The Incredible Hulk
Review by James Harvey
"Hulk Smash!" Fans have been waiting to hear that phrase on the big screen for years upon years, and in the summer of 2008, they got their wish. The popular Marvel character Hulk busted back onto the big screen after a five-year hiatus in one of the most action-packed movies of the summer. And that, folks, is not hyperbole. The Incredible Hulk has a host of ingenious and flat-out crazy action sequences, but what about the story? Well, let's take a close look at what this big screen comic book movie has to offer!
The Incredible Hulk kicks off an all-new, explosive and action-packed epic of one of the most popular superheroes of all time. Scientist Bruce Banner (Edward Norton) desperately hunts for a cure to the gamma radiation that poisoned his cells and unleashes the unbridled force of rage within him: The Hulk. Living in the shadows--cut off from a life he knew and the woman he loves, Betty Ross (Liv Tyler)--Banner struggles to avoid the obsessive pursuit of his nemesis, General Thunderbolt Ross (William Hurt), and the military machinery that seeks to capture him and brutally exploit his power. As all three grapple with the secrets that led to The Hulk's creation, they are confronted with a monstrous new adversary known as The Abomination (Tim Roth), whose destructive strength exceeds even The Hulk's own.
Before I go any further, like most reviewing this title, I feel obligated to at least mention the 2003 Ang Lee Hulk film. Personally I liked it, flaws and all. However, to give The Incredible Hulk the attention it deserves, this is all I'll be mentioning of that movie. I'll be looking at The Incredible Hulk completely independently from the 2003 Hulk feature. I understand The Incredible Hulk was a reboot because of the 2003 original, but I feel that, for some reason, whenever The Incredible Hulk and Hulk get mentioned in the same breathe, people automatically think less of the newest movie starring the Green Goliath. Now, in order to be fair, I'm going to look at The Incredible Hulk as a completely unique affair, so, let's get going!
While The Incredible Hulk may be light on substance, it has an over-abundance of flash. In fact, this movie is probably what many, many fans of the Green Goliath were waiting for. The action sequences are incredible and the special effects hold up pretty well. The movie opens and we're already rolling with the storyline, since every bit of backstory is covered in the inventive and clever opening credits sequence. His origin, the accident, his attempts to find a cure, all of it is here, so there's no need. Instead, we jump right into the story which proves to be a huge benefit for the film. We're not bogged down with any type of backstory but, instead, we're rushed into the second act. Director Louis Leterrier keeps the moving going, but never makes it feel rushed in any way. While it's obvious the movie has been trimmed, Letterier is able to make this movie so engrossing that it's impossible not to get sucked in.
And that is how this movie manages to work so well. It keeps you completely sucked in, mostly thanks to the stellar acting of Edward Norton as Bruce Banner. He's a great sympathetic character, one that you can root for as the movie puts him through quite a few rough spots. He fully envelopes the character, especially the yearning for a cure and the constant struggles he's enduring just to get to the end of the day. The movie thankfully shares with us how he manages to keep the Green Goliath at bay, mainly through meditation (including a couple gimmicks straight from Bruce Jones' run on the The Incredible Hulk comic). Norton's Banner is smart, focused, driven, and, ultimately, heroic.
The rest of the main characters serve their purpose fine. Liv Tyler is just fine as Betty Ross, Banner's main squeeze and the resident damsel in distress. Her character's father, played by William Hurt, is the driven General Ross, determined to bring Banner in at all costs. Tim Roth is excellent as the mysterious Emil Bronsky, who eventually undergoes a similar mutation and ends up duking it out with Hulk. These characters make the most impact on the story and help drive it to the inevitably loud and special effects-laden finale. Thankfully, for the audience, it's a fun trip.
Leterrier creates a very convincing world here, on a global scale, no less. The opening in Brazil is really inspired, all of which leads to a great chase sequence, with beautiful Brazil in the backdrop Hell, Brazil is utilized during the chase, as we see Banner jump through closely compacted houses and narrow pathways. Naturally, this chase sequence leads to the first appearance of the Hulk, who Leterrier kept in the dark purposely until the campus sequence later in the movie. But here, wow, Leterrier made the Hulk frightening. All we see is this large black figure, with green highlights, moving through the dark, and, boy, does that creature every look as intimidating as hell. No real surprise, though that when we actually see the Hulk in all his glory, he's not as scary as he was in that great opening sequence.
Still, all in all, Leterrier has done a good job with the Hulk. The CGI looks good and, personally, I never expected the Hulk to look photo-realistic, especially with today's standards for CGI. Still, he looks convincing enough on screen for me, even if, at times, I can't help but get distracted by it from time to time. The Abomination, the other CGI creation, holds up alright too, though suffers from the same problems as the Hulk. Looks "real" enough to pass, but, at times, the CGI can get a bit distracting. Personally, it all works for me and I'm quite pleased with what I see on screen. Once the fists start flying, I'm sure viewers aren't going to mind all that much.
