The definition of procrastination: finishing the last of the Marvel movies the night before The Avengers comes out. Case in point:
I don’t think I saved the best for last.
This review will include SPOILERS, mostly because I’m trying to save time and get it out tonight, which, if you know me, is somewhat unlikely. I am not what you might call a speedy writer. It’s sad, but we all have our cross to bear, don’t we? Anyway, so. Spoilers. Sorry.
Bruce Banner (Edward Norton) is the Hulk. If you don’t know what the Hulk is, seriously. Buy a television or a get a comic book or something. Anyway, Bruce is on the run from the American government, particularly General Ross (William Hurt) who also, coincidentally, is the father of Banner’s love interest, Betty (Liv Tyler). When another one of the General’s supersoldier experiments goes seriously the fuck awry, Bruce suddenly goes from dangerous fugitive to The Only One Who Can Save Them All.
1. I have never seen Ang Lee’s The Hulk. I have been warned to never see Ang Lee’s The Hulk, that is the kind of dull affair that is quite capable of putting healthy men and women into lifelong comas. And as I have yet to ever hear an even slightly positive review of that movie, I am sure that The Incredible Hulk is, like everyone says, the clearly superior film.
That being said, it’s got problems.
2. For example, let’s talk about the villains.
A. William Hurt
The General is less of a straight villain and more of an antagonist, but either way, he annoys me. Let’s skip past the fact that he’s stupid. Actually, let’s not—there’s not telling your unit a ton of extraneous classified details about a mission and then there’s not telling your unit that their firepower and training are about to mean jack shit because they’re going up against a guy who can and likely will turn into a gigantic green monster—guess who doesn’t seem to understand that distinction? Yes, exactly.
But more than that, Hurt is boring. He can’t quite make General “Thunderbolt” Ross menacing, but neither is he sympathetic, nuanced, or even particularly interesting. He comes across a little like an extremely watered down version of Jeff Bridges’s Obadiah Stone, only less campy, and this is not a good thing.
Also, he’s still stupid. Seriously, how did he not notice his daughter standing right next to the Hulk when he ordered the plane to fire? It’s not like he didn’t know she was nearby. It’s not like they aren’t standing directly in front of him or anything.
B. Tim Roth
And ohmygod, talk about stupid.
I like Tim Roth a lot more than William Hurt (it’s not that Hurt’s always terrible, mind; he’s just incredibly hit or miss for me) but I simply don’t think there’s a way to make Emil Blonsky a good villain without some serious time for character development. So, okay, I get it: he’s a soldier, and he doesn’t want to age and become useless. That’s fine; that’s a great jumping off point. But it’s gotta be more than a line, man. You need a few scenes—at the very least, you need a dramatic push-in. We should be able to feel Blonsky’s desperation to become bigger, better, scalier. I mean, I don’t have to sympathize with every movie villain, but bad guys really ought to come off as actual characters or, failing that, immensely entertaining black hats.
But Blonsky? He’s just a moron who keeps letting people jab experimental drugs in him that turn him into this:
And don’t even get me started on the scene where he walks straight up to the Hulk and says something like, “Is that all you got?” This is, like, pathological stupidity. This is Darwin Award time, people.
A movie can survive a boring villain (Star Trek, The Crow) but it’s not easy, and when the film keeps coming back to them every ten minutes or so . . . yeah, that’s a serious problem. And I don’t want to hear any BS about how this is a superhero movie, and I shouldn’t be judging the characterization too harshly. Iron Man did better than this. So did Thor. So did X-Men. I’m not asking for Heath Ledger and Christopher Nolan here, but come on, guys. I expect more than total blah.
3. Also, I kind of wanted to slap Liv Tyler in the face.
She’s actually not so horrible—she has decent chemistry with Edward Norton, and she made me laugh at a couple of points, especially when she freaked out at the crazy cab driver in New York—but every time she turns to look at the Hulk with those pouty lips and big, innocent eyes and asks, “Bruce?” Yeah, I seriously wanted to slap her. She does it, like, four times. It’s extremely aggravating.
4. On the upside, I did enjoy Edward Norton.
I’m not sure I’d call it a huge tax on his acting abilities or anything, but then again, Norton’s a pretty phenomenal actor. (With, admittedly, a few strange choices on his resume. Did anyone actually see Stone? Was that as completely awful as it looked?) I really enjoyed the chase scenes where Norton would run and leap and run and leap and then hide in a corner somewhere, waiting for his heart rate to come down so that he wouldn’t hulk out. He does the everyman hero who’s been forced into this awful situation fairly well, and he seems to have a good sense of comic timing. I’m curious to see how Mark Ruffalo will play him and who I’ll end up liking better.
