Directed by: Louis Leterrier
I have to admit, Marvel definitely has a deep passion for its characters. If you look at the progression of their comics-to-film adaptations you will see some seriously ugly beginnings, stumbling over one roadblock hackjob to the next in order to get to a place that is truly suitable for all audiences.
What we are seeing today from Marvel is a creative conglomerate that has been tossed the reins to many of its most popular characters/franchises and stampeding over the stagnant entries into the fray thus far.
In essence, Marvel has remade the majority of their hot properties since the early 90’s, when the likes of Roger Corman and even George Lucas turned their strong-like-bull lineage into a cesspool of celluloid waste. Anyone remember the first “Fantastic Four” movie? No? That’s because it’s never been formally released and those that have suffered through the mess can attest…it is a sad state of affairs. Not that the recent versions were that much better, but still...
Then there was Captain America, from Albert Pyun, the director of Van Damme’s “Cyborg,” a laughable comic actioner that riled me as a kid, before taste buds developed in my brain. A recent viewing of this gem while deployed reminded me of what it’s like when you give a straight-to-video film crew a budget the size of a park renovation and let them write words on paper to call it a script.
Then, we have the Punisher, my personal favorite character in the Marvel arsenal. Dolph Lundgren stood in the boots of Frank Castle, the skull-wearing vigilante who wrought vengeance on organized crime, and brought all the charisma of Van Damme on a downward spiral cocaine buzz. Then, as Marvel began to pick up steam the last few years, they gave it another go, this time with the right actor (Thomas Jane) and the wrong everything else. Two strikes, he’s out.
Or not. This December we have yet ANOTHER Punisher venture, this time with Rome’s Ray Stevenson in skullhead’s duds. Director Lexi Alexander (Green Street Hooligans) looks to have made a somewhat compelling take on the character, although the sad, but true cringe inducer is the fact that it looks almost exactly like the failed game-to-film adaptation of last year’s “Hitman.”
Which brings us to Hulk, Marvel’s next-up-to-bat franchise. Director Ang Lee (Brokeback Mountain…yes, it’s true folks) gave us an emotional, trippy, and oddball tale of the Hulk, with more existential moments than Hulk Smash moments, not to mention Nick Nolte straight out of his mugshot as the film’s main villain.
The first Hulk movie had some great CGI work, although the green goliath did look a bit baby-faced, and some great actors as well, but lacked what most people want out of a Hulk movie…namely mass Hulk carnage. Hulk has always been a torn character, a split personality in essence, but the brainy aspects were always supplemented with mega doses of superpowered WWF action.
I recently rewatched Hulk to see if I still hated it…and to my surprise I didn’t…but I didn’t love it either. I was still compelled to hit the skip button on my DVD and get to the parts where Hulk was smashing shit. The movie was too fat to begin with and probably with a healthy weight loss program it may well have been the success the studio was hoping for.
Alas, as I get to my point which you’ve been so eagerly awaiting…Marvel, now controlling its own fate with the formation of their own studio to finance their own properties and FINALLY able to cross pollinate the creativity from the comics and infuse it into film has put a huge batch of their chips in the green goliath’s corner.
With Iron Man, Marvel’s first studio film, we were given a taste of what happens when the people who actually give a shit about an adaptation and the impact on its fans. Marvel stepped up to the plate and knocked it out of the park. They even included Nick Fury at the end to let us know they weren’t fucking around. It was a clever nod to those of us that have way more comic books than we do notches on the bedpost. For once, let us get our way.
The Incredible Hulk, if nothing else, proves that Marvel is fully invested in bringing their comics to life with the utmost integrity, respect, and balance. They are buying their own stock and putting their money where their mouth is. Finally, a studio exists where the die-hard fans don’t have to sit around and toil over whether or not anyone cares about their favorite property and if they’re gonna do him right.
It’s still early in the game, but Marvel is in the lead. Is “The Incredible Hulk” better than Ang Lee’s “Hulk?” Yes. I don’t think there’s any need to do a line-by-line. It’s obvious. It’s lighter, it’s fluffier, it’s louder, it’s nerdier, and yes, way more fun. Ang Lee’s “Hulk” is not a bad movie, in my book, but it’s as if Lee didn’t respect the audience or fanbase enough to let them enjoy the kid at heart. We didn’t need a grown up Hulk with daddy issues…we wanted the Hulk we grew up watching on the famed TV show or in the funny books.