Fans of the comics should be pleased, though. This comic adheres to the comic just as it does to the classic The Incredible Hulk TV show (and yes, the classic "Lonely Man" theme is in here, plus a cameo by Lou Ferrigno and Bill Bixby). We get references to quite a bit from the comics, included one scene seemingly adapted straight out of the classic Hulk: Gray series, a nod from The Ultimates, and a lot of tidbits from the Bruce Jones Return of the Monster storyline. Plus we get a pile of nods, from the always-awesome thunderclap, Samuel Sterns, and arguably the best Stan Lee cameo to date! What the film does make a point of doing is making Hulk a hero, specifically during the final battle, and it's a smart move by Norton and Leterrier. Plus it also sets up establishes both Banner and the Hulk, and clearly defines their personalities, for future films. Besides, after seeing that final shot in the movie, I can't help but get pumped about seeing the big Green Goliath on the big screen again in the future.
I also feel I should make special note of the score, composed by Craig Armstrong. It's a solid piece of work that fits the movie like a glove. The score compliments the movie perfectly and is definitely something fans of the movie should seek out.
While The Incredible Hulk may have been overlooked this past summer, it's probably one of the best Marvel films of the past couple of years. It's definitely as solid as the recent Iron Man feature film, without a doubt. While not a blockbuster film, it still performed to the expectations of both Marvel and Universal, and hopefully they'll consider future installments. Fans will not be disappointed by this movie, that I'm sure of. It has plenty of action, a good cast and story, and it's pure fun from start to finish. It holds up remarkably well on repeated viewings, something I find most comic book movies are unable to do. To put it simply, The Incredible Hulk has everything you want, and nothing you don't, so take a chance on this Jade Giant. The Incredible Hulk comes Highly Recommended!
Universal Home Entertainment has released the The Incredible Hulk: 3-Disc Special Edition DVD in the standard Amaray casing, with an interior hinge flap to hold the extra discs. All three discs are safely secured within the packaging.
The audio and video on this disc is quite incredible, pardon the pun. The audio is a real house-shaking affair. Both the quieter scenes come off crystal clear, as do the more action-packed action sequences. The scene on the campus, especially, is something to behold, especially with all the gun fire going off in multiple channels. I swear, at times, the sound sounded almost tangible. A really great audio transfer. The video is great, and is nearly DVD reference material. Everything is crystal clear and beautiful looking, easily a solid standard definition video transfer.
And now, the bonus material. Universal Home Entertainment has given The Incredible Hulk a solid batch of extras in this three-disc release. Disc one contains a good commentary by director Letterier and actor Roth, with Norton unsurprisingly absent. The commentary provides mostly anecdotal and some behind the scenes information. The deleted scenes found here on the first disc is completely worth checking out. It provides a lot of background on questions fans may have had about what they saw in the film. And there's even more deleted scenes on the second disc! From these deleted scenes we learn how Bruce ended up in Brazil, a lot more background on Blonsky and Ross, and more with Betty and Samson. And there's a lot more with Bruce, naturally, and a few comedic bits. There's a great dialogue-driven scene between Samson and Banner, where Smason quizzes Banner on his past with Betty, that really should have stayed in. I can see why these scenes were cut, as they would have slowed the pace, but these scenes are just as good, if not better, than the movie itself. It's worth noting that Universal Home Entertainment has packed more deleted scenes onto the Blu-ray release of the film and, naturally, the one-disc release of The Incredible Hulk only contains the deleted scenes found on the first disc.
On top of the additional deleted scenes on the second disc, the second disc also has the much hyped alternate opening. Personally, this is a great scene. I'm not sure if it would've been the best way to open the movie, but it's a solid and intense scene. The execution of it is just about perfect and I'm sure most fans won't be disappointed. However, if Captain America is anywhere in this scene, as rumored, then I missed it. I replayed this scene over and over and can't identify him with confidence. Im sure he's there, and he is based on reports, but I plan to watch this sequence again to try and nail down his appearance. Sure, there's a few blurry figures that could be him, but I can't confirm anything with certainty.
The rest of the second disc is made up with a host of different featurettes and shortform documentaries, including the "The Making of The Incredible Hulk, which clocks out at nearly 30 minutes, two ten-minute features looking at how the Hulk and the Abomination were created for the big screen, the interesting "Anatomy of a Hulk-Out," running nearly a half-hour, and the kind-of neat "From Comic book to screen," a semi-animated adaptation of the cave sequence from the Hulk: Gray graphic novel that fans should get a nice kick out of. All in all, it's a nice collection of extras that should provide a nice additional hour or two of viewing once the main feature is over with. Naturally, the controversy surrounding Norton's distaste for the finished cut of The Incredible Hulk isn't mentioned in any of the bonus features, which isn't a surprise at all.
The third disc in this set is a digital copy of The Incredible Hulk, with an insert to provide directions on how obtain the digital copy of the feature.
The Incredible Hulk is a great movie, easily equal to Iron Man, and it definitely holds up on DVD. Universal Home Entertainment has really done the movie justice with this three-disc release. While they likely should have mentioned, and maybe even rectified, the controversy surrounding Norton's thoughts on the film, in the bonus features, perhaps we'll see another home video release of The Incredible Hulk somewhere down the line, one approved by Norton. Still, the feature film itself is an action-packed spectacle that is sure to please longtime fans. It's an exhilarating action-adventure that definitely deserves to find a bigger audience on home video. The Incredible Hulk is one of the best comic book movies to come out of the House of Ideas, and is definitely Highly Recommended to add to your collection.
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