie. Yes, we have to wait a little while before we see him, but when we do, it is very well done. The same can be said of the Abomination, the creature that is “engineered” to battle the Hulk; it is truly horrific. The action is well-paced, and I was on the edge of my seat the entire time. Light relief is offered every so often just so you can catch your breath.

All in all, this is a vast improvement on Ang Lee’s Hulk. I really enjoyed this movie, and I'm sure the average moviegoer will think the same. You will not leave feeling underwhelmed. You will leave entirely satisfied, exhilarated even. Like Iron Man, it has shown that Marvel knows what they are doing. And I can't wait to watch it again!

4/5 stars


Review by Jonas Mieschbuehler

When director Louis Letterier signed on for this project, I immediately had to find out who he was. Had I taken note of the Transporter series of films with Jason Statham, I would have known a little, but even with that knowledge, I never would have expected him to direct this re-quel so well, so fluidly and so very impressively. Notice that I used the term re-quel; you may ask yourself, what the heck is that?  You could say it’s a remake and sequel combined, because it has elements of both, a more definitive storyline true to the comics (for the unhappy fan-boys) and it answers some of the questions that were left hanging from the original, although I still think it’s a remake that basically spits in Ang Lee’s face.

The original version was by no means a flop (commercially, that is): it went on to gross over $130 million back in 2003, starring the up-and-coming (at the time) Eric Bana, a down-and-out Nick Nolte and the gorgeous Jennifer Connelly. Critically, however, it received a very mixed response, reaching 61% on and just 5.8 on, which led to the general conclusion that Ang Lee’s version had not actually lived up to the name, Hulk. Then, all of a sudden, bang! Letterier and Edward Norton (Fight Club) sign on for new Hulk version just 5 years later.  What gives?

It was so abrupt and almost shocking when announced that a new version of The Incredible Hulk was in the works. The buzz and hype had started to build, and with Marvels Iron Man out just five weeks before, the expectation was again right up there. Now, Letterier knew what the audience wanted, it was just how he would use all the powers of big budget to sell his action-craving Hulk show. The question is; do he and Norton deliver a better version? The answer is yes, albeit with a couple of minor flaws.

Normally the opening credits aren’t much to look apart from big names; however with The Incredible Hulk you get the full back-story on what has happened to Bruce Banner, basically getting you up to speed. This is a handy plot device that cut many unnecessary minutes from the theatrical version (which you will be getting on the Blu-ray version. Hooray!)  After the opening credits finish, the camera takes a great sweeping shot honing in on the whereabouts of Bruce, in the distant slums of Brazil.  You discover how he has been living his life, isolated for his own protection and that of others. The director tries to keep his audience engaged through clever camera shots and elaborate sets; however, it starts to wear thin as the dialogue becomes more frequent, mostly between Bruce and his girlfriend.

Liv Tyler does her best to become involved in the story as Bruce’s girlfriend Betty Ross, and she shows that women can have a bigger role in this new wave of superhero flicks, seeing that she is one of the only people who cares about what happens to Bruce. Betty’s father, on the other hand, is none other than General Thaddeus ‘Thunderbolt’ Ross, the man in charge of bringing the Hulk in (or, as he views it, taking back U.S. property). General Ross tries to catch the Hulk with the help of Major Blonsky, who is played well by Tim Roth. Lou Ferringo (the original TV Hulk) and Marvel top-guy Stan Lee have smaller roles, but are by no means forgotten, especially the latter.
Overall, the acting is solid, the settings are superbly done and the CGI is simply awesome.  It serves to lift the plot of an engaging story, bettering Ang Lee’s version. It’s all there, and just the first two action scenes satisfied my thirst for Hulk domination, so if that floats your boat, expect to be flying!   

3 ½  / 5 stars

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