Tuesday, May 1, 2012

THE AVENGERS COUNTDOWN: #4, The Incredible Hulk

I debated where to put this version of the big green beast, this version that includes itself in the canon of the upcoming Avengers film.  It is noticeably better than Iron Man 2, but not without a few flaws.  Some flaws are unavoidable, some are easy to fix.  As much as there is to like about Louis Letterier's The Incredible Hulk, it is not quite as good as number three on this list.  And despite the shift in sentiment over the years, despite the growing throng of apologists, Ang Lee's 2003 version, Hulk (which is not tied to The Avengers at all) is not a good film.  It is nowhere near this 2008 version on a level of pure entertainment.  This film knows its place and does not try to outweigh action spectacle with some sort of psychoanalytic nonsense.  This is what fans of The Incredible Hulk want to see.

The Incredible Hulk stars Edward Norton as the brilliant Dr. Bruce Banner, who is tortured by the gamma radiation experiment that causes him to turn into a gigantic, raging green monster.  A nice move by the film is to show Banner's experiment gone awry in an opening title sequence, pushing us past the normal set up and into the life of the character.  As the film opens, Banner is in South America studying alternative methods of anger management, proper breathing and the like.  But there is the General, Thunderbolt Ross (William Hurt) and his single-minded desire to capture Banner and extract his "Hulk Juice" in hopes of creating an army.  When you have a General and an entire military on your tail, it's tough to stay calm.  Before long, the beast is unleashed and the film basically turns into a chase sequence with some spectacular visuals and watered-down acting.

Liv Tyler plays Betty Ross, Banner's love interest and daughter of the General, and she is underused and forgettable.  Tim Roth is Blonsky, a fierce soldier under Ross who becomes Hulk's equal later in the film.  But Roth is one not as well.  Norton does a fine job as the human incarnation of Banner, but we all know the not-so-jolly green giant is the main draw here.  The CGI is decidedly more believable this time around than the glowing green version in 2003.  The central fight scene takes place on a college campus during the day, so we are able to enjoy the transformation and the power of the Hulk in clear sunshine rather than darkness.  Which, in turn, becomes the problem with the final fight between Hulk and Blonsky's incarnation; too dark and dizzying.

The Hulk may be the most difficult superhero to film and keep interesting because of a number of issues.  First, he is all green rage and shouting and destruction, it's Banner who has the dialogue.  Second, the Hulk takes more work to look realistic than simply putting a costume on a human.  He is all CGI, and must be convincing as such.  The Incredible Hulk manages to pass these tests; oddly enough, it's the human element that holds the film back.