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Big, Green and Mean
The Incredible Hulk (DVD)
Member Name: SWSt
The Incredible Hulk (DVD)
Advantages: Some good set-pieces, fun in a simplistic way
Disadvantages: Little slow to start with, no real sense of emotion or tragedy
The answer is partially. Leterrier certainly ups the action stakes, turning in more fights and set pieces, yet it's still a slightly restrained offering, which fails to make the most of the character. You'd have thought that Leterrier was the ideal man to direct - a director who has honed his skills on fast-paced, incredible (and incredulous) action, which leave the audience breathless at both their frequency and audacity.
Yet, whilst there are certainly more set pieces, there still aren't as many as you would expect. Indeed, at times, Incredible Hulk is actually quite slow paced. This is particularly true of the start, which mostly concentrates on the Hulk's alter-ego Bruce Banner (Edward Norton) and his attempts to control the monster lurking inside him. We don't want to see the monster controlled. We want to see him unleashed and doing what he does best - smashing.
The slow build up means that it's over 45 minutes into the film before we see The Hulk properly. We get fleeting glances over the opening credits, then again a little while later (mostly as he lurks in the shadows). This is supposed to build the tension, to make the moment when he is finally unveiled in all his big green glory a real WOW! moment. For some characters and situations, this would work; for Hulk, it's just annoying. Hulk isn't meant to lurk in the shadows, he's meant to be out there in full view! It's not for nothing that his "catchphrase" is "HULK SMASH!", but there's little evidence of much smashing to start with.
Once he does appear, the pace picks up considerably and it does, indeed, have some great action set-pieces. Some of the effects look a little dodgy at times (perhaps suggesting Marvel weren't quite sure enough of their property to sink enough money in to do it properly?), but overall, things are fine. In fact, even the dodgy effects don't detract too much overall from the excitement. The fight sequences (particularly between Hulk and The Abomination) are excellent - reminiscent in many ways of the battles in last year's Transformers and bring a whole new element to the film once they kick in. OK, they might look a little overly clean and CGI based at times, but that was only to be expected. It's just a shame that the final, climactic battle is over rather quickly, as more could have been made of this.
Character-wise, it's the usual mixed bag. Edward Norton is a strange choice to play Bruce Banner, but manages to pull it off - his weedy frame contrasting well with the Hulk's bulk. The one element he doesn't manage to capture is the sympathy vote. Banner is supposed to be a very sympathetic character - a good man forced on the run because of the raging power inside him - yet this aspect is scarcely explored. On the rare occasions the film veers off in this direction, it quickly pulls itself back. This means the film lacks much in the way of an emotional kick - again, one of the key strengths of the comic.
William Hurt turns in an excellent performance as the single-minded General Ross, out to capture The Hulk so that he can start to breed a new world of super soldiers. It could have been pantomime villain time, but Hurt is too good an actor for that. He portrays the General as a driven man who truly believes he is doing his best for his country, and that the security of his country outweigh the freedom of one individual (there's probably a job going for him in the Bush government, if he wants it). Tim Roth turns in a good performance as soldier Emile Blonsky/The Abomination, but is rather underused, and a stronger focus on the similarities/differences between himself and Banner might have made for a more interesting storyline. Liv Tyler, meanwhile, is utterly pointless in the standard comic book token female/love interest role. Never one of my favourite actresses at the best of times, she's left with little to do except trail around after Banner like a love-sick puppy. The cave sequence in particular (a blatant attempt to introduce a little emotion into proceedings) is especially vomit-inducing.
At times, Incredible Hulk tries a little too hard. There are various nods to previous incarnations. At one point, there is a snatch of the theme tune from the original TV series; Stan Lee makes his usual hammed-up cameo; and original TV Hulk Lou Ferrigno also pops up as a security guard (he also voices The Hulk). At times, there's a danger of things slipping into a slightly too gimmicky/spoof feel - something which reaches its nadir in a scene in which Banner mistranslates his famous catchphrase ("Don't make me... hungry")
In a similar vein, Incredible Hulk has a number of inconsistencies, which are more irritating than a serious flaw. Bullets bounce off him, and rockets scarcely scratch him; he can survive falling out of plane thousands of feet in the air... yet banging his head on a piece of overhanging rock makes him whimper like a baby. These are obviously minor points, but they do point to a script which, perhaps, had a few too many different people working on it and which resulted in a few too many compromises.
Overall, I actually quite enjoyed Hulk. It's not as good as it could have been, and it's a fairly standard comic book offering, but it's a definite step in the right direction. I'd say it's made enough of an impact to cement its place alongside the second tier of Marvel film characters. Certainly, it shows enough promise to warrant a sequel, and I would be more than happy to pay my money and go along and watch the Big Green Guy in action again.
The Incredible Hulk
Director: Louis LeTerrier
Running time: approx. 114 minutes
© Copyright SWSt 2008
Summary: A solid, if unspectacular, franchise reboot