The HULK isn’t as bad a movie as I thought it would be. In fact, for a Hulk movie, it’s pretty good. The film seems to take it’s inspiration more from the 70s TV show than from the maligned Ang Lee movie from a few years ago. Personally, I didn’t hate the Ang Lee attempt. His big mistake IMHO was the comic book panel visual motif he attempted (distracting), that the script went in a thousand different directions (uneven), and the whole daddy subplot (with Nick Nolte looking like his DUI mugshot). But Ang’s Hulk looked more the Hulk from the comics and he did the things the comic book Hulk does (pitch tanks over the horizon, take mile long jumps across the desert) and that’s what I had come to the theater to see. The new movie tries to bring things down a notch and explore Bruce Banner’s dilemma that whenever he gets excited he passes out and when he wakes up he’s surrounded by a bunch of broken shit and people are bleeding all over everything.
I’ve never particularly liked the Hulk as a character. It’s a blatant rip-off of Dr. Jeckell and Mr. Hyde and other than hulking out and smashing stuff the character doesn’t have anywhere much to go. Over the years the writers of the comics have tried to deal with this in various ways and pretty much failed. We’ve seen green Hulks and grey Hulks (who cares), dumb Hulks and smart Hulks (defeats the purpose), tortured Banners and maudlin Banners and outright batshit crazy Banners (all dull as hell). All trying to hide the fact that the character is a one trick pony with a one line vocabulary. I don’t even think you can even make the tired old case that the character is a metaphor for youthful identity crisis since most teenagers saddled with this problem would acquire a wardrobe of tee-shirts that said “Don’t Make Me Angry” across the front and “You Wouldn’t Like Me When I’m Angry” across the back. Needless to say, school bullies would give them a wide berth. (The tag line does wind up being the source of a pretty good joke in the new movie though.)
These problems were exemplified by the doggedly repetitive formulaic episodes of the TV series. Tell me if you’ve heard this one- David Banner hitches into town, runs afoul of some local problem, winds up getting the shit kicked out of him by somebody, turns into a giant green bodybuilder with a bad haircut, returns the shit kicking to sender with interest, and catches a ride out of town. Tune in next week. Same Hulk time. Same Hulk channel. Same fucking plot.
The new movie follows the current idiom of trying to take the situation seriously (as opposed to camping it up). Edward Norton is talented enough to give some real chops to Banner’s internal struggle and is shown doing the stuff anyone else would do in the situation, such as learning meditation so he quits being such a hothead. (No one in the Marvel universe has heard of Lithium, I guess.) As a result, his Banner is a pretty cool customer even when being chased through the streets by military commandos. Nothing wrong with Eric Bana but I don’t think he’s in Norton’s league as an actor. Liv Tyler pouts and her lips look appropriately bee stung, but I’m never going to buy the idea that she has a PhD. But she’s here to look good and she does (in this case Jennifer Connelly WAS better). The sex scene is good, especially the part where Banner comes to afterward and has to shower what’s left of her off the front of him. William Hurt makes a fine Thunderbolt Ross but so did Sam Elliot and like all the supporting cast the character is about as deep as a soap dish. Tim Roth also does a pretty good job but his character is also only a molecule deep and it’s never explained why he’s in the military but doesn’t shave.
Aside from the cast the big thing the new Hulk movie has going for it is pacing. Things never seem to drag and even the obligatory King Kong interlude is kept mercifully short. There are a smattering of jokes that are don’t draw attention to themselves, and a number of call backs to previous incarnations such as the TV series (a practice started by Raimi with Spider-Man and becoming de rigeur in Marvel movies). Stan’s cameo is impossible to miss in this one and Lou Ferrigno has a cameo too (Bill Bixby is unfortunately no longer with us).
So I’m left where I started. It wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. If you don’t have a decent home theater movies like this are best seen at the multiplex. And, in spite of the character being a grab bag of cliches in the first place, the acting, script, and direction make this one worth seeing. Hell, he even gets to say “Hulk SMASH!” at one point.