Monday, June 16, 2008

Cinematographicus: "The Incredible Hulk" (2008)

It's only fitting that "The Incredible Hulk" has been met with so much misunderstanding. Much of the inspiration behind the green monster derives from Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde, Beauty and the Beast, and... Frankenstein's monster. As I've heard more and more people bash on the Hulk's character or express dislike of a movie they've yet to see, frequent images of rural townsfolk marching with pitchforks and torches pop into my head, attacking a beast whose harmless desire is to be left alone -- who attacks only when egged on, purely out of self defense. "The Incredible Hulk," much like its title character and Frankenstein's monster, is largely misunderstood without second thought. Are we the ignorant pitchfork wielders, or are we the blind fiddler who looks past the mindless rage to behold the layered story and persona beneath?

Inevitably this movie will be compared to two other films: Ang Lee's 2003 "Hulk," and this summer's other Marvel blockbuster, "Iron Man." "Hulk" '03 was met with large distaste by the public. I personally found the film to be a really interesting psychological character piece, and though it was flawed in its pacing and the boring climax, other elements made up for it. The cinematography and editing was fascinating as it attempted to bring to the viewer something that only comics can do: the ability to see everything that's happening on one page, split into multiple panels. No other medium brings you this sort of visual omniscience, where time and location are less linear and more globbed together as a singular composition. The acting was spectacular -- Eric Bana was a great Bruce Banner, Jennifer Connelly was a beautiful and complex Betty Ross, and even Nick Nolte seemed at home as the psycho dead-beat dad. But the rest of the world has condemned this film for straying from its roots and being more experimental than entertaining, hence "The Incredible Hulk" is a complete reboot of the Hulk franchise -- in no way in continuity with the 2003 interpretation -- after only a five year absence from the big screen.

The bad taste that "Hulk" '03 created still lingers in the American mouth, and "The Incredible Hulk" is suffering because of it, which, frankly, isn't fair -- obviously the studios are trying to correct an "error," so why not see how it goes a second time around? Most people I have spoken to who use "Hulk" '03 as an excuse for not seeing the '08 reboot haven't even WATCHED Ang Lee's creation. I submit that it's more important to realize that "Hulk" '03's failure is due to creative options made by the filmmakers, NOT the nature of the character. If the Hulk himself makes for lackluster material in a medium other than comics, how would you explain the hot success of the television series that ran for four solid seasons and spawned countless made for TV movies (to which this film makes several well-played references, and from which it takes much inspiration)?

"Iron Man" kicked off the summer blockbuster scene with a hugely positive response. In an occurrence as frequent as a roundhouse kick-less episode of "Walker, Texas Ranger," critics AND fans alike have fallen in love with the Robert Downey Jr.-helmed comic story of a hero who is largely unknown to non-comics fans. Taking the cinema-goers by surprise, it seems that most who have viewed it are skeptical that any other comic movie this summer could possibly reach the bar of quality set by Tony Stark and friends (with the possible exception of "The Dark Knight" -- whose anticipation is based on its highly-popular predecessor). A lot of popular media fans tend to have very polarized mentalities: if they love one film, they must compare it with others of its genre and pick a side, rather than embrace the two as twin brothers who are potential equals, yet with different personalities.

It is with this mindset that I approach "The Incredible Hulk" and "Iron Man." In a metaphor that perhaps isn't entirely appropriate (for more reasons than one), they are like my little babies who I've been waiting to birth for so long. "Iron Man" was the first to see the light of day, followed shortly after by his angrier brother. In all honesty, I do love the armored, charismatic billionaire child slightly more, if only because he's more upbeat and fun-spirited. But the green-skinned lad is no less satisfying in the sense of solid character and thrill-ride entertainment. And the two are very much born to BE TOGETHER. They function as separate beings yet as a unit they're part of something much bigger. They know they have other brothers who will follow them shortly. If you've seen both of these films, you will understand what I'm referring to.

If you liked "Iron Man," you will most likely enjoy "The Incredible Hulk" as well. Probably not as much as "Iron Man," but it will be fun and it will give you that kick in the face you look for when expecting a solid action film.

Edward Norton brings a level of complexity to the Bruce Banner persona that, as good as Erica Bana was, went missing in the '03 telling of the tale. Looking into Norton's eyes shows us the painful journey he walks as he strives to contain the beast within and eliminate it. He presents us with the classic virtue vs. vice setup that we all experience as natural men. How do we contain our lusts and knee-jerk reactions to life? We ARE the Hulk, and we hopefully all strive to eliminate the desire to give in to temptations. Yet Norton presents us with another insight to the Beast and how we view our own inner turmoils as, later in the film, he gains a better understanding of who the "monster" is and how his rage might be focused for more effective service to humanity.

Liv Tyler is a little more loving and empathetic as Betty Ross, Bruce Banner's love interest, than perhaps Jennifer Connelly was, though I'm not sure I prefer her performance over Connelly's. Connelly seemed to be a more realistic product of paternal neglect and a military upbringing.

While being presented with the psychological and emotional struggles of our protagonist, we are presented with a well-paced, thrilling succession of events for a solid two hours as the military seeks to control the beast, ignoring that Hulk only unleashes his rage when provoked -- he is not a proactive destroyer. The battle scenes trump "Iron Man"'s action scenes hands-down. Using a divided car as boxing gloves, our protagonist delivers staggering blows that will bring you to the edge of your seat and have you actually cheering out loud in the theater. Any film that can move a story along and keep a nice pace without sacrificing the complexity of characters is a success in my book -- and "The Incredible Hulk" does this.

Go see "The Incredible Hulk," and if you're anything like me you'll find yourself losing sleep because you just can't avoid smiling when your mind wanders to specific moments of grandiose Hulk smashings!


Cabeza said...

I would like to lend my endorsement to this review. I agree with Shark's assessment and analysis.

Great movie--go see it!

ke said...

I heart Edward Norton, and suspected the IronMan-Hulk connection that may have been alluded to and am excited that I am right. (Welcome back JKC, long time no see.)