Also, side note: if I was infected with gamma radiation or whatever, and my heart rate couldn’t get above 200 without danger, Will Robinson, danger . . . I could never work out again. At least, not if the heart monitor on the elliptical at the gym is to be believed. My heart rate can apparently bounce between 125 and 210 in a matter of ten seconds. Is that a bad thing?
5. I wish I liked the Hulk’s special effects half as much as I liked Edward Norton’s performance.
There’s just something about his face that looks . . . incredibly fake. I didn’t mind the Abomination so much, but the Hulk seems a bit cheesy. (Although at least they got rid of the purple CGI shorts from the first movie. I did see those, and they were . . . not good.) Also, I’m cool that the bad mojojojo in Bruce’s blood causes him to turn gigantic and green, and I’m actually okay with the eye color change, too, cause hey, eyes are the window to the soul and all that. It’s practically a time-honored tradition, changing a character’s eye color whenever he’s been possessed or altered or, hell, even when he’s just being a moody bitch. But why, exactly, does Bruce’s hair change color? And if it had to change color, why does it change black? Wouldn’t you think it’d turn green too?
6. Also—and I realize there’s not really a way around this without making this kid-friendly superhero flick an NC-17 film—but there’s a limit to the magic of stretchy pants, you guys. Just saying.
7. It’s a small thing, but I really enjoyed that Liv Tyler’s new beau, Leonard (Ty Burrell), isn’t a complete shit. I kind of wish they utilized him more, if only because I like Ty Burrell, but still. It’s nice to see that the screenwriters didn’t feel the need to make him the typical abusive jerky asshole that usually ensnares the helpless heroine once she’s broken up with and/or been separated from the real hero of the story.
8. I also like how the whole Hulk origin story was wrapped up in the time it took to run the intro credits. That was kind of a welcome change. I like origin stories as much as the next total nerd, but sometimes, it’s kind of nice to see things already in motion.
9. Although . . . the plot of this film? It’s kind of weak. Maybe things feel like low-stakes because the big threat doesn’t come until the last fifteen minutes of the movie? I mean, it’s obvious where the film is going, but still, it’s getting chased, getting chased, getting chased, getting caught, hulk smash, hiding again, end of film. Although there are worse ways than ending your movie with a Robert Downey Jr. cameo.
And now that I’m thinking on it, I feel like this whole movie kind of hinges on Tim Roth’s character. In a way, The Incredible Hulk actually is an origin story—it’s just the villain’s origin, not the hero’s. Which is sort of a fun idea, but Emil Blonsky really does have to be one of the most underdeveloped supervillains of all time. I mean, he’s not Mr. Freeze, at least, but that’s hell and gone from saying that he’s good, and the movie suffers hugely for it.
10. Finally, at the end of the film—well, very near it, anyway—Bruce Banner is meditating in his cabin when his eyes suddenly snap open, bright green. He’s also grinning, and there’s a pop-up to the side that says something like Days Since Last Incident: 0. (I actually really liked those pop-ups. I thought they were fairly clever.) Now, peoples who have seen this movie: is he grinning because he’s mastering his control or something? I read someone’s review who seemed to think that, and I guess that makes sense, but I’ll be honest: I was getting much more of the-evil-serial-killer-at-the-end-of-the-scary-movie-is-still-alive-and-stabbing-away vibe from this whole scene. Which was, well, confusing, given the givens.
Adequate, I guess, but easily my least favorite of the pre-Avengers movies. And this includes Captain America, which I liked more on a second viewing (although I still had some serious problems with that one, too).
CHARACTER WHO MOST DESERVES TO BE SLAPPED WITH A BIG, SMELLY FISH:
Emil Blons—wait. You know what? I forgot all about Bruce deciding that he absolutely could not wait for the helicopter to land before jumping out of it and hoping he turned into the Hulk before he smashed into the ground a bazillion feet below. Sure, the oh shit moment was pretty funny, but the truth is, Bruce Banner completely deserved to die right there from sheer stupidity. As he did not—being the hero and all—he definitely gets slapped with a big, smelly fish. (Although, honestly, both Emil Blonsky and General Ross are right up there with him. Intelligent men do not exist in this movie.)
Anger is sometimes a good thing. As long as you’re beating the shit out of the right people, of course.