I honestly considered writing this review in "Hulk speak," but upon my first effort I realized that Hulk may not be so much simple and childlike due to mutated brain cells as he was likely MADE stupid by trying so hard to constantly refer to himself in third person...so let's just stick with regular text, shall we?
Sometime around mid-afternoon on Friday I received a text message from my hotly opinionated friend Max stating that THE INCREDIBLE HULK is, like the protagonist Bruce Banner, underdeveloped, uninteresting and a slew of other mean words basically summing up "disappointing" at the end of his capsule review.
I've always valued this particular friend's opinion, so he had validity to his argument. However, if my college years have taught me anything, it's that you NEVER take another person's opinion as your own; you'd best find out for yourself.
At the Alamo Drafthouse, my 10+ friends and I (who unfortunately couldn't all sit together) settled in for the film. In the midst of the Bill Bixby INCREDIBLE HULK projected on the screen, a game of "Smash the Hulk" (where young audience members attack a candy-filled Hulk), and "Gamma Green Sundaes," we weren't all sure if it would in any way stack up to last month's IRON MAN, but we definitely knew that giant mutated fists were going to fly and some serious shit was about to go down.
A little more than two hours later, we had found ourselves reeling from the experience. I'll never take the "opening night theatrical experience" for granted, as there's practically nothing that compares to it, ESPECIALLY at the Alamo Drafthouse. But anyway, on to the film!
...But what hasn't already been said? "It evokes the themes of the original televised series," "Extreme action and awesome special effects," "one-dimensional but otherwise basically effective characters," "plenty of Marvel fan easter eggs to boil up and nibble on," etc. etc. etc. That's the thing about writing reviews when you're not a review-writer: the most obvious facts that people actively care about have been stated, repeated and regurgitated. The only way that my review will be of any use to anyone is to strive to make points seldom or rarely made, based on my own modestly correct opinion.
First and foremost is the editing. Why make a fuss about that? Because a lot of otherwise excellent films *coughjackson'skongcough* are marred by otherwise atrocious editing, mostly because filmmakers seem to be bound by blood-oaths of making audiences sit through "character development" whether it's necessary or not. Sometimes character development can be a truly excellent thing, other times it's tacked on and does little more than pointlessly delay the actively enjoyable parts of the film. THE INCREDIBLE HULK absolutely tosses out any notion of active character development in favor of dramatic excitement. At first glance, that last sentence is a horrific cancerous growth on the backside of cinema, BUT not in the case of the Hulk. The characters of Bruce Banner, Betty Ross, Thunderbolt and Emile Blonsky are all nearly devoid of the standard character introductions or development, but they really, REALLY don't need it. The characters do what they need to do and their motivations are laid out just enough for us to know what's what. The only character that some may argue could have used more background is Blonsky, who becomes the punishingly awesome Abomination, BUT the fact that we're unfamiliar with the power-hungry little troll of a man puts the audience on guard (to paraphrase the IGn review...see what I mean?) and makes him a more unsettling villain. Betty Ross is portrayed strikingly different from what I expected, actively putting herself in harm's way for Bruce's sake to an original and refreshing extent. Thunderbolt Ross, her warmongering father (a fact that is interestingly kept out of the equation until an excellently dramatic moment) isn't the morally ambiguous weirdo of the Ang Lee flick (which I enjoyed aspects of) but a man who likes to think he has everything under control, even though the world is, quite literally, blowing up in his face.
Finally, Dr. Banner is the man on the run. Norton gets the point across and he does it well. He's not particularly strong or snarky, but he's resourceful and brilliant.
Before I get to the REAL meat of the film, I'd like to mention that it all feels very "refreshing." You generally know what's going to happen, but everything is handled so refreshingly and originally that it's hard to see what little tidbit of clever writing will be tossed at you next. From Banner's Brazilian escapades to his relationship with Betty, anything that could have been tiresomely retroactive has been thankfully side-stepped and trimmed to bypass any unnecessary fluff (more credit to the film's editing).
Finally, THE MONSTERS. Hulk and the Abomination are great fun, and the special effects themselves a sumptuous visual feast, BUT only occasionally slipping into the "CGI overload" territory so often slapped into the faces of moviegoers. Hulk looks great, there's no question about that, but he looks like he's really stepped out of the pages of a lavishly illustrated comic, and doesn't seem to occupy the same space of reality as the real actors (and he doesn't look a damn thing like Edward Norton). Still, the filmmakers were clearly going for spectacle over realism, so even though we know it's not really happening, we sure are having fun watching it.
Another thing that the Ang Lee Hulk was sorely lacking was the beastial ferocity that makes Hulk so "incredible." This Hulk roars to the sky with a foot firmly planted on a fallen nemesis, challenging the world at large for supremacy. It's this "Roaring Hulk" that I've so longed for and wanted to see for years and years now, and it's positively glorious.
As good as IRON-MAN? Probably not, but it's certainly in the top-5 superhero flicks of all time, definitely alongside IRON-MAN and SPIDERMAN 2 as one of the best Marvel films. Now we wait for the inevitable sequels and the rest of the AVENGERS films, and hopefully we'll see the the Hulk tackle the Leader and his army of plastic androids soon enough ;)
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