Wednesday, July 9, 2008

You look awful!

The Incredible Hulk is a turgid mediocrity, one that looks ugly, plays boring, and feels like the lame also-ran that it so clearly is. Watching the film, I could feel the filmmakers straining to load every frame with as much mindless drivel as they could, in the hopes that some of it would be entertaining.

Of course, I have talked to death the real reason this film exists: as an antidote to Ang Lee’s more artful 2003 version. And I suppose this film was well within the rights of the filmmakers, and was certainly within Marvel’s rights—after all, as Jean-Luc Godard once said, “The best way to criticize a film is to make another one.” That’s true, and that’s fine: but what if the film you are criticizing was strong, and your only method of critique is to make a soulless action picture?

Like Ang Lee’s film, The Incredible Hulk boasts a stellar cast. Edward Norton stars as Bruce Banner in "Hulk: Attempt No. 2," and you know the basic story: Banner is a scientist who was the subject of gamma rays gone awry and now turns into a giant green beast when he becomes angry. Liv Tyler plays Bruce’s love interest, Betty Ross; William Hurt plays Gen. “Thunderbolt” Ross, Betty’s father and the possible culprit of Banner’s condition; and Tim Roth plays Emil Blonsky, a maniacal military man whose rage leads him to undergo scientific procedures similar to Banner’s, thus becoming a bigger, uglier, more ridiculous monster dubbed "The Abomination"—voila, a super-villain is born.

There is surprisingly little drama to this version of Hulk. Bruce must control his heart rate in order to avoid transforming into the big green thing, a plot point that makes for a couple humorous jokes but no legitimate drama. Bruce and Betty have some sort of forbidden puppy love thing going on throughout, and that relationship is never challenged or hindered by anything other than the screenplay’s arbitrary decision. Betty has a strained relationship with her father, but again, there is neither consequence nor payoff to their friction. The basic plot elements are present in this film because they are supposed to be—after all, they worked for the comic book, didn’t they? Roth brings a psychotic zest to his role that makes him the most magnetic presence in the film, and his character likewise takes the most interesting and transformative journey of any of the film’s characters.

The Incredible Hulk Version 2.0 is directed by Louis Leterrier, a French filmmaker best known for directing The Transporter 2, in which he pretty much mimicked the style of the original. But at least that calling card film fit Leterrier’s signature style, which apparently consists of rapid-fire bursts of action and sudden shifts into and out of slow-motion, like a skateboard video. Trying his hand at a gargantuan-budget superhero adaptation, the director appears completely out of his element. His style seems strangely out-of-place in this kind of film, and while he does a decent job handling the film’s countless visual effects, the effects themselves are so ungainly and unattractive that his skill level hardly matters. The Hulk is no longer so much green as he is an ugly brownish swampy color, one who looks dirty and evil—with the exception of his pearly white game show host teeth. Similarly, the entire film seems stained by a dank visual palette. Most summer blockbusters are referred to as “eye candy,” but The Incredible Hulk is like “eye grease.”

The biggest sin of all involved in this enterprise—from Leterrier to Norton to the screenwriters to the newly-minted production unit at Marvel—is the self-righteous supposition that this is all really good…or at least some sort of major improvement on something that was once broken. But for all the shit Ang Lee’s Hulk has taken in the past five years, it was ambitious, intimate, and original, three adjectives not even close to this film’s vocabulary. The most frequent adjectives that come to mind when thinking of this latest version are “boring,” melodramatic,” and “Hulk Smash!” 

The Incredible Hulk is a glaring bit of sub-standard filmmaking on every level in a surprisingly solid summer.


K McKiernan said...

Norton is a better Bruce than Bana was, and I really think you went into the theater wanting to hate this film. Was it the best movie of the summer? Hell no. But it was not bad. Some of the beginning chase scenes were really interesting and "beautifully" shot.

My problem was adding the weird extra strong, extra ugly hulk villian.

Otherwise, it is certainly worth paying for a ticket.

J McKiernan said...

I will wholeheartedly disagree with you about Norton vs. Bana. And it is not because I value one actor over the other--obviously, Norton's been around longer and has had more opportunity to play a lot more complex roles than if we are going on experience alone, then tip the scales in Norton's favor. But Bana is a fine actor, and arguably the best role he's had the opportunity to fill has been Banner in Ang Lee's "Hulk." It is a better performance on every level for the simple reason that it is a much juicier, more complex character. I think Norton would have given a better performance in THAT version than this one...and Bana would not have been as effective in THIS film. But, Bana is more of an effective presence as Bruce Banner no matter what, if you ask me. And again, that is not saying anything bad about Ed Norton..I've taken a few shots at the guy for the way he does business, but I have also gone on record as saying he is one of the best actors of his generation. In fact, for all his bitching, he still deserves better material than this.

I have obviously made no bones about my admiration for Ang Lee's film, and yes, my view was tainted going into this movie. But we all take our preconceptions--be they positive or negative--into any film experience. Knowing full well that I had a bias going in, I was still excited to see the film, and when we sat down in that theater I was ready to enjoy the ride. But the film did nothing to further my was, in fact, a boring dud.

Say what you will about Ang Lee's movie, but come on, K, you mean to tell me that THIS screenplay beats THAT one? That there is something more complex going on here, or that this film is better directed? I understand that just because Edward Norton is a respected actor that THE MOVIE MUST THEN BE GREAT...but in my view, the Norton performance is just ho-hum, simply because it is not compellingly written. And the film itself is one of the biggest duds of the summer.

K McKiernan said...

Thankfully, you do not have penis envy, but you do have Notron envy. This was very much about hating on Norton. Go back and read what you wrote about the hulk and Norton before going IN to the theater.

Bana was better in Munich. Ang Lee was better with Brokeback Mtn.

I never said Lee's Hulk was horrible... I just prefered this telling. I would rather have Banner's perspective than all the extra stuff about his dad.

If you said this movie was a bit disappointing, I would agree with you. But to call it a dud? Dude, its no dud. The Happening was a "DUD."

J McKiernan said...

"I never said Lee's Hulk was horrible...I just preferred this telling."

Grounds for divorce, I think...... ;)

Stella said...

...turgid mediocrity I might need to steal that. That brilliant phrase applies to so many politicians.