Thursday, July 3, 2008

Man on Film: The Incredible Hulk

Honestly, I thought this would be laughably bad. The trailers made the film look like it had gone so far into CGI-dependency that I was sure the film would look comically artificial. Thankfully, the trailers were misleading, and the film was surprisingly all right.

The film starts with Bruce Banner in Rio, keeping a low profile while hiding from the U.S. Military. Director Louis Leterrier manages to ease the audience into the action, setting the mood with Banner mostly living the life of a normal factory worker while pursuing potential cures for his condition--gamma radiation poisoning--and managing the suppression of his inner beast. The scenes in Rio are filmed beautifully, especially the chase sequence on foot. When the Hulk does make its first appearance, the smart move is made and much of the havoc wreaked is done from the shadows, simultaneously making the brute force of the Hulk mysterious and limiting the usage of CGI, thus lending more of an air of reality to the film.

When Bruce Banner returns to the States, the pace slows a bit with the Bruce and Betty Ross love story being (re-?)introduced. At times it feels like a lead balloon, but in the end it probably is necessary. The second main battle sequence is all right, but its having taken place in the daytime is a limitation, as there is no darkness in which to hide the Hulk, and the inherent flaw in making a Hulk film rears its ugly head. From this point on the film flies towards its solid finale, leaving the leaden second act in its wake.

While Zak Penn's screenplay isn't anywhere near the level of excellence he achieved with X2, it certainly isn't anywhere near as bad as X-Men: The Last Stand, which was absolutely abysmal in every sense of the word. The dialogue between Bruce and Betty is a bit uninspiring at times, but the film doesn't drag to the point that you are checking your watch, and the dialogue is mostly passable.

The film's main shortcomings are probably in its casting. Liv Tyler is not exactly the world's greatest actress, and there are times when she seems to labor under the pressure of acting opposite of Norton. Much, much more problematic is the performance of William Hurt, as Colonel Ross. Following up his terribly overacted performances in Mr. Brooks and A History of Violence, he nearly kills this film by himself, so much so in fact that I worry about even attempting to go back and watch him in anything filmed previously for fear of not being able to wash the stink from him.

Norton is solid, but the acting unfortunately stops as soon as the Hulk appears, which is problematic to me. At least, the Hulk is voiced by Lou Ferrigno...

All in all, the action sequences are well directed, Norton carries the weight of the film on his shoulders, and the screenplay is serviceable, all of which combine to outweigh the few shortcomings. The Incredible Hulk is fairly good, I guess.

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