The biggest and best aspect of Marvel’s new movie line-up is the attachment of name brand talent. Yeah, Ang Lee’s Hulk had that, but it never felt passionate or interested in source material. It was all about doing their “own” interpretation. Here, Ed Norton throws himself into the role of Bruce Banner, making his onscreen presence just as compelling as his CGI counterpart. That’s a hard thing to accomplish, but Norton pulls it off, much like Bill Bixby in the original TV show.
Jennifer Connelly portrayed Banner’s love interest, Betty Ross, in Lee’s “Hulk” with about as much enthusiasm as a stripper at a spelling bee. Beautiful and talented as she is, she was a waste in that film. Here, we have Liv Tyler who, like Norton, throws herself into the material, never once treating the movie as a paycheck or some in-between project. Lovely and full of passion, Tyler shows Betty's soft and vulnerable side, while retaining the aggressive and tenacious nature of the source character.
William Hurt is spot on as Gen. Ross, who was portrayed by Sam Elliot in the previous outing. Hurt is just an amazing actor to begin with, but he plays along with everyone else in this, giving it his all and really seeming to get into the character. I know I keep saying that character bit over and over, but that’s the point. They were never treated as characters before, just cartoon cut-outs…an image, if you will. Finally, the depth that so many writers and artists have poured into these “characters” is able to shine through onscreen.
Lastly, is Tim Roth as Emil Blonsky/AKA the Abomination. Perfect. Creepy. Malicious. Roth, whose career has spawned a lot of Tarantino and Indie fare, doesn’t seem like someone that would do a Marvel film until now. I would picture him scoffing at the idea, as it were a step down or a sell out. But, that’s just the thing…it’s not. If anything, you’re selling up. All it takes is respect for the material and a creative team who puts the passion and storytelling first.
And it’s all there. My only complaint on the Abomination was that they took out his pointed ears, which was always his identifier. I don’t know the reason for this, but am curious as to why they would retain so much integrity while making that sacrifice.
Speaking of story…it’s light, it’s fun, it’s not gonna hurt your brain. It’s like reading a five issue story arc from the comics, leaving you ready to see where they take the characters next. I read Hulk in writer Peter David and artist Dale Keown’s hey day and let me tell ya…those were some great issues. I would love to see Marvel expand into that realm of the Hulk…but that’s insignificant here…
Director Louis Letierrer (Transporter, Unleashed) stages loud and boisterous action sequences, taking the audience into the Bim, Bam, Smash of the Hulk we want to see. While I wasn’t exactly thrilled by the choice to use him at first, I think he brought a different kind of passion to the project…namely the passion to make a good, entertaining, and fulfilling movie and he certainly succeeded.
Kudos to the design and effects group who brought the Hulk to life here. I was really struck by the effects when the Hulk sat with Betty in the rain, the lightning illuminating his green flesh with great detail. You could see the pigmentation, the texture of the skin. You could practically see the green blood pumping in his veins. Great work, all around. The trailers seemed to downplay the strengths of the CGI and I’m glad that they panned out better than expected.
The end brawl is fun and brutal and reminded me of a WWE fight on super crack/steroids. And that’s not a bad thing. It is pretty much what everyone wanted out of the first Hulk, to see that green bastard smash another like-sized monster in the jaw and knock him through a building (much like we wanted to see from another superhero in another comics universe…hint: he wears a red cape).
This is a great kick off for Marvel. The ball is sailing through the air and they need to get their momentum going before they get sacked. Marvel has an ambitious line up ahead of them and I want nothing more than for them to pull it off. Next up is Iron Man 2, then Captain America, then Thor, then culminates in the (some French expression for “real big shit”) Avengers, pooling all the characters together for a camping trip and barbecue with employee team building exercises.
Truly this is a landmark moment for comic book films and it is my hope that the use of creative integrity will become a mainstay for a successful film. What could be better than associating the success of a project not by how much you changed the original concept but by how much you kept it intact. Now, there’s an idea.