June 26, 2008

Guys Movie Night: The Incredible Hulk

Now this is what a HULK movie should be like: outrageous, overdone, occasionally silly, with over-the-top CGI, overamped sound effects, and lots of smashing. My favorite bit of smashing is when the Hulk breaks a NYPD cruiser in two pieces, wears the halves like boxing gloves, and bludgeons his nemesis into the ground.
Marvel has mostly ignored Ang Lee's 2003 HULK movie and rebooted the Hulk franchise. The Hulk is too big of a Marvel Comics star to let his movie career end with a whimper, so they've tried again: much like the old "Incredible Hulk" TV show, David Banner (Edward Norton) has been on the run for five years, working menial odd jobs, while he tries to find a cure for his Hulkiness. It's been 156 days since his last "incident", thanks to yoga, Zen meditation, self-discipline, and a heart-rate-pulse monitor wristwatch. Instead of totally internalized frustration and anger of Eric Bana's egghead, Edward Norton's Banner is genuinely mild-mannered and gentle, much like Bill Bixby's TV character. I was a little surprised at this, because Norton's stubborn, firy reputation led me to predict that his Banner would have a coiled spring of rage inside. Instead, most of his Hulk-outs in this movie are triggered by necessity instead of an emotional moment.
The first Hulk-out of the movie takes place in a dark bottling plant. French director Louis Leterrier (translation: Louie the Dog) treats this character introduction with a great blend of mystery. We don't get a good look at him, there's lots of confused camera angles, both from the camera and the soldier's helmet cams-- it was kind of like the first encounter between the Space Marines and the aliens in Aliens (1986).
Banner is on the run from General "Thunderbolt" Ross, who is still trying to capture Banner and extract his Hulkiness for use in creating super-soldiers. To lead his crew of Banner-nappers, Ross recruits a allegedly badass British marine, Capt. Emil Blonsky. Blonsky is a over-the-hill killing machine played by Tim Roth, who looks more like a wily ferret than a marine. Roth's concave-chested Cockney physique looks better suited for sweeping out chimneys in a Dickens novel than firing rockets at superheroes. Roth's shirt is off in several scenes, and the audience giggled at him every time.
I could not take my eyes off William Hurt, and specifically, his prosthetic eyebrows. Yes, this Oscar-winning actor pasted on hairy white eyebrows to his face for this movie. He also wears Ross's trademark mustache, which looks slightly more realistic. Frankly, I thought Sam Elliott was perfect in this role, and his mustache looked great.
Liv Tyler plays Betty Ross, Banner's scientist girlfriend. It's too bad that Tyler, who played the ultimate empowered female in the Lord of the Rings movies, was handed such a wet dishrag part to play. She's a scientist fer crissakes, and all she can do in this movie is moon over her lost love, sort of a cross between Glenn Close in The Natural (just standing by the sidelines, literally) and Fay Wray in King Kong (gently loving The Beast). After Betty and David reunite after five years, they sleep in separate rooms, and Betty literally clutches her chest and swoons.
The consecutive releases of Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk mark the debut of Marvel Studios. In the past, film studios made Marvel Comics characters into movies, which brought us three X-Men movies (20th Century Fox), three Spider-Man movies (Columbia) and Ang Lee's 2003 HULK movie (Universal). Marvel has since received a giant cash infusion and turned themselves into their own studio: for example, Marvel made The Incredible Hulk on their own, and Universal is only distributing it. The final scenes in Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk point to Marvel's newfound ambition- Marvel is announcing their presence with authority with big plans to tie all these comic book characters together. Is a superhero supergroup Avengers movie on the horizon? Will Brad Pitt play Thor? Or can we expect to see a Captain America movie in 2011?
On the whole, I really enjoyed myself in this unimportant but successful comic book movie. It was a great antidote to the way-too existential 2003 film, and I look forward to more superhero movies from the new Marvel Studios.
THEATER NOTES: This Guys Movie Night is sponsored by The Pelletier Brothers, who did all the organizing. It was me, Jeff S., plus Marc and Jack for dinner + the movie; our friend Jose was stuck on the Green Line for 20 minutes and almost missed the movie. I saw this film on the same screen (Regal Cinemas Fenway #12) where I saw HULK five years ago, give or take a week. The audience on a Thursday night was well-behaved.