The second release from Marvel Studios picks up where Ang Lee left off.
It’s about time we weighed in on The Incredible Hulk. The summer’s second release from Marvel Studios picks up kinda where Ang Lee’s left off – Bruce Banner is living with his gamma radiation, trying his best to contain the monster within him.
The film has taken a bit of a kicking already in the press with plenty of one-star reviews and Ed Norton refusing to do publicity because he’s in a strop about the creative direction that the franchise has taken.
To be honest, at this point in his career, Norton is the last person who ought to be criticising anybody’s creative direction after a) The Painted Veil, and b) he took the freaking part of an all-CGI 10-ton comic book character in the first place. Dude, what did you expect?
Well, here’s what we didn’t expect: despite Norton’s hissy fit, The Incredible Hulk really isn’t that bad, and we say that as a magazine that could count the number of good comic book films on one hand. After we’d put it through a wood chipper.
But it’s an ambiguous beast. From an opening shot that pans up the vertiginous slopes of a Brazilian favela, director Louis Leterrier is at pains to ground this most outlandish of fantasies in some sense of reality. The key to the film is that for all its later eruptions of digital frenzy, it has worked hard to make you believe in the inner life of this world.
Norton is actually very good as Banner; his plainspoken intonation perfectly suiting the idea of the doctor as an everyman – suffering and thinking rather than emoting and ‘acting’. He has a haunted, hunted quality that evokes something of Harrison Ford’s Fugitive, revealing the first half of Hulk to be less an action extravaganza than a psychologically tight chase movie.
Of course, Letterier has upped the ante when it comes to the visual effects, with hit and miss results. Satisfyingly concussive sound design and more than competent CGI make these scenes bona fide eye poppers, but here we are again, watching computer characters knock seven shades of shit out of each other while being asked to ignore such tricky, pernickety issues as ‘collateral damage’. But hey: that’s the American way. If they’re not counting the bodies of the victims in Iraq and Afghanistan, why should Hollywood be any different?
There’s a brief hiatus for the ‘love’ bit, in which Liv Tyler is predictably wasted. Likewise, both Tim Roth and William Hurt are scarcely pushed. The most memorable aspect of Roth’s character is that he’s a British serviceman wearing an American military uniform. What’s that all about? Traitor.
But with some effort at sketching an emotional landscape, a resonant lead performance and effective, um, effects, Hulk is the kind of enjoyable good time that summer is supposed to serve up. Graze the surface and you’re unlikely to find much of anything underneath (indeed, that gorgeous opening shot of the favelas is really there as a backdrop for gun-toting white dudes to have fun in), but it’s not actively as offensive as, say, Iron Man, or self-indulgently boring as Spider-Man 3.
Does it give us hope that Marvel Studios is on to a good thing? Not really. They’ll keep churning films out to a committed fan base who’ll think this is a golden age of the event movie, but there’s nothing in Hulk that won’t look tired on a second viewing, never mind in a few years time. We’re reaching, perhaps, the zenith of disposable junk culture, where Hulk the film is like Hulk the character: big, dumb, impossible to ignore. The future is green.
Published 12 Jun 2008
Marvel lays it all on the line in their pan-property pièce de résistance – a full-tilt triumph of blockbuster filmmaking.
By Ivan Radford
The first Avenger is a patriotic symbol of Us vs Them politics in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.