(After the Superhero Movies panel I participated in at last weekend’s Bubonicon, I decided to dig out my review of The Incredible Hulk that was originally posted on another blog. I hope you enjoy.)
I was 13 years old when The Incredible Hulk stomped his way into live-action TV with the pilot movie for the series. As a die-hard comics fan (and Friend Of Ol’ Marvel — that’s F.O.O.M for those of you surfin’ my wave), I was glued to the set. Sure, it wasn’t like the comic book, but the cast was great and the show was very entertaining (I remember thinking at the time “They stole the formula from Kung Fu!” until I later discovered that Kung Fu lifted its man-on-the-run-for-a-crime-he-didn’t-commit format from The Fugitive). I watched the show religiously, but as much as I liked Lou Ferrigno as The Hulk, I always wished the Jolly Green Giant could be as big as he was in the comics.
Then 2003 brought Ang Lee’s Hulk. I liked the Hulk scenes (he was finally the size of a dang school bus, as it ought to be), and thought Sam Elliott was perfectly cast as General “Thunderbolt” Ross, but Lee managed to turn a rousing comic book origin into a dull, artsy-fartsy mess. Somehow Lee turned solid actor Eric Bana into a bland Bruce Banner, and Jennifer Connelly looked unhealthy after losing all that weight — and Good God did I loathe the “comic book panels.” Overall, it was quite a misfire, in my opinion, so I was pretty happy to hear that Marvel — under the auspices of their own production company — would be doing a reboot, essentially ignoring the Ang Lee flick.
I missed 2008’s The Incredible Hulk in its theatrical run — and why a kid who would sometimes see as many as five movies a day by running from theater to theater no longer wants to go out to the movies is a post all its own, believe me. But DVD is a beautiful creature and as soon as the flick was available, I made up for my lack of theater-going.
And damned if Marvel didn’t get it right.
The new movie is firmly rooted in the TV series format, but brings in all the elements of the comic that were missing from the show. Director Louis Leterrier (The Transporter 2) and screenwriter Zak Penn nail it, from the opening credits recap of the origin (definitely based on the TV show and ignoring both the comics’ Gamma Bomb mishap and the astonishingly lame Ang Lee origin) all the way to the final shot of Bruce Banner, not to mention Tony Stark’s meeting with Thunderbolt Ross to discuss the Avengers Initiative, a scene that (much like the similar moment with Nick Fury in Iron Man) sent nerd-tingles shooting throughout my dorky body.
The cast this time around is solid as a rock — Edward Norton is perfect as Bruce Banner, bringing necessary screen presence and charisma to a role that requires boatloads of such things, otherwise you’d wind up painfully twitching in anticipation of the next Hulk-out, and Norton very ably follows up Bill Bixby’s untouchable portrayal of Banner (David, because Bruce sounded “too gay”) on the TV series (Bixby gets a nice — and clever — cameo here, too). Liv Tyler’s Betty Ross is a great mix of vulnerability and determination. I had my doubts about William Hurt as Thunderbolt Ross, and while I prefer Sam Elliott in the role, Hurt makes it his own and does a good job.
The Hulk scenes themselves kick all kinds of ass, and the CGI looks pretty damn good, as those things go. See, I’m a crotchety old bastard and I’ve never really taken to CGI — obviously, there’s bad CGI and there’s good CGI, but I prefer stop-motion animation and miniatures and whatnot (I don’t remember anybody ever whining “It looks too stop-motiony!”). Those things always had a charm to them that the digital stuff doesn’t. But if you’re one of those people who doesn’t want to see this movie because of the CGI — well, buddy, all I can say is get used to not seeing any movies because CGI is what you’re gonna get. And when the Hulk throws down — either with soldiers or with the Abomination — I was thrashin’ and squealin’ like a schoolgirl, particularly when the big green guy finally snarls “Hulk Smash!”
I also set to squealing when Dr. Leonard Samson — a.k.a. Doc Samson, albeit not yet Gamma-dosed — shows up, and when one of the college kids recording a Hulk rampage on a cell phone camera turns out to be named Jack McGee (the reporter who pursued Banner on the TV show). However, I’m embarrassed to admit that it took me several days to click that Dr. Samuel Sterns (a great performance by Tim Blake Nelson) is, of course, destined to become The Leader, one of the Hulk’s greatest enemies.
The Incredible Hulk might not have raked in as much dough at the box office as Marvel’s first in-house production (Jon Favreau’s super-freakin’-cool Iron Man) but as far as I’m concerned, they’ve stepped up to the plate twice and knocked it outta the park both times. If Marvel can keep this up (and hiring Joe Johnston to direct Captain America is a good sign), we’re in for some damnably entertaining comic book movies.
(UPDATE: Obviously Marvel has knocked it out of the park several more times since, including Johnston’s supercool Captain America)
Now if they’d just bring back the Merry Marvel Marching Society…
For more funky movie reviews, check out my book Unsafe On Any Screen:
And you might dig my new novel, Squirrel Eyes (a story of lust, movies and more):
Not to mention my collection of short stories, Tales of Misery and Imagination: