Thursday, June 26, 2008

The Incredible Hulk

The most interesting thing about The Incredible Hulk is that it's not a superhero movie. Well, let's back up a second - it is of course a movie ABOUT a superhero, but it's something slightly askew from the traditional superhero genre that's been crafted by the Superman, Spider-Man, Batman, X-Men, and other movies. When I discussed Iron Man a couple weeks ago I said that the only structural weakness in the overall brilliantly entertaining runtime was the fact that nothing in the actual plot eschews superhero formula whatsoever; the character, his personal faults and crises, the villain, the villain's plot, the uncovering of the superpowers, the training montage, the final showdown, and so on - it's all the same skeleton we've seen used in Spider-Man and others for years. Well the strongest (pun?) part of Incredible Hulk is that it rejects most all of those standards beats, being a new genre fusion: the first full-fledged superhero chase / thriller movie. The Incredible Bourne.

And I do mean that - pretty much the whole movie is an adrenaline rush, seeing Bruce Banner on the run. The narrative framework reminds me much, much more of The Fugitive or North by Northwest with hundred million dollar special effects than Iron Man. We see how and why the government is after Bruce Banner, an innocent man on the run. He attempts to hide from them in various desperate ways. The people chasing him are our villains. Occasionally when the chase gets close, big, explosive action scenes ensue. Yes, there's a villain and a romantic interest and superpowers, but the primary motivation of the villain isn't a big, elaborate world-domination plot ala Magneto or Lex Luthor or Doc Ock - he just wants to do his goddamn job and catch Bruce Banner, even if he has to twist ethics a bit on the way. The superpowers only really flare up during the aforementioned action set pieces that interspace the chasing. The question with the romantic interest isn't whether or not she and the hero will work out their problems ala Lois Lane or Mary Jane Watson, but how she'll help him on the run. It's all really unique.

And of course it's all held together nicely by some solid performers. Internet favorite Edward Norton is Bruce Banner and he has, as always, a unique and inherently watchable energy to him. Everything from the timber of his voice to the way he moves is eyes is perfectly under control. You can kind of see Edward Norton "acting" in his movies, he's not the performer that mind-melds with his character so completely that the thespian disappears, but his acting is damn entertaining and expressive. And Tim Roth is just the mayor of awesome as the villain. It's probably the most fun superhero villain I've seen since Willem Dafoe in Spider-Man six years ago - he even steals his scenes from Edward Norton, scoring laughs and menace and badassery along the way. And while Liv Tyler isn't someone I'd call one of our great actresses, she had nice chemistry with Norton and works well in the context of the film.

So we got some great acting - maybe not anything as pure awesome as Robert Downey Jr. for a whole movie, but all solid - some fun action and chase sequences, and some good clever laughs - again, not as many as Iron Man or Spider-Man 2, but certainly more than Superman Returns. Any weaknesses? Well, one big one - while the special effects here are very, very good to be certain, special effects wizards have still yet to fully and truly capture organic flesh. Living things. The motion of the eyes and the mouth that makes something look sentient in a real-world setting. Special effects has mastered things like fire and metal and vast settings and sweeping armies, but probably the best CGI sentient life form I've seen is still Gollum six years ago, and the green Hulk always looks just a HAIR synthetic. It's something that is hard to help. You just have to ignore it.

But by no stretch did it ruin this fun chase / thriller / superhero fusion flick. It's a Hulked out adrenaline rush that doesn't feel juvenile like so many other superhero movies nor is it too slow and artsy like Ang Lee's Hulk (which I've deliberately not compared it to here, since it's a reboot that never references that film). Not the best film of the year, but it's smashing good fun.

3 Stars out of 5

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