Saturday, June 14, 2008
Was anybody really asking for a new HULK movie? I know I wasn’t. Were you? It’s as if the studio is saying “We’re going to keep on making HULK movies until you damn well like it and then we’re going to make more of them!” Hollywood logic, I suppose. I guess I’d like to say more good things than I really can about Ang Lee’s HULK. But like most people I just find it too murky, too long and the constant use of telling the story through comic book panels felt more like a clinical dissection of how the form works than somebody expressing their love for the medium. As a result, the whole thing is just not much fun at all. And is there anything wrong with wanting a HULK movie to actually be fun? It may be “interesting” and if forced to I could make a list of things in there that do work (like Jennifer Connelly) but that can only get you so far. So bringing in Louis Leterrier, director of the Jet Li vehicle UNLEASHED (which I remember liking), to direct the reboot entitled THE INCREDIBLE HULK to remind us of a tv show which actually had an interest in the people in front of the camera (giving us fond memories of Susan Sullivan and Mariette Hartley) and presumably deliver all that Hulk Smash everyone wants seems kind of equivalent to RKO firing Orson Welles and putting out stationery reading “Showmanship instead of genius”.
To get somebody who is appropriate for B-level action (which I mean in the best possible way) says something about the aspirations those in charge had for this movie. There’s the impression that under no circumstances were they going to take any chances with this one. The opening credit sequence which functions as a sort of recap to a film we haven’t seen (it certainly doesn’t try to pretend it’s following the Ang Lee version) also conjures up memories of the old tv show with a few small tributes that go by quickly. It’s sort of like the opening credits if SUPERMAN II if the first film didn’t exist. Edward Norton, Liv Tyler, William Hurt and Tim Roth as the man who will become Abomination are among the leads, all pretty much collecting paychecks. The basic plot places the Bruce Banner, General Ross and Betty Ross characters in the positions you’d expect but mostly winds up feeling like it’s The Hulk by way of the BOURNE series, with an pretty good opening section mostly taking place in Rio that culminates in a mad foot chase over rooftops that feels awfully familiar—you can easily imagine the studio notes coming down as the script was being written, urging them to go further in that direction. What we get isn’t as good as one of the BOURNE chases but it’s well-choreographed enough that you can pretty much follow what’s going on and Leterrier definitely directs most of the normal scenes without any sort of hand-held camera nonsense. It’s certainly a good looking movie, it’s just low on actual ambition.
But for a movie that doesn’t have an original idea in its head, I didn’t really mind THE INCREDIBLE HULK. It definitely feels cut down to within an inch of its life to keep it moving all the time. There’s at least one scene spotlighted in the trailer which doesn’t turn up and it’s pretty clear that character stuff is missing. But at least it’s never boring until, that is, the actual Hulk shows up in the form of yet another CGI creation. I’ll admit that there’s some pretty good stuff in all this but ultimately I don’t care. It’s not interesting, it’s not thrilling. The slightly different CGI Hulk in the other film was one of the main things people complained about but that’s something they didn’t change for this one. I guess you can’t stop the digital madness but that doesn’t mean I have to be forced to like it. When the climax comes in the form of a wrestling match between the Hulk and Abomination on a Toronto street unconvincingly trying to pass itself off as New York (125th Street is much, much wider than it is here) I pretty much tuned out. As for the actors, I spent as much time contemplating the mustache on William Hurt’s face as much as anything—is it supposed to make us think he’s Sam Elliott?
It moves fast but in an effort to satisfy everyone who got bored last time out there’s really not much interesting in there. There’s certainly isn’t a lot of compelling drama attempted in this incarnation of Bruce Banner so not much sticks in the brain. A day after seeing it, there’s really very little to say. When the Surprise Guest Star Cameo turns up at the end, in a scene which feels like it was designed to come at the end credits, I found myself thinking ‘now that’s film I want to see’. Which I suppose is what it’s designed to do. It just didn’t make me think of what I’d actually seen with much fondness. It’s fine to sit through but ultimately that’s about it.