Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Film Review | The Incredible Hulk (2008)

When Marvel set up their standalone film studio and began the multi-franchised journey towards Avengers Assemble, Bruce Banner and his asparagus-hued alter-ego were unique out of all the Avengers in that they had already received a big screen outing through Ang Lee's 2003 film Hulk. Lee's film received a mixed reaction: whilst some enjoyed the cerebral approach to exploring Banner's split personality (myself included), others felt that it sacrificed too much of the wanton destruction that The Hulk is arguably most famous for. 2008's The Incredible Hulk therefore not only needed to re-introduce the character as part of the newly established Marvel Cinematic Universe, but reboot the franchise to distance it sufficiently from Lee's version.

Skimming over the gamma ray accident which transformed Dr. Bruce Banner (Edward Norton) into The Hulk during the opening credits, the film catches up with Banner hiding out in South America and attempting to find a cure for his condition. However, General Ross (William Hurt) is still hunting down Banner with the desire to weaponise what's inside him, with ruthless soldier Emil Blonsky (Tim Roth) by his side.

Looking at the success of director Louis Leterrier's film in creating a clear distinction from Lee's, unfortunately The Incredible Hulk is flawed from the very start. Depicting scenes remarkably similar to those seen throughout Lee's Hulk, the opening credits montage in fact serves as a link between the two films. Kicking things off with Banner's imposed exile in South America - the same place that he was seen in the closing moments of Lee's film - adds further confusion as to whether this is a whole new franchise or a sequel to an existing one.

Unfortunately, the film's problems just continue. This is one of Norton's most lacklustre performances,  feeling severely miscast as Banner throughout. The character lacks depth and is never satisfying: Banner is supposed to be one of the leading scientific minds in the world, and yet we never see any evidence of this brilliance. We never see enough of the internal struggle between Banner and The Hulk either, something which both Lee's film and 2012's Avengers Assemble manage a lot better. Norton's Banner essentially ends up as a bit of a sadsack who we don't particularly care about.

The cast elsewhere isn't much better. Liv Tyler as love interest Betty Ross irritates throughout, Hurt's General Ross never feels like anything more than a stereotypical angry army guy, and Tim Blake Nelson's supporting role late on in the film is disappointingly grating for such a talented actor. Roth as Blonsky arguably puts in the most effective performance, but can only do so much with the script which ranges from flat and lazy to downright cringeworthy. At one point, a fellow soldier asks Blonsky how he feels before undertaking a battle with The Hulk. "Like a monster", Blonsky replies. As we've just seen the character begin his own genetic mutation a matter of seconds before, this response is entirely redundant. But, more importantly, even in Marvel's comic book setting, who actually talks like that? There are countless other examples littered all through the script just like this.

The plot bumbles along, erratically switching focus between Banner, Blonsky and Betty Ross, giving the film a distinctly unfocused feel, with characters introduced haphazardly before being swiftly removed again. The film has a couple of half-decent action sequences as its high points, but to be frank the CGI ranges from underwhelming (this is probably the least satisfying big screen realisation of The Hulk to date) to near Michael Bay levels of overkill. The final battle is oversaturated with effects making it both confusing and entirely devoid of any emotion.

They (whoever they might be) say that hindsight is a wonderful thing. Unfortunately for The Incredible Hulk, it really isn't. With Mark Ruffalo successfully taking the role of Banner and The Hulk over in Avengers Assemble (and, at the time of writing, all future Marvel projects), Leterrier's take on the character just looks all the more ill-conceived and poorly realised. Released in the same year as Nolan's The Dark Knight, one of the most successful comic book reboot films of all time, The Incredible Hulk now serves only as a perfect example of how not to rejuvenate a superhero franchise.


No comments:

Post a Comment